What Does Our Hair Say About Our Health?

Short hair, long hair, thin hair, strong hair. What is it about hair that gets us rhyming like Dr. Seuss? For one, it’s a body part that has us spending billions of dollars on its maintenance. But there’s a world beyond the products we buy to wash, condition, strength, soften, and shine our hair. Beauty is more than skin deep when it comes to hair – it reflects what’s going on in our bodies. Our hair has a lot to say about our health.

There are as many as 150,000 follicles of hair on our heads and that number is largely determined by heredity. Hair is mostly comprised of the protein keratin and is exclusive to mammals. It grows everywhere on the body except on glabrous skin, which is the skin covering places like your lips or the bottoms of your feet.

Mostly, we’re concerned about the hair that grows on top of our heads. So we wash it and brush it and style it until our hair is ready to cooperate. Some experts note that good hair hygiene involves backing off with the brush on occasion. As Oprah guru Dr. Oz notes, treat your hair like a silk blouse. Wash it every two to three day and rinse it in between. Blot your hair dry with a towel and use low heat on it.

So what exactly is the mop on top of our heads telling?

Is your hair falling out? Experts say that it is perfectly normal to lose as many as 100 strands of hair a day. One way to test if you’re losing more hair than usual is to take about as much that would fit into a straw between your fingers. From the root upwards, draw your fingers through your hair. If there are more than 10 strands in your finger, you may be losing more hair than usual.

So what does hair loss mean? First, it could just be that you are simply stressed out. Dr. Arielle Kauvar is a New York dermatologist. As she told Msn.com, “a physical or emotional trauma can cause a change in the hair. The illness or stress sends actively growing hair into a resting phase, and a couple of months later, all those strands in the resting phase may fall out.”

But there are medical reasons for some hair loss. Male-pattern or female-pattern baldness causes loss of thinning of the hair. Alopecia, the medical term for hair loss, can be caused by disease, styling stress, or aging chemotherapy. As WebMD reports, “Hair is susceptible to hormonal changes, irritation, chemicals, and other damage.” As always, consult a doctor if you have serious concerns.

Hair is also sensitive to hormone changes. If you are pregnant, you may notice a lustrous sheen to your thickening hair. But once you give birth, your hair is likely to return to its normal state and fall out. Sure, shedding all over your newborn might not seem appealing, but it’s a natural occurrence for your hair.

Finally, nutrition plays an important part in hair health. If your hair is too thin, you may have an iron or protein deficiency. Makes sense, right, when you realize hair itself is protein-based? Eat well-balanced meals and consider adding fish oils, walnuts, eggs, and/or green tea to your diet to help thicken hair. As one expert points out, “good nutrition helps form healthier hair follicles and makes stronger, thicker, healthier hair when it’s being formed.”

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Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.