When not caused by disease, injury or as a by-product of treatment for an illness, one can prevent hair loss by avoiding certain elements in our environment. For instance, excessive sun exposure or contact with salt water can weaken the hair and cause it to break.
Keratin, the cells which coat the shaft of the hair to give it pliable strength, can easily be damaged by environmental stimuli. Damaged hair means damaged keratins, usually starting from the cuticle scales first. Damage at the core of the shaft makes the hair harder to manage, particularly in longer hair. Hair loss causes bald patches or thinning hair, both of which can be avoided if externally caused.
Excessive Sun Exposure:
Sun exposure can damage the hair as well as the skin. Both contain melanin, which is a compound susceptible to cancer. It is the ultraviolet elements of solar radiation which can damage the hair molecules, leaving it weakened and breakable. The weathered appearance of hair which has been over-exposed to sun rays is caused by the weakened keratin proteins within the hair shafts.
If excessive exposure to the sun is expected try to use hair care products which contain ultraviolet protection ingredients, or simply cover your hair with a cap or a hat.
Sun and Salt Water:
Surfing in the heat of the summer is a great way to cool off and get some exercise. However, the combination of solar rays and salt water is not good for healthy hair. Seawater is alkaline which is entirely in contrast to the hair keratins, the proteins which produce the hair’s strength and gloss. The combination of the solar radiation and salty water has a bleaching effect on the hair, leaving it dehydrated and weakened. A few natural hair restoration techniques are recommended to prevent hair loss and damage, including:
- Cocoa butter: Massage a protective coating of grease, such as cocoa butter, into the hair to prevent the salt water from having direct contact with the hair.
- Protein conditioner: Immediately after leaving the salt water, shampoo the hair thoroughly and apply a protein-based conditioner or good leave-in conditioner.
Chlorine in Swimming Pools:
Chlorine is one of the most damaging elements to hair; in fact, in some shades of blonde, it can actually turn the hair a greenish colour! This greenish colour comes from copper and iron, dissolved in the pool water and oxidised by the chlorine before being absorbed by the hair itself.
The potent bleaching agent in chlorine causes severe damage to the hair keratins, weakening and lightening the hair. If the hair has been chemically treated or dyed, this damage can be intensified. The manifest of the damage includes hair breakage, split-ends, difficulty in styling and decolouration. Excess exposure to chlorine is one of the biggest causes of hair loss.
To protect the hair against these problematic issues with chlorine, the following steps may be taken:
- Rinse the hair thoroughly with fresh water immediately after leaving the chlorinated water.
- Use a shampoo which will limit the damage to the keratins from the chlorine such as a pH neutral shampoo and products that contain sodium thiosulfate.
If there is no access to these products, braiding one’s hair or wearing a latex swimming cap while in the water can limit the damage to the keratins.
Hair Styling and Blow Drying:
Voluminous and wavy hair is considered a good look for healthy hair, but this is usually only obtained through laborious and damaging blow drying on a high heat. This excessive heat in hair styling causes untold damage to the keratin proteins within the hair shaft.
Hair styling implements should be used on the lowest usable temperature when styling to limit the amount of hair loss and damage. Do not use straighteners or curling tongs on the hair on the highest setting as you will hear the ‘crackling’ sound. This is not an effective method of maintaining healthy hair as the moisture in the hair explodes due to the heat, causing the crackle and subsequent damage. Instead, only use heat styling implements with heat-protecting products applied directly to the hair, and never heat-dry the hair with a blow dryer. Use the dryer on the lowest temperature setting when styling and drying hair.
The old wives’ tail of ‘100 strokes a day’ for the hair is no longer applicable, due to the developments in shampoos and conditioners designed to remove the dead skin cells and distribute hair oils. Although excessive brushing of the hair can lead to hair loss and damage, one should always make sure the hair is tangle-free and smooth, especially with long, straight hair which can weigh down the cuticles, causing weakness and thinness in the hair. To prevent hair loss, never over-brush the hair.
Hair brushing should not be a painful exercise. Instead of yanking the hair downwards with a brush when tangled, rather use a wide-toothed comb or fingers to untangle the hair. Never rip through the hair when it is wet, rather moisturise and loosen the tangles with the fingers first. Alternatively, dry the hair and then brush it, but this can be difficult with long hair. Don’t back-comb the hair, no matter how fashionable this style may be. This backcombing pushes the hair the wrong way and is a cause of hair loss in the long term.