While the go-to expert advice for optimum hair health is to fiddle with it as least as possible, there really is no standing in between a woman and her hair stylist. We enter the salon a meek and humble caterpillar, with pictures of celebrity hair pegs in hand and expectations up in the air to undergo a minimum two-hour metamorphosis that can go in either of two polar-opposite directions: “OMG I love it!” or, “Oh dear God.”
If it’s the first, we can expect a temporary spike in selfies posted. If it’s the latter, and growing your hair out seems to be the only option, and those heavily Kardashian-marketed hair supplements are starting to look really good, take a few minutes to understand that the rate at which your hair grows, and its other characteristics (thickness, texture, potential length, among others) are affected by a bunch of factors.
- Smoking – Aside from the fact that cigarette smoke has at least 7,000 cancer-causing compounds and harmful free radicals that rapidly age and slowly kill you from the inside, chronic constriction of the blood vessels that supply your hair follicles deprives them of adequate oxygen and nutrients, resulting in duller, more brittle hair. Smoking can also throw hormones off balance.
- Too much styling/washing/product – Any unnatural physical force and substance puts stress on your hair follicles. I’m very guilty of always tying my long mane up in a tight ponytail or bun, and that’s played a role in my constant state of shedding.
- Physical/emotional stress – When your body is recuperating from serious illness, or recovering from childbirth or a major surgical procedure, the least of its concerns is producing nice hair. Emotional stress can also cause chaos in your body, which collaterally damages your hair follicles.
- Natural hair cycle – At any given time, roughly 90 percent of one’s hair is in an active grow phase, which can yield about 1/2 inch of growth every month. The active follicles go on for about 2 to 3 years before taking a break for 3 to 4 months, and then you shed hair. Periods of physical/emotional stress can prematurely arrest the grow phase in some follicles, which can then fall off all at the same time later on.
- Poor diet – Whether you crash dieted, or you’re simply not eating a balanced diet day-to-day, a good head of hair is achieved by making sure your body has the right building blocks for it. Healthy fats and protein are essential.
I admit the following: I was once a cigarette smoker, I have a love-hate relationship with dieting, I dye my hair, and I have anxiety. Needless to say, it’s a little like living with a sheepdog when you hang out at my apartment. So, after a lot of research (Pro Tip: You can never do enough research on something you plan to ingest), and despite many mixed reviews, I got my hands on a two-pack of biotin 2,000mcg capsules – a 2-month supply.
In a nutshell, vitamin H a.k.a. vitamin B7 a.k.a. biotin is a nutrient that helps your body better metabolize fats and produce energy. It’s easily found in everyday food items, such as, eggs, sardines, nuts, soybeans, whole grains, cauliflower, and bananas. While there’s no solid evidence to back claims that biotin supports fuller, thicker, and longer locks, I figured bald wouldn’t be a good look on me when I’m 80, so I took one capsule a day, every day, for 2 months.
I hate to disappoint, but in one word, my experience taking biotin was unremarkable. My hair and nails still grew at a normal rate over the 2 months, but I continued to shed. Apparently, biotin – if its effects were to manifest at all in the average person – does more for your strands’ luster than length and thickness. So, if it’s a matter of hair loss, thinning, and breakage, you’re better off addressing the roots of the problem – pun intended.
Reevaluate how you’re exposed to the factors listed above, and make small steps towards reducing them. After my biotin disappointment in June, I turned to the following positive lifestyle changes – partly to help save my hair in the long run, but mostly to just be healthier:
- I ate (even) better. No special meal planning, or trips to specialty food stores. I simply made sure I had a serving of greens with every plate, upped my good fat intake (avocados, fatty fish, MCT oil, grass-fed butter), stayed hydrated, and made sure I was getting enough lean protein.
- I wait at least 2 days before washes. Sometimes, if Arizona weather conditions permit, I purposely go 3 to 4 days without washing my hair because all your hair follicles really want to do is soak in your own natural oils. This step has not only made most of my mornings easier (Washing long hair is no joke!), but has reduced the oiliness of my hair while improving its overall texture.
- I learned better coping techniques. While we are never really in control of stressful events, keep in mind that you are always in control of how you react to it in the moment, and how much of it you want to carry around with you after.
While its always a little bit of a let down when “magic pills” don’t work as advertised, it’s comforting to know that most of what your body needs to function properly is very fundamental. I don’t know when I’ll notice a decrease in my hair fall, but I’m certain that if I keep making these positive lifestyle choices, I shouldn’t be far behind.