General Hair Care

Written by Dr. Griffin

During hair loss consultations, I’m often asked about general hair care. “What shampoo should I use?”. “Is it ok to color my hair?”. “Do hats cause hair loss?”. “Is it ok to do a perm?”. These are all valid questions driven by what people see advertised and by popular myths about hair loss. People with hair loss are desperate to try to fix their problem and are therefore very vulnerable to advertisements which promise hair growth. Thus millions of dollars are spent annually on products promising hair growth.

The big question is “Will anything really help my hair to grow better?”.

The truth is that if you have genetically driven male or female pattern hair loss, there is no shampoo or other product other than proven medical products that will make hair grow. I have discussed medical treatment in other blogs so I will refer the reader to those for a more in-depth discussion. Nothing you do to your hair, including wearing hats, will change the course of hair loss other than medical treatments. That being said, one can certainly use products and take precautions to take care of your hair shafts.

Shampoos are designed to clean the scalp and the hair shafts. Regardless of any “hair growth ” ingredients, shampoo by itself will not make hair grow. Shampoo formulas which are volumizing can improve the appearance of the hair and make it look fuller. We recommend volumizing shampoos and conditioners for that purpose. Shampoo should be chosen based upon the inherent oiliness of one’s hair. That is, moisturizing shampoo for dry hair and a regular shampoo for oily hair. People with dry hair should use a conditioner after shampooing. If one has very dry hair, the conditioner should be left on longer, up to 15 minutes. Conditioner is like moisturizer for the skin. It helps to hold water in the hair shafts, keeping them supple and less likely to break. The bottom line is, pick a shampoo and conditioner that works for your type of hair, but don’t be misled into spending extra money for products promising hair growth.

Coloring does not affect hair growth. It can, however, weaken hair shafts over time leading to “cotton candy ” hair later in life. This is especially true for products that bleach the hair. Coloring agents have improved and there are formulas which are less damaging. I recommend asking your colorist about their procedure and finding someone who’s up to date with the best and least caustic coloring agents.

Perms are procedures used to straighten hair or to curl it, and then hold it there. The process involves using chemicals to break down the keratin in the hair shafts, set it the way you want it, and then using chemicals to reverse the process. These procedures are fine unless the perming agent contains caustic substances which can actually get down into the hair follicles and in some cases cause inflammation which will kill the follicles. We see this often in African American hair which has been straightened over many years. The result is a form of permanent hair loss. The bottom line is to be careful with perm products. While most do not cause permanent hair loss, they can weaken the hair shafts and cause breakage, which is often mistaken for hair loss. The treatment is to stop the process of damage and to start a gentler, healthier hair care routine. For African Americans, I strongly recommend a natural cut. I also discourage tight braids and cornrows which pull on the hair follicle and also lead to permanent hair loss.

Good nutrition plays a role in helping to keep hair strong. Vitamin supplements containing extra biotin are helpful both for hair and nails. Nutritional supplements which provide extra protein are good for hair and general health. Adequate iron intake is important, particularly in women who lose iron monthly. Iron deficiency is associated with hair loss.

Stress reduction, to the extent that it’s possible, is important for general well being. Stress can cause temporary shedding in some people. Although the hair grows back, shedding can be distressing, leading to more shedding. Exercise, mindfulness training, time for relaxation and other things can help. In people who are genetically susceptible to hair loss, stress can accelerate the onset.

In summary, good hair care is about proper cleansing and conditioning and avoidance of damaging processes. Good nutrition and stress reduction will help one feel better and your hair will thank you.