We are as attached to our head’s hair as it (initially) is to us.
When we start losing it, we really start, uh, losing it—and we want it back. Our hair, that is. As far back as Ancient Egypt, people have sought ways to stem hair loss and stimulate hair growth. While the Egyptians employed a cocktail of iron oxide, red lead, onions, alabaster, animal fats and honey, and today we still use some of those remedies, in one form or another.
Men’s hair loss in particular has created a billion-dollar industry, with putative cures ranging from chemically laced topical treatments and drugs to transplants and—ugh—wigs. Yet hair-loss science is imperfect, uncertain and riddled with misinformation that allows companies to sell solutions that may or may not work.
Our heads have about 120,000–150,000 strands of hair, and it’s normal for both men and women to lose fifty to a hundred daily. Any more than that and eventually we start to feel the anxiety of impending baldness.
We lose hair for several reasons. Chiefly, aging weakens hair and makes it more brittle, and also decreases hormone production and nutrient absorption, thus slowing hair growth. Other reasons include nutritional deficiencies, genetics, pattern baldness, illness and autoimmune disorders, stress and trauma. Even air and water pollutants and sunlight’s phototoxic aging effects may facilitate alopecia.
While there’s no way to completely stop natural hair loss due to ageing and genetic factors, we can certainly control how fast we lose it, and possibly reverse abnormal loss and stimulate growth, by taking certain steps such as those below.
7 Natural Ways to Prevent Hair Loss
1. Change Your Diet
There are natural, non-chemical ways to prevent hair loss, with the strongest measure being a healthy, balanced diet. One consequence of the typical North American high-fat, high-protein, high-salt diet is an acidic environment in the body, which can lead to premature hair loss.
Iron-rich foods like lean red meats and dark green veggies contribute to ferritin levels sufficient to increase the hair’s growth cycle, meaning it will grow for a greater period of time. Iron also delivers oxygen to hair follicles, which further incites growth.
Since hair is made mostly of protein, and protein deficiency causes hair loss, it stands to reason that adding protein to your diet—plentiful in animal products and dairy—will stimulate growth. But paradoxically, too much protein may result in baldness. A Goldilocks situation seems to exist in terms of protein and hair growth.
Another food ingredient crucial to hair health is omega-3 fatty acids, which facilitate the production and action of hormones and oily lubricants that lead to healthy scalp and follicles and bouncy, shiny hair. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in certain fish, specifically salmon, shellfish, nuts, seeds and their oils.
Healthy hair also requires us to eat our vitamins. A and B-complex vitamins promote vibrant, shiny hair; B12 can neutralise premature hair loss; C and Zinc help strengthen hair, biotin helps avoid hair loss and premature greying; D facilitates healthy follicular growth; E helps maintain a healthy, moisturised scalp.
The bottom line? Eating whole foods such as organic eggs, lentils, spinach, red meat, pumpkin seeds and salmon is best, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, vitamins and minerals. Most vegetable skins are rich in silica, which contributes to hair strength.
2. Drink More Tea
Green tea, saw palmetto and stinging nettle tea contain ingredients that inhibit the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a compound that’s linked to thinning hair and pattern baldness; an extract of the saw palmetto plant may have a similar effect on testosterone. These products are prime weapons in the battle against some forms of alopecia. Swapping coffee for green, nettle or saw palmetto tea may not give you a morning kick, but it could wake your hair follicles up! Can’t drink that much tea? You can actually buy the concentrated ingredients of these teas in pill form to help prevent hair loss.
3. Detox Now
Behavioral strategies can also mitigate hair loss, starting with the elimination of three common vices: alcohol, tobacco, and coffee. Excess booze intake leads to hair loss through dehydration—which makes hair dry and brittle (one-quarter of a hair strand is composed of water)—and also by dramatically depleting the body’s iron and zinc levels; caffeine in large amounts similarly affects the body. Cigarette smoke, meanwhile, contains toxins that accelerate hair loss as well as premature greying. What’s not known is whether these tobacco toxins directly affect the scalp or simply accelerate the aging process; what is known is that quitting mitigates the problems.
4. Chill Out
When we say some experience was so rough, we ‘lost hair’ over it, it could well be the case–stress is another factor in hair loss, specifically of a condition called telogen effluvium. Meditation and exercise are two ways to relieve stress and create a better hormonal balance, thereby helping to prevent alopecia. Massage also may be beneficial; both of the body, and of the scalp. For the latter, the addition of oils such as almond or coconut both make a massage more pleasant and infuse the scalp with essential vitamins and minerals. Finally, don’t be rough on your mane–instead of rubbing your hair dry with a towel every day, which can damage delicate follicles, air-dry it.
5. Don’t Fake It
Finally, despite what fancy hairdressers may tell you, using extensions and weaves or wearing tight wigs or hairpieces daily may damage hair follicles by stressing their anchor to the scalp. Sure, they may provide some temporary volume, but constantly wearing hair pieces is another hair-loss accelerator. Believe me: I know girls who have tried all kinds of hair extensions, and inevitably they end up with loads of hair being pulled out when they’re applied and removed. Also be careful with hair straighteners, tight ponytails, blow dryers, harsh chemical hair dyes and heated rollers, all of which can further damage delicate hair and cause it to break off. Check out some natural hair dyes here.
6. Top It Up
While a proper diet rich in whole organic foods is the best conduit for nutrients to the body, if you find you just don’t have the time to plan such meals, then taking supplements could help. Some that are created especially to help hair loss include saw palmetto based products, Noukrin (which also claims to help skin and nails), Florisene (rich in B12 and iron). All of these supplements are a bit pricey and claim you will have to take them regularly and wait at least three months to see any results.
7. Pooh Pooh the ‘Poo
Most commercial shampoos contain sodium lauryl or sodium laureth sulfate (SLS). Both of these detergent chemicals are harsh on hair, and SLS also corrodes hair follicles and impairs their ability to grow hair. One study showed that if you use pure SLS on your scalp it will actually cause hair to fall out! Some trichologists (hair specialists) believe that increased use of SLS and the salt that is added to it to make it foam is leading more women to lose their hair (or to have it thin out) than ever before.
Not to worry: Eluxe has recommended some fantastic, gentle shampoos with all natural ingredients. If you can’t find those locally, head down to your local health food shop or Whole Foods shop and choose a shampoo from there.
8. Try a Designated Supplement
If topping up your vitamin intake isn’t enough, designated anti-hair loss supplements can help, especially if you’re losing hair due to a too much DHT (a male hormone that causes Androgenic Alopecia) or a lack of ferritin, protein, iron, biotin or other trace elements that are essential for healthy hair growth.
There are several on the market, such as Viviscal, which many celebs (have been paid to) endorse, HairAnew, which always gets good reviews from users, and also NutraFol, which has special formulas for both men and women. Most anti-hair loss/pro-hair growth supplements are likely to contain marine collagen of some kind, so aren’t too vegan-friendly. But NutraFol has four patented clinically proven ingredients to combat the underlying causes of hair loss, thinning hair and declining hair health, and claims to contain bio-actives that will minimize hair shedding and hair loss due to stress and DHT. Even if you don’t shed much hair, Nutrafol’s rich content of A, C, D, and Zinc, as well as biotin, selenium and other anti-aging herbs can offset the damaging effects of stress, nutritional deficiencies, and act as a preventative part of your anti-aging strategy.
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