Even though hair is often treated as just an accessory, it has some important functions in helping to protect us in various ways. For instance, the hair on our head and body provides some insulation against both the sun and the cold. Meanwhile, eyelashes and nose hairs keep out harmful debris.
This article contains general information about hair and how it relates to your skin and body.
Maintaining Healthy Hair
To keep your hair in the best condition, treat it gently and keep it conditioned. Some things that can damage hair and may lead to breakage or hair loss are:
- Heat styling, such as blow-drying, curling, or straightening
- Sun exposure may cause heat damage
- Handling wet hair – wet hair is more elastic and can break more easily than dry hair, so take care if towel drying, or combing and brushing while wet
- Styling products, such as hair spray and hair gel can be damaging, especially those that promise long holding times
- Chemicals used to colour, perm, or relax weaken hair and make it more prone to breakage
- Chemicals such as chlorine
- Too much brushing can lead to split ends
- Typing hair up – any style that causes pulling can stretch your hair and cause breakage
Oily hair basically stems from an oily scalp. Hair follicles include sebaceous (oil-producing) glands that produce sebum, or oil. The more oil produced, the greasier hair may look. Seborrhea, the condition of when the glands put out too much oil, can be caused by excessive male sex hormones, and can lead to acne or seborrheic dermatitis. Washing hair daily may help to reduce the surface oil on the scalp. As well, a doctor may recommend retinoids (topical or oral), or hormone therapy to reduce androgen levels, which are involved in sebum production.
Grey hair is caused by the loss of pigment (melanin) which gives hair its colour. Aging is the main cause of greying hair, but other factors can be health and heredity. If your parents went grey early, you have a higher chance too. Grey hair can also signal an underlying medical condition associated with decreased melanin production, such as vitiligo. Any type of hair loss can also help reveal grey hair, as dark hair tends to fall out more readily than grey hair.
Colouring hair is a common beauty practice, but is not completely free of risks. Problems can include burning, itching, redness of the scalp, hair loss, and even severe allergic reactions. Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) is a chemical substance often found in hair colouring products which can cause adverse reactions if you are allergic to it. It is important to perform a patch test each time you use a hair dye, even if you have used it before, since and allergy to a product ingredient can develop at any time. To ensure you use hair colouring products safely, follow this advice:
- Read all directions and warnings, and heed them.
- Always do a patch test before using any colouring product on your hair.
- Never use hair dye on your eyebrows or lashes – it may cause blindness.
- Always wear gloves when applying dye.
- Do not leave product on hair for longer than directed.
- Be sure to rinse your scalp well.
Straightening with Hair Relaxers
Hair relaxers are used to chemically straighten curly or wavy hair. Overly frequent use can weaken or damage hair, so it is important to check with a salon professional about how often is safe to use a hair relaxer. To ensure you use hair relaxing products safely, follow this advice:
- Follow directions exactly and never leave relaxer on longer than instructed.
- Ask for help applying and rinsing it just to be safer.
- Apply petroleum jelly to scalp as added protection before using relaxer.
- Rinse well and use a neutralizing shampoo.
There are various methods of removing unwanted hair, each with their own pros and cons.
Shaving, using a razor and usually shaving cream, is a common hair removal method among men and women, as it is inexpensive and easy to access. However, there is a possibility of nicks and cuts, as well as stubble and a fast re-growth time.
Waxing involves applying a layer of melted wax to the skin and then pulling it off quickly in the opposite direction of hair growth, pulling the hair out by the root. This results in slower hair regrowth. It is believed that repeated damage to the hair follicles may eventually result in diminished hair growth. Extra caution is necessary with warm wax to ensure it won’t burn skin. Negative effects include pain during removal, redness and sensitivity that can last hours after hair removal, and, in some cases, scarring, hyperpigmentation, and dermatitis. Sugaring is similar to waxing, consisting of a soft paste that is applied to skin, then pulled off. Both methods can be done at home, or professionally at a salon.
Lasering consists of using a targeted laser beam to penetrate and destroy hair follicles that produce hair. Results are very long lasting, and can be permanent with enough subsequent treatments. Potential side effects are blistering, skin discolouration, redness, swelling, scarring, and pigmentation problems, such as white spots where lasering has occured.
Ingrown hairs grow into the skin instead of out. They usually result in areas where hair has been removed by shaving, waxing, or tweezing. Ingrown hairs produce itchy or painful red bumps similar to pimples. Infection can result when an ingrown hair is scratched or picked at. Having naturally curly hair increases the chance of ingrown hairs, since the hair follicles are curved. A few tips for shaving to reduce ingrown hairs are:
- Forego the close shave – choose a single-blade razor over a double-blade, shave in the direction of hair growth, and do not pull skin taut while shaving.
- Choose a lubricating shave gel to make skin less prone to nicks and cuts.
- Opt for a sharp blade and preferably a new one each time you shave.
- Calm your skin by putting a cool compress on freshly shaved skin to prevent irritation and swelling.
Folliculitis refers to inflammation of hair follicles. When it occurs in the beard area of the face, it is also known as “barber’s itch.” It usually involves redness and swelling, and may lead to infection. Folliculitis develops when hair follicles become damaged, such as when due to friction from clothing, or irritation caused by shaving. Common symptoms include a rash, itching, and pimples or pustules. It is usually found in the neck or groin area. You can try to relieve the symptoms by applying a hot, moist compress to the affected area. However, if the infection worsens or doesn’t resolve on its own within 2 to 3 days, see your doctor as antibiotics may be required. A few tips to prevent folliculitis are:
- Avoid clothing friction from scratchy or restrictive clothing.
- Try to shave less often, and use a clean, new razor each time you shave.
- Avoid touching affected skin with dirty hands or washcloths, and change clothing regularly.
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