- Dr Faheem Latheef
Why has my hair suddenly become so brittle?
Hair is fairly strong and can generally withstand normal grooming techniques. However, there can be thinning or breakage of hair due to poor grooming habits, and some of the following tips can prevent these bouts of thinning and breakage.
Avoid combing hair with fine-toothed combs when wet, as this can be a common cause of breakage. Although this is a tempting practice because hair straightens and detangles work much better if combed when wet, the stress on the hair shaft is immense when the hair is wet because it is weakened.The same applies for brushing the hair when wet. Brushing the hair in general can be stimulating to the scalp, encouraging blood flow to the hair follicles and maintaining their health.
Brushing the hair before washing it, can loosen up flakes of sebum and dead skin buildup and make it easier to thoroughly clean the scalp during shampooing. Remember, over combing or over brushing generally will cause damage to the hair, which is quite contrary to the old 100-stroke brushing rule.
Although clean hair is desirable and even necessary for the maintenance of healthy hair, excessive shampooing can strip vital minerals like calcium, phosphorus, nitrogen and iron from the hair. This is particularly true when using commercial shampoos containing preservatives such as formaldehyde or one of the formaldehyde releasers such as Quanternium-15 for example. There are concerns that these substance can be carcinogenic (cancer-causing) and can also lead to contact allergies.
Unfortunately for those who suffer with dandruff, anti-dandruff shampoos are also loaded with preservatives. Selenium sulfide is the main ingredient in most dandruff shampoos, a substance that has shown to cause degeneration of the liver.
Natural shampoos normally found in health food store can sometimes be a better choice. Even with natural shampoos, be careful of the ingredient Sodium Lauryl Sulfate which is a known irritant and can strip away too much oil from the hair, causing shampoo residue to be left behind. Ingredients that have proven useful in shampoos are cocamides, Panthenol Pro-B, vitamins, aloe vera, sage, nettle, burdock, chamomile, chaparral, horsetail and rosemary. Also look for shampoos that contain keratin, the protein substance that hair is made of, or amino acids. This will help seal breakages in the cuticle.
Choose a shampoo with a proper pH balance; a level of 5.5 is ideal. The pH scale runs from 0 to 6.9 for acids and 7.1 to 14 for alkaline, with 7 being neutral. Although generally conditioners are good for hair provided that they do not contain the previously mentioned harmful chemicals, shampoos with conditioners included should be avoided. Shampooing and conditioning serve two different functions and the effectiveness of both are diminished by combining the process.
When shampooing, pour the shampoo into the hands and rub the shampoo in with your hands rather than pouring it on your head. By pouring shampoo directly into the hair you may promote buildup in one particular spot. Massage gently with your fingertips to loosen flakes and buildup and to stimulate circulation, but avoid using the fingernails as this may scratch the scalp and cause scarring over time. Shampoo with warm water to open the pores and rinse with cool water to promote shrinking the pores back to their normal size. After washing hair, dry it by blotting the hair with a towel. Avoid rubbing, especially with terrycloth towels, as this will pull hair when it is in a weakened state due to the wetness.
Be sure to follow directions on all perms and relaxers, as misuse can cause serious damage to the hair shaft. Excessive coloring, styling or heat treatments, and chemical treatments can damage hair and cause breakage even when directions are followed. Always keep in mind that these perms and relaxers have harsh chemicals in them that chemically alter hair, and long-term use of these chemicals can cause harm to hair shafts and follicles causing some hair loss. If you can avoid the use of these chemicals, by all means do. The result could be the increased life of your hair.
If you decide to use perms or relaxers to process hair, be sure to use semi-permanent hair color or henna. This will avoid harsh reactions between the relaxer or perm and the ammonia and peroxide amounts in permanent dyes. It is always best to allow the hair to rest untreated as much as possible, and avoid mixing chemical processes.
Another styling caution is against the overuse of hairstyles that pull the hair too tight, such as ponytails and braids, which will cause hair loss especially along the sides of the scalp. This syndrome is called traction alopecia. Keep in mind when styling hair that hair is living and growing, and is susceptible to the stress of constant pulling continuous abuse causes scarring, which will lead to permanent hair loss in the areas affected. Along with leaving the hair chemically untreated for a time, leaving it in a loose style without over-manipulation for as long as possible will ensure optimum results.
There may also be some benefit in supplementing with vitamins particularly Biotin which can help with hair, skin and nail growth.
If you suspect that you are suffering from more severe forms of hair loss or associated with other symptoms such as itching, burning or redness of the scalp I would recommend seeing a Dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis and more tailored management.