Hair… your natural health barometer

two black women straighten hair and natural curly hairHair is sometimes called the ‘barometer of health’. It can reflect an individual’s lifestyle, indicating the stresses, tensions and variations in the body. The occasional night out is hardly likely to make a significant difference to the condition of our scalp, apart from a lack of shine perhaps but continued lifestyle stresses can result in dull lifeless hair.

Customers and fashion make demands upon us all. In response to some of these demands, we seek advice from the world of hairdressing. Hair texture problems can be caused by over exposure to heat sources such as hair straighteners, which dry out the hair and can leave it feeling brittle, resulting in breakage. It is essential to remember that a change in hair structure will make the hair more vulnerable to the daily wear and tear of styling. So, if you applying extra heat and styling products frequently for nights out for example, you are creating additional tension on the hair.

More than usual care will be needed when shampooing and drying hair, particularly when subjected to chemical changes such as relaxer, colouring and bleaching. As a general rule, do not demand the impossible from your hair, always take into account the general condition, type and texture and you will avoid unsightly disappointments.

Importance of correct hair care
Correct hair care will help maintain the hair and scalp in a healthy state. It is important to pay attention to the things we use on our hair, from combs and brushes to modern hairdressing equipment. First choose the best tools then use them correctly.

Try using smooth rollers instead of curling tongs, straighteners which can lead to damaged hair. Similarly, excessively hot dryers should not be used as there is a danger of scorching the hair. When blow drying do not hold the dryer too close, or apply too much tension to the hair with a brush.

Hair should be professionally cut. Cutting the hair does not increase hair growth, but regular trimming will remove split ends and improve its condition.

Spend on your combs and brushes
Saw-cut combs made of hard materials such as bone, ivory or tortoise are the best, but costly. A vulcanised rubber comb, saw-cut in the same way, is less expensive but will do just as well.

A well designed brush made from natural bristle, although more expensive than nylon or plastic, is less likely to damage the hair. Excessive or careless use of either will cause damage.

Different types of shampoos
In most cases you will need to try a variety of shampoos to find the one most suited to your individual needs. Remember however, that the basic aim of shampooing is to cleanse the hair and scalp. With this in mind, it is wise to choose the mildest possible shampoo. If in doubt, seek professional advice.

If your hair is particularly dull and brittle, difficult to comb and / or lacking in body, a conditioner is very helpful. There are many available, and like shampoos, these must be varied to find the one most suitable.

The importance of diet
Problems of the hair and scalp range from so called ‘dandruff’ to inflammatory conditions. These can be a symptom of some metabolic variation. Stress, poor diet, or even an allergy to certain foods can be responsible for the build up of dead, normally shed skin cells.

A well balanced diet, including fresh fruit, vegetables and adequate protein is necessary for general health. This in turn is reflected in the condition of the hair and scalp indeed, certain disorders require special dietary advice.

Hair in poor condition requires specialist treatment. This is necessary in cases of dandruff and scalp problems which persist after using medicated shampoos. There are many general health disorders, for example, anaemia and endocrine imbalance and changes in metabolism. Sudden shock or great stress over a long period of time can lead to different forms of hair loss. Should any abnormal scalp or hair condition arise which cause concern, trichological or medical advice should be sought.

Importance of hair and skin sense
Hydration (water moisture) is the key to hair and skin condition. The climate can have a drying effect on the hair and skin, especially in an inner city environment with its associated pollutants.

Afro hair therefore has a higher potential risk factor when it is processed using heat, bleach, tint, permanent waving and  straightening creams. Minor damage to the skin following these processes can lead to serious damage if it is not treated promptly and advice offered as to prevention. Similarly, abrasion caused by dry razoring getting too close with the clippers can lead to extensive scar damage if not treated with appropriate advice.

Traction styling, plaiting and corn rowing can also, in some circumstances, lead to permanent damage – particularly to the front hairline and margins. It is important not to create excessive tension on the hairline and margins such as with tight ponytails and other similar styles.

Often the damage is not noticeable immediately. Continued tension could lead to a form of hair loss known as Traction Alopecia, but this might then develop into one of the inflammatory disorders known as Folliculitis which would require treatment from a medical practitioner or Trichologist

About Shirley McDonald MIT – Consultant Trichologist
Since qualifying in 1991, Consultant Trichologist Shirley McDonald has studied advanced nutrition for practitioners with the Institute of Nutrition I.O.N and Natural Nutrition with the College of Natural Nutrition. Shirley has been a freelance writer for BH Magazine (Black Hair). Her features include braiding, chemical applications and dry scalp conditions. She has lectured at various hair events, including Alopecia UK 2015 . She has also been interviewed extensively both in print and broadcast media, appearing on shows like Radio 4’s Celebration of Women programme, BEN TV, Colour Radio and featured in Pride magazine.




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