Hair Loss vs. Hair Damage: The Hair Growth Cycle
The average person is born with 100,000-150,000 terminal hair follicles on the scalp. The human hair grows in cycles:
It is normal to see shed hair on your pillow, in your shower drain, or in your brush. The average human sheds from 50-100 hairs a day; this amount of shedding is normal since a new hair will be growing in that hair follicle.
There are times in a person life where the shedding can increase dramatically (i.e.200-300 hairs a day). The clinical name for the disease is Telogen Effluvium and its onset is usually preceded by a traumatic event (either physical or psychological). The good news is that it will eventually resolve (usually after 2-3 months). Unfortunately, there is no medication that will speed up the resolution.
What is Healthy Hair?
Evaluation of the Hair Shaft
Hair shine is directly related to the condition of the hair cuticle. Shiny, healthy hair possesses an intact cuticle with closely overlapping cuticular scales. It is the smoothness of the overlapping scales that promotes the light reflection, interpreted by the eye as shine.
Normal grooming processes, such as combing and brushing, result in loss of cuticular scales, which is more pronounced at the end of the hair shaft. This process is known as weathering and is accelerated by overly aggressive grooming or chemical processing.
The greater the cuticular damage, the duller the hair appears.
Healthy hair is smooth and soft; damaged hair feels rough and harsh. Soft hair has an intact cuticle, which creates a smooth hair shaft surface.
Permanently waved or dyed hair must have a disrupted cuticle to allow penetration of the waving lotion or dye. Thus, chemically processed hair never feels as soft as virgin hair.
Frizzy hair is also indicative of cuticular damage. Hair that has been chemically processed is prone to static electricity. This is because the hair shaft can maintain a charge if the cuticle is missing, which causes the hairs to separate and appear frizzy, especially at the hair shaft ends.
Generally, chemicals penetrate more deeply into the end of the hair shaft, where there is more damage to the cuticular scales. A well-educated cosmetologist is aware of this, especially when processing long hair, and will apply the chemicals to the scalp first and then dilute the product prior to applying the solution to the distal ends of the hair shafts.
Minimizing Hair Damage
While any manipulation of the hair shaft can cause breakage, proper grooming, shampooing, conditioning, styling, and cosmetic hair care practices can minimize the damage.
Improper grooming practices are the most common cause of hair breakage since it is done on a daily basis. Hair shafts are most subject to fracture when wet, because wet hair is more readily stretched to the breaking point than dry hair. Therefore, hair should initially be detangled with the fingers and dried slightly prior to detangling with a wide-toothed comb. Brushes are not appropriate for detangling because they tend to tear and fracture the hair shaft.
In general, all grooming should be kept to a minimum. The less the hair is manipulated, the less opportunity there is for breakage. The idea that 100 brush strokes a day is beneficial to the hair is wrong.
Combs are preferred to brushes because there is less surface area to create friction and cause hair shaft fracture.
Combs with smooth, widely spaced teeth, which allow the comb to glide freely through the hair, are the best choice.
Brushes should have widely spaced bristles with rounded tips.
Any grooming tool that feels rough when stroked across the palm of the hand is likely to tear the hair shafts and result in unnecessary breakage.
Shampoo is designed to clean the scalp, not the hair. Small amounts of sebum on the hair shaft are desirable for smoothing the cuticular scales and decreasing static electricity. It allows the hair to appear shiny and lay smoothly against the scalp. However, in persons with fine or thinning hair, the sebum decreases frizz, causing the hair to appear less full.
Hair should be shampooed only when required to remove dirt or excess sebum. Daily shampooing is not necessary for good hygiene in people with mild sebum production and sedentary lifestyles.
The friction generated between the hair shafts while shampooing is an unavoidable cause of unnecessary hair fracture.
Conditioners after shampooing can be helpful to people who have excessive hair breakage and insist on continued frequent shampooing. An instant conditioner can be valuable in minimizing hair loss by detangling the hair and reducing friction between the comb and the hair shafts and between individual hair shafts.
A conditioner functions essentially like sebum by placing a protective coating over the hair shaft, but conditioners are designed not to leave the hair with greasy shine or lack of body.
For people with a lot of hair breakage, the best conditioners are those containing dimethicone. Dimethicone is also beneficial for increasing hair shine, which is usually reduced in persons with excessive hair breakage.
Careful hair drying is important to prevent breakage.
The common practice of drying the hair by rubbing it aggressively with a towel should be avoided. Rubbing the hair shafts together while wet generates tremendous friction, resulting in hair breakage.
Wet hair should be blotted dry but should not be combed or manipulated until some initial drying has occurred.
It is best to allow the hair to dry without externally applied heat. Hair damaged by heat from improper blow-dryer use appears frizzy and curly at the ends. This damaged hair is significantly weakened and will eventually break. The hair shafts can also form bubbles from this excessive heat, which weakness the hair shaft and causes fracturing at the site of the bubble.
Heat damage from blow-drying can be avoided by using the lowest heat setting and holding the nozzle at least 6 inches from the scalp.
A vented blow-drying brush is also useful since it is designed to prevent high temperatures caused by heat buildup along the styling brush.
The best way to prevent hair damage is to minimize styling. The less the hair is manipulated, the less opportunity there is for breakage.
To minimize breakage, hairstyles should be loose and not require excessive hairpins or combs.
Hairpins should be rubber coated with smooth edges so that the hair is not broken as the clasp is closed.
Rubber bands should not be used because they are difficult to remove and cause unnecessary damage.
Hair styles that cause pulling of the hair (i.e. - cornrows) should be avoided to minimize fracturing the weakened hair shaft.
Although all hair dyes weaken the hair shafts, some coloring methods are less damaging than others.
In general, darkening the natural hair color causes less damage than lightening it.
Lightening requires a bleaching procedure followed by a dyeing procedure, which is more damaging than simply dyeing the hair.
Try to keep hair color as close to your natural color as possible. More dramatic color changes will result in more hair shaft damage and further hair breakage.
Permanent waving is more damaging than dyeing because the protein structure of the hair shaft is actually degraded and reconstructed in a new form.
Damage can be minimized by creating loose curls. This can be achieved by wrapping the hair loosely around larger curlers, which minimizes the number of disulfide bonds that are broken and reformed.
Hair shaft damage can also be minimized by shortening the processing time, which decreases the amount of broken disulfide bonds.
Many patients both permanently dye and wave their hair. Although these procedures increase hair damage, it can be minimized by allowing 10 days between the procedures.
If you both dye and perm your hair, it is important to the permanent waving first before hair coloring. Reversing the order of these procedures results in excessive hair cuticle damage and increases weakening of the hair shaft.
In summary hair breakage is one of the most common forms of hair loss. It usually arises from aggressive grooming practices or hair shaft weakening due to chemical processing. Years of hair growth can be removed from the scalp instantly by aggressive combing and brushing.