Late one night, as I was mindlessly running my hands through my hair while working at my desk, I could feel that my thick, coarse hair was very tangled. Without thinking, I proceeded to work my fingers through a tiny knot of tangled hair in the back of my head. Before I knew it, the hair tangled up in that knot had broken off and I was left staring at the strands in my hand. I didn’t mean to cause this breakage! I couldn’t help but be reminded of the regular encounters I have with patients in my office who are losing their hair. I, too, experienced a wave of fear that comes from realizing that our hair can be damaged by something as seemingly harmless as mindless habits and or even some common grooming practices. If you’ve ever been fearful about the amount of breakage you’ve experienced with your hair, this blog should educate you a bit about how you can treat hair breakage and prevent it from happening in the future.
Hair breakage, otherwise known as trichorrhexis, is caused by a variety of factors including tension, chemical treatments, friction, heat, medications, or other medical problems. Tension is the most common cause of hair loss that I see in my practice. Well-intentioned braids, weaves and other fixed styles (like ponytails) laid in place with too firm of a touch can often put hair follicles at risk for detaching from the scalp. This risk is heightened if these high-tension styles are installed onto relaxed or chemically treated hair. The “old-school” method of sleeping on hair rollers may also contribute to hair breakage. The hair that has been so smoothly and neatly laid around those rollers is under tension, too! Adding color treatments to your hair also tends to be a classic cause of hair breakage and the more extreme the color choice, like platinum blonde or jet black, the more vulnerable your hair may be to breakage.
Avoiding chemicals to reduce breakage may be easy for some of us who don’t use color or relaxers, but there are mechanical issues that likely affect an even wider population and are associated with hair breakage. For example, when a cotton pillowcase directly contacts our hair, it causes friction, which can increase the opportunity for breakage. Even the subconscious habit of rubbing our fingers through our hair can cause breakage. Excessive touching or even pulling strands can weaken the hair, or simply cause them to fall out. A medical condition called trichotillomania where patches of hair are absent or in various stages of regrowth is caused by such repetitive behaviors.
Much like friction, heat from daily use of flat irons, curling irons or blow dryers can be very intense and damaging. Many heated styling instruments reach temperatures of well over 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Any styling tool over 300 degrees can successfully remove water from the hair, and if not used properly, may cause the hair to become permanently damaged.
Hundreds of my patients have shared stories of blood pressure medications or other prescription drugs causing their hair to break much more frequently. I agree that these factors do likely cause a change in body chemistry which may alter the body’s capability for optimal hair growth. Thyroid disease and early central scarring alopecia (see LivSo Expert Advice Blog Post 24) are medical conditions that may show their first sign with hair breakage. It is disappointing when medications cause side effects like hair loss or breakage, especially when the medication is required to help resolve a serious health issue. I recommend speaking with your doctor to determine the risk/benefit of any medication that could be contributing to hair loss. Also, be aware there are options to help manage hair breakage.
The first thing to do is simply identify the root cause of the hair breakage you are experiencing. Without this, any good treatment will be unsuccessful. Once a cause is established and avoided, careful gentle hair care techniques are a must. Loose, tension-free styles are best along with heat-reduction and a limitation of chemicals. For example, if an individual uses both chemical straighteners and color, I recommend that a choice be made between the two! For natural hair, detangling should be accomplished with ample conditioning products while hair is very damp or even dripping wet. This will reduce friction, assist with detangling, and reduce work of styling and breakage. Use a wide-toothed comb or fingers to detangle carefully, methodically working in sections.
Mastery of a gentle styling technique is simple while keeping a few things in mind. If styling your hair using heat, apply a heat-protectant beforehand to help protect the hair from the stress of elevated temperatures. This will help keep the curl pattern intact in natural hair, and help prevent over-processing of relaxed hair. Be aware that oils alone do not work sufficiently as heat protectants. They may even pose a greater risk because they reduce the temperature at which hair will burn, making heat damage a greater possibility. Be sure to use products suited to the needs of your hair; adding moisturizing products if dryness is a problem, or perhaps a monthly protein treatment if your hair lacks strength. Lastly, sleep on a satin surface (like a pillowcase or in a cap) to keep edges of hair smooth without stripping moisture from the strands.
While these recommendations should be effective for many people, prevention is certainly an easier proposition than treatment. Be aware of potential pitfalls related to caring for hair of all types. There are several vitamin supplements available to help with hair growth. Check out one of my favorites, Nutrafol, a vitamin clinically proven to grow hair with increased density and thickness. Additionally, LivSo is designed to help with dry, itchy scalp, while supporting healthy hair growth. I used my medical background and knowledge gathered from interactions with patients to choose ingredients that reduce friction and help smooth hair from root to tip. Hair breakage is something that we hope to prevent our customers from experiencing through regular use of LivSo. Let us know if you agree! Please share the tips offered in this post and refer back to them as necessary. Let us know if you have any questions or comments!
Dr. Shari Hicks-Graham