An expert trichologist has revealed how common hair and scalp problems can signal underlying health problems.
Sara Alkazraji, from the UK, who is Manager of Education at the Institute of Trichologists and owner of Ilkley Moor Trichology Clinic, said that while most hair-related concerns aren’t that serious, an itchy scalp or hair shredding could possibly signal something that needs attention.
From dry, brittle hair to frizzy locks and hairline changes, here FEMAIL offers a guide to what your hair problems may be revealing about your wellbeing…
Trichologist Sara Alkazraji, from the UK, has revealed how common hair and scalp problems can signal underlying health problems. Pictured, stock image
Sara explains that on average, each person will lose around 100 hairs each day through brushing, combing and washing our hair. However, she warns that if a person is experiencing more than this it could be an indication that there is an underlying problem.
‘Hair loss and shedding can be caused by many factors such as iron deficiency, Ferritin deficiency (body’s stored iron), thyroid problems, stress, medications, illness, rapid weight loss or following certain diets along with other factors,’ the expert says. ‘Hair shedding can be sudden or take place gradually over many years.’
The trichologist goes on to explain that hair grows in a cycle, Anagen (the growing phase), Catagen (the transition stage) and Telogen (the resting stage).
‘Telogen effluvium occurs when the anagen (growing) phase is cut short causing hair to enter the Telogen (resting) stage early, this is then seen through excessive hair shedding,’ she says. ‘Telogen Effluvium can come on suddenly known as Acute Telogen Effluvium or happen gradually over many years and is known as Chronic Telogen Effluvium.’
However, Sara highlights the importance of seeking advice from a trichologist because hair shedding will continue until the underlying cause is addressed.
She adds: ‘Many people can be lured into purchasing shampoos and products with the belief it will cure their shedding and produce a new luscious head of hair.’
‘However, many of these misleading products are more likely to have more of an impact on a person’s purse strings and bank balance than their hair.’
Sara warns that changes to the hairline could also be suggestive of more serious hair and scalp concerns such as Alopecia Areata, serious illness, androgenetic hair loss, deficiency along with potential scarring alopecia conditions. Pictured, stock image
A receding hairline can be quite common and many people may experience some slight changes to this area during their lifetime, according to Sara.
‘Although slight changes may be experienced, anything other than this could indicate underlying concerns such as stress, deficiency, anxiety, potential hair shedding conditions, post-partum (post birth) shedding, illness, weight loss, hormonal changes along with other factors,’ she explains.
Sara notes that changes to the hairline could also be suggestive of more serious hair and scalp concerns such as alopecia areata, serious illness, androgenetic hair loss, deficiency, along with potential scarring alopecia conditions.
She adds: ‘If someone experiences sudden changes to their hairline they should visit a Trichologist.’
Many people suffer with an itchy flaky scalp which can sometimes flare up unexpectedly and without warning, but what could actually be causing a healthy scalp to suddenly become flaky?
‘Potential causes of a flaky scalp include ill health, physical and emotional stress, hormonal changes, poor scalp hygiene, diet such as high sugar, salt, processed food and bad fats along with other factors,’ explains Sara.
The trichologist goes on to note how dandruff is most commonly caused by a microorganism called Malassezia Furfur – a fungus which is always present on the scalp.
‘Due to changes on the scalp such as extra sebum production this produces an optimum environment for fungal growth often resulting in irritation, itching and inflammation,’ she continues.
Contrary to popular belief, she adds that dandruff is not caused by a dry scalp and is usually accompanied by oil on the scalp.
‘If scaling and itching is mild then reflecting on one’s diet and lifestyle, reducing sugar, salt and fats whilst incorporating use of a good shampoo could resolve these issues,’ says Sara.
Sara says that experiencing an itchy scalp could be an indicator of the following health factors; hormone changes, menstruation, stress, wrong product use, diet, product allergies. Pictured, stock images
Sara says that experiencing an itchy scalp can be extremely unpleasant and could be an indicator of the following health factors; hormone changes, menstruation, stress, wrong product use, diet, product allergies and could even indicate more serious causes such as shingles, ringworm, diabetes and anxiety disorders along with many others.
‘An itchy scalp could also be caused by excess sweating in hot weather or overactive sebaceous glands,’ she explains. ‘It is therefore important to keep the scalp clean and healthy.
‘Trichologists recommend washing hair every one to two days, avoiding over- massaging as this will stimulate sebaceous glands more and using a calming shampoo.’
‘As we grow older the cells within our hair follicles which are responsible for producing colour pigment known as melanin begin to reduce,’ Sara explains.
While most people suffer from age-related greying hair, sometimes it may indicate illness, especially if experienced at a very young age.
‘A loss of hair colour can also sometimes be seen alongside conditions such as Alopecia Areata and if concerned it is important people seek advice from a GP or Trichologist,’ Sara says.
The expert goes on to explain that while stress may play some role in the process and is currently undergoing further research, ultimately it is our genes which mostly influence the likelihood of hair turning grey.
‘With age our melanin production slows down resulting in loss of hair pigment, which produces the appearance of grey hair,’ she notes..
‘When melanin production stops altogether the hair appears white and is actually “colourless” – there is actually no such thing as grey hair. When some colour pigment is still present the hair has a salt and pepper appearance.’
RESTORING DAMAGED CUTICLES:
Sara says that although we cannot repair hair shaft damage which has already been caused, we can help restore moisture, shine and restore elasticity whilst smoothing and sealing damaged cuticles by following these simple steps:
– Avoid harsh elastic hair ties as these can cause breakage and damage. Instead, use hair ties surrounded in soft cotton or silk.
– Use a weekly hair mask also known as a conditioning treatment.
After shampooing, cover the hair in a conditioning treatment and leave for 30min – 1 hour – this will help restore moisture, shine and elasticity.
– Minimise use of heat where possible and let hair dry naturally or blow-dry on a low setting to avoid extra use of straightening irons and tongs.
– Use a daily leave in conditioner or blonde smoother such as Olaplex number 6. This will help prevent frizz whilst protecting the hair from daily weathering.
– Avoid harsh brushing such as dragging from the root down. Begin at the tips of hair and comb upwards.
Sara also goes on to explain that pulling out grey hair will not make new coloured hair grow and is a long-standing myth, while pulling hair from the root can actually be very damaging and could prevent new hair growth altogether.
DRY BRITTLE HAIR
Hair cells are the second fastest growing cells in the human body, because our hair is a non-essential tissue unlike our kidneys and liver our bodies will never prioritise hair therefore a good diet is very important.
‘An unhealthy diet is likely to result in unhealthy hair,’ notes Sara. ‘Following a vegetarian and vegan diet can make it difficult to obtain the areas we need for healthy hair and so taking a daily supplement may help.
‘If you are worried you could be deficient in certain areas it is important people see a Trichologist or GP who can establish if you need to be using supplementation.’
She goes on to say how dry brittle hair could be caused by poor diet, harsh colouring, using wrong products, heat or mechanical damage.
According to expert trichologist Sara, one of the main causes of frizzy hair is a lack of moisture.
Common causes for this include harsh colouring and bleaching, too much heat, straightening irons, tongs, harsh brushing along with other factors.
‘Our hair naturally absorbs moisture and dry damaged hair will naturally absorb moisture even quicker, producing more frizz,’ explains Sara. ‘Unfortunately the more hair on a head equals more frizz!’
For those trying to tame frizzy locks, Sarah advises using a weekly conditioning treatment or mask to add moisture and keep hair hydrated.
She also suggests using a leave-in conditioner or smoothing balm such as Olaplex number 6 and ensuring you are using the correct shampoo and conditioner for your hair type.
‘Daily defence sprays will help protect the hair from UV damage, heat and general daily weathering,’ Sara adds.
COLOUR CHANGES TO HAIR
‘When hair is dry and damaged it results in dull, weak, brittle-looking hair,’ explains the expert.
‘People try to create shine and mask the dull appearance by colouring their hair, but unfortunately colouring dry damaged hair struggles to hold the actual colour and often fades – producing once again dull-looking hair.
Sara goes on to say how hair cuticles which sit in multiple layers on the surface are responsible for protecting the internal structure of our hair, but can easily become damaged through use of heat, chemicals and environmental damages causing them to become weak, damaged and broken.
‘Water with high levels of copper can cause blonde hair to experience a green tinge, but when copper is also mixed with chlorine they combine together acting in unison to produce a very unwanted green tone,’ she says.
‘It is important to always wash hair thoroughly after swimming as the chemicals used in swimming pools can cause unwanted colour tones as well as contribute towards causing dry, dull, brittle hair.’