Being the resident “black culture” consultant on a university campus where a lot of people don’t look like me, I quickly became accustomed to being asked a range of questions about my hair — from “What do you put in it?” and “How did you do that with your hair?!” and “Whoa, it grew so quickly!” (18 inches in two weeks?? Please tell me you’re joking. It’s called a weave, love — a black girl’s best friend ^_^) to my personal favorite: “Can I touch it?”
Fast-forward a few years to me being a stylist, with a growing client base of naturalistas and the newly reacquainted “Afro-dites,” and I still get asked the same questions on black hair and black hair care, this time from women of color: “What do you put in it?” and “How did you do that with your hair?!” and “Whoa, it grew so quickly!” to the quintessential “Can I touch it?”
One of the main questions that many women ask is: “But I’m doing the same thing she’s doing, so … why doesn’t my hair look like hers?”
According to WebMD, a normal head of hair contains about 120,000-150,000 strands of hair. Usually, at any one time, about 90% of those hairs are in a growing phase, growing by about 1/2 inch each month. This phase lasts for two to three years. At that point, a hair will go into a resting stage. This “rest” lasts for three to four months before the hair falls out and is replaced by a new one.
The problem often is a trigger that is causing the hair to go into a stage of “resting,” a condition called telogen effluvium, prematurely shedding hair rather than growing it.
I mean, that’s all well and good, but what does that have to do with my hair?
Black hair isn’t as mystifying, terrifying or scientifically discombobulating as we are led to believe it is. While it is important to establish a healthy care regimen for your hair (protective styles, pH balance, surface treatment, etc.), we shouldn’t be searching for the magical topical remedy that will give us long, flowing locks. Redirecting our focus from the outside, we should look deeper at what’s going on the root of the natural hair culture and instead ask, “If I’m doing the same thing she’s doing, then … what are the other factors that affect the health (and, ultimately, growth) of our hair?”
Here are five key internal factors that tend to get overlooked or discounted in the pursuit of healthy, gorgeous hair:
Paradi Mirmirani, MD, a dermatologist with the Permanente Medical Group in Vallejo, Calif., says it all depends on what type of stress you’re talking about:
“Stress because you’re late to work or you’ve got a heavy workload is not going to cause you to lose hair,” she says. Short-term, everyday stress is not going to affect your body in such a way that your hair falls out. It takes something larger to do that; something that causes you to lose sleep, or changes your appetite and raises the level of stress hormones.”
Significant (read: prolonged) stress can change the physiological balance of the body, resulting in various responses in our bodies, hair loss/breakage being one of them. Physiological changes in the body can be caused by:
* Changes in oral contraception
* Severe alterations in diet
* Severe illness
* Major surgery
Too much exercise and not enough nutrient replacement can lead to hair loss and breakage. Hair and nails are the last place to get nutrients. Why? Because, well, the rest of the body needs it more! Use of performance enhancers, as well as improper hair care — leaving chlorinated water in the hair, not washing too often to get rid of dirt and sweat build-up (pores don’t just get clogged on the face folks!) — are just some of the factors that can damage hair.
The condition of our hair is a general indication of the overall health of our body. Poor diet and nutrition will reflect in our skin, nails and, by extension, our hair. Dr. Melissa Piliang, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic says,
“Daily multivitamins or prenatal supplements help to fill gaps found in our diets. We tend to restrict carbohydrates or fats for weight loss or replace them with juices, but vitamins contain important nutrients like biotin, zinc and B-complex that help to enhance the health of our hair.”
Some of the vitamins that promote hair health are:
- Iron – carries oxygen to your hair and promotes growth
- Vitamin C – protects from UV
- Vitamin B complex (also called Vitamin H) – restores thickness, strength and shine to strands
- Vitamin E – promotes scalp circulation
- Zinc – can be lost as part of exercise. Insufficient zinc levels may result in loss of hair, hair that looks thin and dull and that goes gray early.
Hormones are your body’s chemical messengers. They travel in your bloodstream to tissues or organs. They work slowly, over time, and affect many different processes, including growth and development, metabolism, reproduction and mood. Too much or too little of a particular hormone is reflected in the overall health of our body. In this particular case, too much testosterone is the leading cause of hair loss in both men and women.
Hormones and diet usually go hand-in-hand as the body utilizes these as the building blocks for bodily functions. Reversal of hormone imbalance can be achieved naturally by improving the nutritional value of the food we eat.
(CAUTION: Too much or too little of a hormone or vitamin may have adverse side effects on your body! Please speak with your doctor before adding or removing any substance from your diet or making major changes to your lifestyle. )
First of all, let’s get it straight off the bat: long hair is genetic. Hair length is completely controlled by the length of the anagen (or growth) phase of your hair follicle. The length of the anagen phase is predisposed by genetics, ranging anywhere from two to five years, but it can also be affected by hormones and even extreme stress (sounds familiar? *cue The Lion King’s Circle of Life *).
It should be noted, however, that a person’s genetic ability to gain length is completely different from the person’s ability to retain and maintain length. Poor hair practices frequently limit the ability of hair to retain its full potential length. If you inherit these poor practices, you inherit these limits.
As you can tell, hair growth is affected not only by what happens on the surface, but also is heavily influenced by what’s going on inside. Try not to focus on the length of your hair, but instead focus on the health of your hair. Care for your hair from the inside out, and remember that a watched pot never boils. If you love it, it will grow!
What other factors would you add? Did this list cause you to re-evaluate your hair lifestyle?