Bellas, we are living in a time of “fake news.” It’s true in terms of politics, and it’s also true in the beauty world.
All over the internet and social media, I’m seeing totally misadvised information disguised as beauty hacks. Some of these so-called hacks are relatively harmless, but what concerns me is the trend of advice that calls for products that aren’t intended for cosmetic use, being used on skin or hair. I see these videos and photos going viral and it makes my brow furrow. I really worry about infections and negative side effects when I see beautiful people doing stuff like melting down their good crayons to make lip or eye color, mixing potions involving school glue to be used as masks or using food items (or worse) to apply makeup. I try never to share information I can’t stand by, verify or recommend. When in doubt, I want to know from a pro. So in an effort to combat some of the misinformation I see, I’m working to share facts from certified experts on important beauty topics. This is the beginning of a new, regular feature – Ask a Beauty Professional. I’ll be asking questions and sharing the knowledge of a licensed professional who can break down our beauty needs. Dermatologists, licensed stylists, aestheticians and cosmetologists, cosmetic chemists, trichologists and cosmetologists, I want to share your expertise!
First up, Dr. Raechele Cochran Gathers, MD — a board certified dermatologist and creator of soon-to-launch site MDhairmixtress.com. She’s here to drop some knowledge on hair shedding vs. breakage – helpful advice for those of us dealing with one issue or the other (or both) who need to know what to do. Take it away, Dr. Cochran Gathers!
Shedding vs. Breakage: What’s the Difference and What Do I Do?
Unfortunately, most of us—naturalistas or not—have been there, at least once in our lives.
Have you ever experienced the fear and anxiety that comes with washing your hair and seeing hair everywhere: on the shower walls, all over the shower floor, clogging up the shower drain? Or have you ever ended a marathon detangling session, only to be left with balls and balls of your hair upon cleaning out your comb? You know, that sinking, worried-sick feeling you get as you comb your hair and notice what seems like hundreds of tiny pieces of your hair around the sink, on the counter, on your shoulders and collar! Not only worrisome, it can be downright embarrassing.
Distressing? Yes. Anxiety-inducing? Definitely. Should you feel helpless? Definitely not!
The first step to addressing your hair loss is understanding its cause, and then you can start doing something about it.
How Do I Know if I’m Losing Too Much Hair?
Generally, most healthy people shed between 50-100 strands of hairs a day. If you practice low manipulation hair styles and are only detangling and combing out your hair once a week or so, it may look like you’re losing an awful lot of hair, but you may not be. Remember, you are seeing 7 days or more of accumulated shed hairs all at once.
Also, if you have long coiled or kinky textured hair, it may appear that you are losing more hairs than you actually are, since the shed hairs are usually wrapped and coiled around one another.
What’s the Difference Between Shed Hairs and Broken Hairs?
Generally speaking, shed hairs are full length, and you will probably notice a little hard white bulb of keratin at the end. Remember, it’s normal to get 50 to 100 of these hairs coming out everyday. By contrast, broken hairs will not typically have the hard white bulb at the end, and are usually much shorter than your hair length. Broken hairs are the little pieces that you see littering your bathroom counter and on your shoulders half way through the day. African American women are more prone to excessive hair breakage due to the unique structure of our hair.
What Causes Shed Hairs?
Excessive hair shedding can be caused by many things. Many women experience excessive hair shedding a few months after childbirth. This condition (called telogen effluvium), can cause a great deal of shedding, lasting weeks, and it is due to the normal hormonal changes that a woman’s body goes through after giving birth. While it is annoying and distressing, it goes away on its own.
Excessive shedding of the hair is also common after any shock to the body: Surgery, illness, significant weight changes, dieting, medications and severe emotional stress can all lead to excessive shedding. Shedding can also occur with certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies, thyroid problems, autoimmune diseases and inflammatory scalp problems—even excessive dandruff!
What Causes Breakage?
Breakage is more common in African Americans and those with textured hair. The very thing that makes our hair so uniquely beautiful also makes it uniquely fragile! Our hair is sensitive to breakage because of its structure. Each of the curves and coils of our hair is a point of increased fragility. These weak areas are more prone to breakage.
The good news? Since breakage in African American hair is usually due to hair care practices, it is typically completely reversible! Common causes of breakage include excessive dryness, excessive heat, infrequent washing, fragility from chemicals and using drying hair care products.
Analyze your hair care regimen, and ask the following questions:
Am I washing and conditioning my hair often enough?
Do I add moisture to my hair between washings?
Am I using heat more than once a week?
Am I relaxing more frequently than every 10-12 weeks?
In addition to things that we do to our hair, breakage may also be caused by problems like vitamin or mineral deficiencies, scalp infections and other illnesses.
So, What Do I Do?
If you are noticing excessive shedding or hair breakage, the first thing to do is seek qualified help! Visit a board certified dermatologist. Don’t just assume that your hair loss is due to something that you are doing wrong.
Your dermatologist will review your hair care regimen and products, carefully examine your scalp and hair, and may also check your blood work and do other tests. In some cases, your derm will take a biopsy of your scalp to make sure something more serious isn’t going on.
If you are suffering from hair loss, don’t suffer in silence. Seek help. Be thoughtful abut your hair care practices. Educate yourself. In most cases, your hair loss is only temporary, and before long your hair will once again be growing, strong, and beautiful.
About the Author: Raechele Cochran Gathers, MD is a board certified dermatologist, speaker and health and beauty blogger on the soon to launch MDhairmixtress.com. MDhairmixtress.com is an online community dedicated to the health and beauty of African American women and our hair. Visit the website at MDhairmixtress.com to sign up for launch notification and send in submissions.