4 important things your hair can tell you about your health.

Image: iStock.

Bad hair days aside, the appearance of our hair can actual be a signal of an underlying health issue.

Here are four things your hair could be trying to tell you about your lifestyle – yes, your shampoo and conditioner is probably not to blame.

1. Dandruff.

Fact: Dandruff is a common scalp condition, it affects  around 50 per cent of the population. But while if can be caused by the weather (especially in winter, due to dry skin) there could be another reason why your scalp is dry.

A CavinKare Research Centre 2010 study, published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, found that people can mistake dandruff for another skin condition, called seborrhoeic dermatitis.

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It’s a condition that can be caused by some medications and high stress levels. So if you’ve noticed that your rising anxiety levels and dandruff go hand-in-hand, it’s time to see your doctor.

Medicated shampoos, creams and lotions are the main treatments for seborrheic dermatitis.

2. Gray hair.

Pain Specialist at Barwon Health, Michael Vagg, explains that while people do obviously go gray naturally with age, stress can also play a part in speeding up the process. Emotional stress not only affects hair growth, but also the colour pigment.  

“Human hair cycles between a growth phase (anagen), a resting phase (catagen) and a dormant phase (telogen). Pigment is produced by the hair follicle to colour the hair during the anagen phase while it is growing. When the follicle receives orders to end the anagen phase, it stops producing more hair and begins to prepare for telogen.” (Post continues after gallery).

“Intense stress can cause large numbers of your follicles to hit telogen at around the same time, producing simultaneous loss of a large percentage of coloured hair. This phenomenon is known as telogen effluvium.”  Vagg explains.

3. Thinning hair.

Proteins are natural polymers that make up the base of our hair’s structure. If you’ve noticed that your hair is thinning, dry, brittle and lacking strength, then it could be an indication that you don’t have enough protein in your diet.

Dry, brittle and thin hair can be an indication that you need more protein in your diet. (Image via iStock.)

In a study conducted by the University of California, published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, it was found that those who took a protein supplement had significant improvement in overall hair volume, scalp coverage, and thickness of hair body after 90 days.

And after 180 days, the subjects saw improvement in hair shine, skin moisture retention and skin smoothness.

4. Hair loss.

Losing between 50 to 150 hairs a day is completely normal and the thicker your hair is, the more you're likely to shed.

“Our hair naturally cycles: 90 per cent of it is in the growing phase, and up to 10 per cent is in the falling-out phase. We’re always losing hair, and that’s why you constantly see it in the sink, in the shower and in your hairbrush,” reassures GP Dr Sam Hay.

You might also notice more hair loss when you wash it, tie it back or use a new brush, which is again, completely normal. But if you do notice excessive changes, it could be a side effect of stress. Why? Because the stress hormone cortisol will influence the natural cycling of your hair, Dr Hay explains.

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Similarly, it can also be an indication of infection, thyroid problems, or female pattern hair loss.

“If the change is ‘global’ – as in, all over your head – it may point towards female pattern hair loss, similar to what we see in men. If hair comes out in circular patches, it could relate to a local skin inflammation or infection – particularly if your scalp is suffering from rashes or scaly skin. Hair loss can also be linked to a low thyroid, especially if there is extreme tiredness and achiness.”

Finding the exact cause of hair loss is quite a specialised science. “Get it checked early so you can ask to see a dermatologist – a skin specialist – early too,” Dr Hay says.