What Your Hair Says About Your Health

If you’ve experienced recent changes in the condition of your hair, whether it be the texture, color or hair loss, there’s probably a culprit. We examined the most common hair ailments and asked the experts to recommend the best treatments to help improve your tresses.

The Issue: Dandruff

“Dandruff is the result of a yeast-like fungus called malassezia, an accumulation of dead skin grown out of control,” explains Brenda Bonomo, stylist and salon educator at Pascal Pour Elle salon. It can be caused by factors like dry skin, sensitivity to hair products and skin ailments such as psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis or eczema.

The Fix: Dandruff is typically worse in the winter and can often be treated with certain shampoos. Anti-fungal shampoos are best, but see a professional or doctor to determine which one. When applying the shampoo, make sure it sits on the hair for at least five minutes before rinsing. If a shampoo isn’t working, your dermatologist can recommend an over-the-counter medicated anti-fungal cream for your scalp.

The Issue: Limp or Thinning Hair

Limp, thinning hair is often caused by diet, hormones, age and genetic factors, environment and stress. It can also indicate a hypothyroid issue.

The Fix: Use thickening hair products like Nexxus New York Salon Care Diametress Volumizing Shampoo and Conditioner. Spray roots with a volumizer like Serge Normant Dream Big Instant Volumizing Spray before drying hair. Adding layers will help create natural movement.

If you think hypothyroidism could be causing your hair changes, consider if you have other symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, constipation and slow heart rate. If the answer is yes, make an appointment with your doctor.

The Issue: Split Ends

Split ends are caused by overuse of heat tools, a lack of regular haircuts, color or chemical treatments, and stress. A diet issue like a protein deficiency can also contribute to hair breakage.

The Fix: Use the right hair tools. A round, natural boar brush is less likely to break hair and adds shine. Run a wide-tooth comb through strands after you apply conditioner in the shower. Invest in heat tools that have ionic technology like the T3 Featherweight 2 Hair Dryer or GHD Classic 1” Styling Iron.

B vitamins, like folic acid and biotin, also promote healthy hair growth. If you don’t want to take supplements, many foods like spinach, oranges, avocados and lentils are natural sources of folic acid.

The Issue: Texture Changes

Hormonal changes are the most common culprit here, although medication, illness, stress and chemical treatments can all be contributing factors as well.

The Fix: When Andreas Hogue Salon stylist Carla Makowski sees a client with brittle hair, she consults with the client to evaluate everything being used on the hair, from shampoo to styling tools. Dull hair? She suggests getting professional shine treatments. Makowski tames frizzy strands with smoothing products and smoothing tools. For hair that is fried, a conditioning treatment is key, and for dead ends, a trim will revive hair.

The Issue: Itchy Scalp

Itchy scalp can be caused by psoriasis, allergies, eczema, overly dry scalp or stress. If you’ve recently tried a new hair product, you could be reacting to it or have an allergy to one of its ingredients. Alan Kossof, co-owner of Teddie Kossof Salon, also says that itchy scalp can be caused by the change in season.

The Fix: Makowski recommends moisture masks once a week while Kossof favors Rene Futerer Astera Soothing Freshness Fluid ($48, renefurtererusa.com) to soothe and heal the scalp.

The Issue: Grays

Gray hair is mostly caused by genetics but can also be caused by stress and hormonal factors.

The Fix: Some studies have revealed that folic acid, vitamin B12 and sun exposure can help re-pigment patches of skin and hair that have stopped producing melanin. Take a multivitamin supplement that contains Omega-3s (which helps prevent dryness) and copper (which has been known to boost melanin to help prevent grays). To cover up grays, “start color blending with semi- or demi-permanent hair color by a professional,” says Makowski. Another alternative? You can always go au natural!

The Issue: Hair Loss

By the age of 35 two-thirds of American men will experience some degree of significant hair loss. Even more surprising, women make up 40% of American hair loss sufferers, according to the American Hair Loss Association. Among the top causes for hair loss or damage are thyroid issues, low iron, autoimmune disorder, hormones, stress, diet, medication and genetics.

The Fix: “Whether your hair loss is from aging, alopecia, disease or treatment, if your scalp isn’t in good health, the hair you have now will weaken later,” Kossof explains. “As we age, our hair miniaturizes or thins. The goal is to reduce hair loss with the hair you have.”

Kossof sees two types of clients: the person who does not have noticeable hair loss or thinning, but wants to maintain a healthy scalp, and the person who has concerns about hair loss whether it’s progressive or sudden.

If you want to be proactive, even if you haven’t lost hair, consider a scalp-cleansing treatment when you have your hair cut. A scalp treatment removes any product or dead skin build-up. Kossof examines the client’s hair through a special scope to analyze why the follicles are not thriving. After the treatment, hair goes from okay to amazing; bounce and volume are instantly improved.

For those who are experiencing hair loss, whether it be progressive or sudden, there are non-surgical options. Rather than having a scalp cleanse only sporadically, increase cleanses to twice weekly for 90 days. You can also add a product to your regimen, like Rene Furterer Complexe 5 Regenerating Plant Extract, that strengthens hair from the root and promotes growth. Natural products like lavender and orange peel or low-level light therapy (cold laser technology) can also be used to reduce hair loss.

Dr. Amy Brodsky, dermatologist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, notes that men can use Propecia and both men and women can treat hair loss with Rogaine. Brodsky recommends Viviscal, an over-the-counter vitamin supplement that works on men and women with no side effects. For more severe hair loss and texture changes, Brodsky recommends PRP injections, an increasingly popular procedure that takes your own platelet-rich plasma and injects it into your scalp to stimulate hair growth naturally.

Learn more about Locks of Love, a nonprofit that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children suffering from long-term hair loss from any medical diagnosis.