As an essential part of our identity, hair has captivated human fascination for centuries. It serves as a crowning glory that holds cultural, social and personal significance. From the ancient Egyptians’ elaborate wigs to modern-day hairstyles that reflect individuality, hair has always been an integral aspect of our lives. Exemplifying this are burgeoning industry revenues, with the hair care segment reportedly amounting to a staggering U.S. $13.44 billion in 2023.
“Hair is more than just strands on our heads; it is a rich tapestry that is also consequential to our health and wellness,” says renowned master stylist Joseph Ryan Hughes. “Hair is much more than an aesthetic accessory. In fact, it can serve as an indicator of our internal health, often providing the first signs of nutritional deficiencies or other underlying conditions.
Beyond beauty and style, treating hair with the same level of care and concern as other aspects of self-care helps us stay in sync with our bodies and promotes overall wellness.” Beyond its cultural importance, hair is a fascinating biological marvel. Our hair follicles are tiny factories producing a protein called keratin, the main component of hair. It grows from the scalp at an average rate of half an inch per month, with each strand having a lifespan of 2 to 7 years. The diversity of hair textures, colors and patterns is a result of genetics, hormonal influences, and environmental factors. Furthermore, the structure of hair has captivated scientists, leading to advancements in forensic analysis and drug testing. Hughes ventures beyond looks to enlighten us on some biological dimensions of our locks, below citing numerous ways hair impacts—and can provide insights into—our health.
INDICATION OF OVERALL HEALTH
The condition of one’s hair can be a helpful indicator of overall health. Factors such as nutrition, hormonal balance and general well-being can influence the appearance and quality of hair. Thinning, brittle, or dull hair may be a sign of underlying health issues that require attention. Things like:
NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCIES Our hair requires a variety of essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and proteins, for healthy growth. A lack of these nutrients can result in hair problems such as dryness, brittleness, or slow growth. For instance, insufficient levels of iron, biotin, or zinc may lead to hair loss or thinning. By observing changes in hair texture, strength, or shine, one can potentially identify underlying nutritional deficiencies that need attention.
HORMONAL IMBALANCES Hormones play a crucial role in regulating hair growth cycles. Imbalances in hormone levels, such as those experienced during pregnancy, menopause, or certain medical conditions, can impact hair health. For example, the hormonal condition known as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) often leads to excessive hair growth or hair thinning in specific areas. Monitoring changes in hair patterns can provide early clues to hormonal imbalances and prompt further investigation.
STRESS AND EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING Excessive stress or emotional turmoil can manifest in hair-related issues. Conditions like alopecia areata, where hair loss occurs in patches, can be triggered or exacerbated by stress. Additionally, stress-induced habits like excessive hair pulling (trichotillomania) can lead to noticeable hair loss. Therefore, changes in hair density or the presence of bald patches may prompt individuals to address and manage their emotional well-being.
SYSTEMIC DISEASES AND DISORDERS Certain systemic diseases and disorders can manifest symptoms through hair changes. For example, thyroid imbalances, such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, can cause hair thinning or hair loss. Conditions like lupus, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders may also affect hair health. Recognizing unusual changes in hair texture, growth patterns, or sudden hair loss can serve as a sign to consult a healthcare professional for a thorough evaluation.
MEDICATIONS AND TREATMENTS: Various medications, including chemotherapy drugs, may cause hair loss or changes in hair texture as a side effect. Monitoring hair-related changes during medication use or after undergoing certain treatments can aid in understanding and managing these effects. In some cases, hair regrowth may occur once the treatment is completed or adjusted.
PROTECTION AND SENSATION Hair serves as a protective barrier for the scalp against environmental elements such as sunlight, dust, and pollutants. It also helps regulate body temperature by providing insulation. Additionally, hair on the body, such as eyelashes and eyebrows, helps protect the eyes from debris and plays a role in tactile sensation. So if hair is thinning or completely lost in these areas, there can be serious implications.
PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL-BEING Hair can have a profound impact on an individual’s self-esteem and psychological well-being. Experiencing hair loss, thinning or other hair-related issues can lead to feelings of self-consciousness, embarrassment and even anxiety or depression. On the other hand, having healthy and attractive hair can contribute to a positive self-image, boost confidence and enhance overall mental well-being. Indeed, connection between vibrant, healthy hair and self-confidence is undeniable. Prioritizing the health of our hair allows us to feel strong, beautiful, and empowered. Making the choice to prioritize hair health is not just a physical journey, but an emotional one that can lead to a significant increase in self-confidence. The goal is to maintain your hair in its best physical condition, thereby giving you an empowering confidence boost.
“Hair often ends up being the last item on our self-care list, but it’s time we changed that and considered hair as an integral part of our overall health picture,” Hughes continues. “While it’s certainly a crucial aspect of our personal style and a potent tool for self-expression, perhaps most importantly hair is a reflection of our inner health and should be given apt attention in kind.”
As baseline, it’s wise to incorporate nutrient-rich foods that support hair health into your diet, Hughes advises. He also says that it is helpful to incorporate scalp massages a part of your routine, which offer a range of health benefits that contribute to overall well-being.
“For one, scalp massages help improve blood circulation to the hair follicles and the scalp,” Hughes notes. “The gentle pressure and kneading motions stimulate the blood vessels, promoting better nutrient and oxygen delivery to the hair roots. Improved circulation nourishes the hair follicles, which can support healthy hair growth and contribute to overall scalp health. The benefits of even these small, easy changes can manifest in the form of a healthier you.”
From the dawn of civilization to the present day, our hair has been an essential part of human expression, symbolizing who we are and what we represent. But, hair is also a vital part of one’s health that can serve as a valuable health indicator, reflecting both internal and external factors that affect our overall well-being. If you notice significant or persistent changes in your hair, it is advisable to consult a haircare professional who may be able to readily identify and resolve the problem. Or, for more serious concerns, a healthcare professional can provide a comprehensive evaluation and appropriate guidance. Actualized concerns aside, the reality is that everyone should continually give their “crowning glory” the due care and consideration it needs and deserves.