Hair Loss Myths
True or False?
There are some fascinating old wives tales about the mysteries of hair growth and care.
Are any of them based on real science? ...
Hair Myths: are they Fact or Fiction?
Sometimes hair myths are based on fact, often they are amusing, and occasionally they are potentially harmful. Thanks to hair expert Tony Maleedy, we cast a beady eye over some of the most common whispers, followed by the scientific reality.
Myth: Washing your hair too much will make it fall out
FALSE Washing your hair is singularly the best thing you can do for it. Your hair and scalp, just like the rest of your body, benefits from the removal of dirt, oil and dead skin cells.
When you wash your hair, of course, you notice more hair falling out, but these are only hairs which are ready to come out anyway. Not washing your hair will not prevent this; indeed, leaving your hair unwashed is likely to result in a greater hair loss in time.
The science bit: The only hair that will fall out when you wash it is hair that is ready to leave the follicle either because it has come to the end of its genetically determined growing phase or because of ill health, stress, poor diet or some other causative factor that is interfering with the life cycle of the hair. It is totally counterproductive not to wash your hair for fear of it falling out. Not only will hair that is ready to fall out, fall out anyway, the hair loss may be greater by not washing your hair. This is because when the hair/scalp is greasy follicles become saturated with sebum (the skin’s natural oil) which contains substances that can cause the hair to loosen in the follicles and fall out.
Myth: Cutting hair will make it grow stronger
FALSE This works well in the garden but not on the scalp. Unlike the stem and branches of a shrub the shaft of the hair is not alive so ‘cutting back’ will have no effect except to sometimes give the appearance of thicker hair when it is shorter. Once hair is visible on the surface of the scalp all you can influence is its condition and appearance.
The science bit: Hair grows from the dermal papilla, or hair root, which is located at the base of the hair follicle and only factors which influence the forming hair cells within the root, such as a genetic predisposition, diet, illness, physical trauma etc., will determine how strong or weak the hair will be. Once hair has emerged from the follicle its ‘strength’ has been determined by its diameter, elasticity and tensile properties are set and cannot be influenced by cutting it. What does now start to influence the newly emerged hair is the environment and the things we do to it such as washing, colouring, straightening etc., and if weakness and damage is caused to the hair from these factors then cutting off any split or broken hair certainly is advantageous
Myth: Brushing 100 strokes a night is good for it
FALSE It can be terrible, especially for longer hair. As hair grows longer it becomes drier and more fragile, brushing causes splitting and breakage. It is better to use a good quality wide-tooth comb which is kinder to the hair.
The science bit: As a brush passes over the hair the bristles bend and an increased force puts more pressure on the hair causing splitting and breakage.
Also, when using a brush the hand is less sensitive to resistance than when a comb is used, so a brush tends to force apart any tangled hairs causing them to split and break. Alternatively, a wide tooth comb allows any tangles to be gently eased out of the hair, dramatically reducing hair splitting and breakage.
Myth: If you don’t wash your hair for some time it will clean itself
FALSE What actually happens is that people who don’t wash their hair for a while simply get used to it being in that particular state. It becomes the norm for them. It is simply not possible for hair to somehow clean itself.
The science bit: If hair is not washed regularly sebum, natural skin oil, will spread along the hair shaft and coat the hair to which dust and dead skin cells adhere making the hair dirty. After a short time, this oil will oxidize, turn rancid and start to smell. Some people say “Well, people managed before shampoos existed”, true, but the standard of hygiene was very different then. People did not only, not wash their hair; they bathed infrequently, didn’t use deodorants, didn’t wash their clothes frequently and walked amongst horse dropping and human waste poured onto the streets. The past smelt differently to the present! For the sake of your hair and scalp (and possibly your social life) it is best to treat them like any other part of your body
Myth: Hair can turn white overnight
Hair can turn white quickly … but not that quickly. Hair colour pigment (melanin) can stop being produced within a short time because of such things as stress or ill health. If this happens to many thousands of hairs at the same time a person’s hair can turn from being coloured to grey or white within a few weeks or months.
The science bit: Once hair has grown out of the hair follicle the only things that will affect its colour are hair colouring products or environmental effects such as ultra-violet radiation from the sun bleaching the hair. Melanin within the cortex of the hair cannot simply disappear without chemical intervention.
Myth: Pulling out one grey hair will make two grow in its place
FALSE But if hair is starting to turn grey (it’s actually white, there‘s no such thing as a grey hair, the greyness is the effect of white hair interspersed with normal, darker coloured hair) and you pull one grey hair out, it may well be that the neighbour hair is just about to start growing, therefore two hairs in close proximity will appear at about the same time.
The science bit: You should never pull out a scalp hair because not only will an additional hair not grow, the hair you pulled out may not be replaced by another hair – particularly if the hair has been epilated a few times. There is a disorder called ‘Traction Alopecia’ which is hair loss caused by pulling. This is commonly seen when women have worn their hair in braids or cornrows for some time, or when hair is pulled and tied back very tightly, a hair style worn by many ballet dancers. This pressure on the soft tissues within the hair follicle causes scar tissue
Myth: You should change shampoos regularly because “hair gets used to them”
FALSE But there is an exception. The primary job of a shampoo is to remove dirt and oil from the hair and scalp, this it will do time after time with no diminishing effect, so there is no reason to change your shampoo for this reason. Some shampoos, however, particularly those with high levels of silicone can cause build up on the hair which can influence the texture and manageability of the hair and give it a slightly unnatural feel.
The science bit: Shampoos that contain a high level of water insoluble silicones such as Dimethicone, a common ingredient in ‘conditioning shampoos’, particularly 2-in-1 shampoos, can build up on hair.
Silicones can coat the hair shaft to such an extent that the hair feels weighed down and limp. In some cases the hair can start to feel more like a nylon wig rather than real hair because when you touch your hair your fingers are not coming into contact with the hair itself, but the synthetic silicone which is coating it. This build up of silicone on hair can also be a problem for hairdressers trying to colour a client’s hair because the silicone barrier can interfere with the penetration of colour molecules into the cortex of the hair leaving the new hair colour patchy. Where a build-up of silicone does occur the hair should be washed using a silicone-free shampoo and conditioner. To find one look at the ingredient list and avoid hair products that contain substances such as ‘dimethicone’ and ‘cyclopentasiloxane’, which are likely to interfere with the hair colouring process.
Myth: Wearing hats causes baldness
FALSE This is a myth started by the Victorians who probably wanted something to blame for baldness. Hats do not, under normal circumstances, cause baldness. The exception to this being traction alopecia (hair loss due to pulling) which can be caused by very tight fitting hats worn over a long period of time. But this hair loss usually occurs at the sides or the back of the head where the hat is rubbing, not the front and the top.
The science bit: It is possible for some hats made with synthetic materials that don’t allow an escape of air and heat to cause or exacerbate some scalp disorders which can, in turn, lead to hair loss. But the chances of this occurring are very slim.
Myth: You get nits only if your hair is dirty
FALSE A person with perfectly clean hair can pick up head lice (nits are the eggs of head lice) as easily as a person who has not washed their hair for a while. Washing the hair with normal shampoo will tend to remove some of the lice, but not all, and certainly will not remove the nits which the lice have firmly cemented to the hair shaft. You need a special head lice treatment shampoo or lotion to completely clear this problem.
The science bit: Head lice are not there because they like dirt but because they like blood - and we all have that. The head louse feeds exclusively on human blood and once removed from the scalp and its supply of food, and warmth of the skin, soon dies.
Myth: Bald men are more virile
FALSE Sorry bald men, but it’s not true. It was assumed that because the male hormone testosterone causes male pattern hair loss, a balding man must have high levels of it and so must be more virile than a man with a full head of hair. However, it is not so much the level of hormone which causes this type of hair loss but how the hair cells respond to it, and this is genetically determined.
The science bit: It is not, strictly speaking, the male hormone testosterone that causes male hair loss. For this type of hair loss to occur testosterone has to be converted by an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase (located within the forming hair cells) into a much more potent hormone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT). It is the effect of this hormone which inhibits the growth of new hair cells, resulting in a finer hair (or no hair) being produced. This means that a man can have a very high level of testosterone but if he has not inherited the ability for testosterone to be converted into DHT then no significant hair loss will occur.