Your locks are smarter than you think.
Curling, straightening, dying and trimming—women spend hours each week telling their hair what to do. But if we actually stopped and listened to what our hair is trying to tell us, experts say we’d be shocked by how much it has to say about our health.
Aside from your hairdresser, chances are you know your hair better than anyone else. Keep an eye out for any sudden changes in your mane. An underlying health issue could cause an overnight change in texture, or unexplained split ends, for example.
Excessive hair loss, or telogen effluvium, can be a sign that your thyroid gland is overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism). Thyroid troubles can also contribute to drier- or greasier-than-usual hair, so consult your doctor if you notice a drastic change.
Bear with us as we get a little scientific here. The growth phase of an individual scalp hair (anagen) is about three years, afterwards it takes three weeks preparing to fall out (catagen) and three whole months to actually fall out (telogen).
“When the body is stressed, it can shift up to 50% of the scalp hairs into the catagen phase,” board-certified dermatologist, Tsippora Shainhouse, explains to Brit+Co. “Three months later, you will suddenly notice that your hair looks less dense/full.”
Once your period of high stress is behind you, if you’re healthy, your hair should begin to grow back in six months. If not, Shainhouse notes that female pattern hair loss or a more serious emotional issue could be at fault.
Bad news junk food lovers: a diet packed with highly processed foods can lead to dull, lackluster locks. When you eat an unbalanced diet, the body transports whichever precious nutrients it can get to your heart and other important organs, bypassing your beloved hair, Reader’s Digest reports. If your hair is slow to grow, you might not be eating enough protein, which is the main building block of hair.
Practices like rough, frequent brushing and wearing too-tight braids or buns can cause follicular degeneration syndrome, warns Shainhouse. “That feeling of scalp tenderness after taking out your ponytail at the end of the day means that your hair has been pulled too tight,” she tells Brit+Co. “With persistent tension and trauma to the follicles, the follicle can be destroyed. Fibrous scar tissue can develop around and within the old hair follicle. Hair cannot grow back.”
Instead, when you can, wear loose hairstyles, and avoid pulling your hair too tight when you’re styling it. Your scalp shouldn’t hurt when you take your hair out at the end of the day.