This Is What Your Hair Says About Your Health, According to Experts
Addressing our own health concerns, both physical and otherwise, can feel like a full-time job. It can require input from an array of experts—general practitioners, medical specialists, naturopaths, psychologists, healers, trainers, kinesiologists... and the list goes on. From work-related burnout to unhealthy eating habits, the symptoms that worry are often exactly what stands in the way of finding answers.
Part of the process requires becoming attuned to our own bodies, to learn to notice the cues it gives us as we seek to understand what's happening and devise a path to better health. One of the many physical attributes that can indicate deeper issues? Hair.
We spoke to some experts to find out more about what our hair can tell us about our health.
According to Dr Sam Saling, doctors can tell a lot about your health by the character of your hair. The Sydney-based family doctor explains: "Scalp hair grows about one centimetre per month, so any new changes in the quality and quantity of your hair often reflects a change in your physical state."
She adds that doctors will often assess whether there is new, rapid or widespread hair shedding as well as pattern baldness or patchy hair loss. But what would all of this indicate? According to Dr Sam, such changes in a patient's hair is often a sign of hormonal disturbances, blood disorders, fungal infection, or autoimmune processes. Sometimes it's simply a matter of the patient wearing their hair pulled back too tight, so go easy on that high pony, Ariana Grande.
Hormonal disturbances are often to blame when it comes to temporary hair loss, known as telogen effluvium. Dr Sam says people can experience telogen effluvium after significant events that cause hormonal disturbances, such as childbirth, surgery or even commencing or stopping the contraceptive pill.
"It can be distressing to see the amount of hair lost, with up to 50 percent of hair shedding, and this can cause significant psychological stress ... Often with hormonal causes, however, once we correct the underlying condition, hair improves to its original state.
If you have experienced a change in the growth or health of your hair, the best thing to do is to visit your GP, who will examine your hair and send it for further testing if they decide it is appropriate.
"Your family doctor is well-positioned to help with this," Dr Sam says. "If we need further expertise, the next step is sending patients to a trichologist—a hair specialist dermatologist."
The hair stylists
Paloma Rose Garcia has been working as a professional hairstylist for nearly 20 years, running her own salon, PALOMA, with a holistic approach to hair and her client community.
"I do think skin and hair can you give an insight into what is going on internally," she tells us. "I can recognise lifestyle choices in the health of someone's hair straight away. I always start by asking questions first, just as a health care professional would. Ultimately, the main things affecting hair health are diet, sleep and a reduced (ideally to zero) smoking and alcohol intake. Of course, stress and general health or hormonal issues are all huge contributors to healthy hair as well."
For anyone concerned about the health of their hair, Paloma says it's important to consider these other factors at play, but if you've got all that covered and your doctor has ruled out any underlying issues, there are supplements that could help.
"I've always believed in the value of products and supplements that focus on inner beauty," she says.
Nina Ratsaphong, Sydney-based hairstylist and owner of Extra Silky salon, says she encourages her clients to care for their hair in whatever way is realistic and affordable to them.
"I think people are definitely more interested in looking after themselves nowadays, and there is definitely a good range of products on the market," she says. "But it can be overwhelming for the individual, so I always aim to have vegan, cruelty-free, paraben-free, and sulfate-free products in my salon to encourage them to take a holistic approach once they go home.
"I always joke to my clients that hair is the last thing the body needs, and I can generally tell if they are not looking after themselves, health-wise, by looking at their hair and asking them questions.
"If the hair is dry and brittle or falling out more than normal, or if their scalp is flaky or patchy, it can indicate poor diet, stress, or other internal problems. If I do notice these things, or if people bring them up to me—which they generally do—I will always encourage them to see their GP or nutritionist for a solid check-up."
If you are concerned about the health of your hair, the first step is to talk to a GP. Then, be sure to find yourself a hair stylist who is as invested in your overall health and wellbeing as you are! You never know what they might pick up on your next visit.
If you are concerned about your health, please contact a medical professional. If you or someone you know needs help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.