Hair 101

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I have heard several people complain that there are way too many rules for gaining and maintaining healthy hair. Don't use 'cones, don't use heat, don't use sulfate shampoos, don't comb your hair without conditioner in it, don't touch your hair and dance to a song (you caught me, I just threw that in there. Just checking to see that you are paying attention :)).

I have found that some of those rules are well meaning guidelines to healthy hair and that they are not unfounded. A lot of them are based on scientific research as well as tried and tested method. As with everything - we have free will and will ultimately decide what path we wish to follow.

In this post I wanted to share a few pictures of strands of hair up close. Perhaps they will help us decide if we need to re-evaluate our methods of hair care. 

Let's dive in shall we?

Here we see a healthy strand of hair. How can we tell it is healthy? The cuticles (those pattern like things you see) are all lying flat. There is no tearing or exposure of anything that is underneath the cuticle and the hair doesn't look distressed in any way.

Healthy Hair as seen under a Scanning Electron Microscope

Let's compare it with this picture of an unhealthy hair strand.

Damaged hair - cuticles are raised and there is some tearing.

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This is an even more damaged strand of hair. The fact that the cuticle is raised means that things can get into the hair shaft or out. That is called...porosity (there are two types). 

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Damaged hair shaft. Here the cuticle is completely torn off and the bits it is supposed to be protecting underneath (cortex et al) are exposed. There is no way to redeem this hair strand.

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You know how they say detangle, detangle? Stretch your hair and stretch your hair some more? That is so that we can avoid knots like these. 

Single Strand Knot. Imagine trying to undo that on your hair. Actually several of them as they pop up all over the place on tangled (and even stretched hair). You have better chances of not getting them when your hair is stretched.

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A split hair up close. It can go from the tip and tear all the way up to the root of the hair.

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Another view of split ends

Split ends on a strand of hair. You can see how easy it will be for that to go all the way down to the roots. 

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And as a bonus, I am throwing in this one. 

Head louse on a strand of hair. See how tenaciously it is holding on? A pain to get rid of. It isn't naturally green by the way, the picture has been enhanced using false color scanning.

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So what caused the majority of these damaged hair strands? Rather than use my own words, I will lift right off the Science Photo Web page:

"Damaged human hair shaft.... This can be caused by overheating the hair using curling tongs or hair straigheners, as well as chemical dyes, back combing and over brushing. Hair straighteners can get so hot that the moisture inside the hair shaft can reach boiling temperatures, leaving the hair seriously damaged. The cuticle or scales which cover the outside of each hair shaft can be stripped off. The hair will become brittle, dry and frizzy causing breakages along the shaft."

Makes you wonder about the wisdom of brushing some of these hair rules aside (forgive the pun). Now that the over 100,000 strands of your hair were affected in some way or form like the damaged hair strands we've seen here....

Next post, I will be talking about some guidelines (I don't like the word "rules") for healthy hair. 

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When you want to talk about hair growth, a lot is dependent on the condition of your scalp. If you can get scalp care and health right, you can be about 90% assured that you will get optimal and healthy hair growth.*

Let’s get into it-

  • Drink a lot of water – I can’t say this enough. When you drink water, your body distributes it to the various areas that need it to function properly.  If you drink an adequate amount of water, your body will be able to deliver an adequate amount to its different parts. If you don’t, your various body parts (skin inclusive) will not get the amount of water they need.

To break this down a little: Imagine earning N500, 000 a month and then taking a pay cut and having to earn N50, 000 a month.  There are definitely some luxuries and even basics that you will deny yourself.  Same thing with your body – give it less water and it “spends” it on the most important things first (your scalp/hair doesn’t fit into this category) and then only if can spare it, “spend” on the less important things (hair/scalp, nails e.t.c).

Remember: Your scalp moisturizes itself from the inside out and when its water store is not replenished, can lead to scalp dryness.

Coloured scanning electron micrograph of hairs protruding from the surface of the scalp

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  • Clean your scalp periodically – There is constant cell turnover going on on the scalp. This process leaves dead cells behind.  Add the build up from waxy sebum and debris plus all the accumulation from products that were applied topically and you have a scalp that clearly needs periodic cleaning.

To break it down: Imagine not washing your face for an extended period of time. The scalp is skin. Treat it as such. I am not suggesting that you wash your hair every day, but you should have a regular schedule. You should wash your hair even when it is braided or you have a weave sewn in. I wash my hair even when I have my kinky twists in.

If the scalp is allowed to breathe, it will give the hair that is coming through from the follicles a good chance of breaking through and growing healthy. (If you had to eat and live in a dump, you won't be as healthy as someone who lives in a more sanitary place). Plus if there is a lot of debris on the scalp, the hair may have a hard time pushing through from the follicles. After a while it will give up.

See here for tips on proper method for washing hair

The orange sticks are hair strands magnified several thousand times. The scalp is below. It is not as smooth as we think .

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  • Stimulate your scalp and improve circulation – there are several nutrient-carrying blood vessels running through the scalp and when stimulated, perform optimally. Two ways of achieving these are through massage and exercise.

         Massage

-  Use a scalp “stimulating” tea rinse (For example: neem, nettle, hibiscus, burdock, horsetail,  peppermint leaves e.tc. with a dash of rosemary, lavender, basil, lemon, peppermint essential oils e.t.c). Good for everyone including those with oily scalps that don’t want to use oil to massage.

- Use a herbal infusion to massage your scalp. For example: Nettle, Hibiscus, soaked in castor, jojoba, palm kernel or some other oil over a period of time (more on infusions later) and a mixture of any one of the essential oils mentioned above. Good for everyone. If you have dry scalp and need to oil your scalp, this is definitely for you. 

         Exercise

- The supply of oxygen to from your work-out aids in healthy hair growth.  I can’t explain this in a way that is not "techie" so I’ll stop here.

As you can see, from the examples I gave, I like herbal remedies for increasing circulation and stimulating hair growth. They are cheap, natural and work really well.

*If you are on medication or have a pre-disposing illness, you may not be able to get the results I speak about in this post. Also, if your hair follicles have closed up and stopped producing hair (that area will be smooth and hairless), this post will not work for you. 

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I have been asked this question several times. There are a great number of reasons why hair loss occurs.

Let’s look at what could cause thinning edges and other forms of alopecia.

Hair loss can occur anywhere on the head...even on the body

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  • Genetics: You are predisposed to androgenetic alopecia thanks to your genetic make-up.
  • Bad Practice: You do not treat you hair well. Depending on what exactly you are doing, this can lead to traction alopecia. It may also lead to dried up hair follicles (which means that the follicles will never produce hair again) or hair that is of “low quality”.
  • Illness/Stress: You are undergoing some sort of emotional stress. An illness can also result in hair falling out. Alopecia Areata is actually an autoimmune condition.
  • Hormonal Imbalance: Your hormones are out of whack for a number of reasons – pregnancy, you may be taking hormone shots or it could even be caused by stress. Also, hormonal levels tend to fluctuate sometimes.
  • Poor diet: Your hair needs certain vitamins and nutrients to nourish it, strengthen it and keep it growing.  Your diet will reflect on the quality of your hair.

As you can see there is more to hair loss than just a 5 minute discussion which is why when people ask me to talk about hair loss, I am usually at a loss (pun intended) as to where to begin to tackle the subject.

I was hoping that I could lay the foundation with the Hair 101 series and then segue into hair loss as I find that it is easier to follow if one understands a bit of hair science.  I ran into some trouble as the last one seemed too technical. I will attempt to finish and then we can launch into tackling the topic of hair loss properly.  We will then wrap up with treatments and suggestions to prevent pre-mature hair loss.

If you agree with this plan, let me know!

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What goes on in the hair bulb?

The Science – techie stuff

1The … cells undergo repeated cell division for hair formation. The high rate of cell proliferation gives rise to a constant stream of cells which push their way up to produce the hair fibre….

2Melanocytes in the bulb also transfer pigment to the hair keratinocytes to give the hair colour

..high rates of cell division…

Breaking it down:

You know that thing we all long for? Hair growth! It happens in the hair bulb. Like all living structures, the hair bulb possesses cells. These cells undergo mitosis (cell division) at a rapid rate – apparently at the second highest rate anywhere else in the body.

The Hair Bulb - see all the cells migrating upwards?

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As you can see in the picture, there is only so much space for all those new “baby” cells. This lack of space means that the older cells have to move upwards until they eventually break the surface of the skin as hair. When they do this, the hair on the scalp lengthens.  That is what we call hair growth. 

This cell division takes a lot of energy and this energy is provided by glucose. Remember that we saw here that the dermal papilla supplies this. It can only supply this if your body has an adequate amount to delegate to hair growth. Literally food for thought.

The last thing I want to highlight her is the fact that hair color is given in the hair bulb.

Want me to break it down a bit more?

Imagine planting a seed.  The norm is to dig a hole, drop the seed into it and then cover up the hole. Over time, as you water and nurture the soil (thereby indirectly the seed), it begins to grow. This growth starts within the soil and after a while you see a shoot. That means that the seed has burst open (under the right conditions) and is now growing in a vertical direction. Some seeds have the capacity to grow to oak trees, others stop as shrubs. However, that growth comes about because the seed broke the surface of the soil and grew in a vertical direction.

P.S: I do realize that a seed grows in downwards as well but for this purpose of this post, we are focusing on the growth of stems rather than roots.

What you should do

Ensure that the right conditions are present for cell division. Apart from what we learned about the dermal papilla, there is also scalp health so that the growing hair can break the surface easily. More on that in a later post in the series.

Some Trivia

Typically, hair grows half an inch per month.  That is a total of 6 inches a year. Not everyone can retain that length which is why it may seem as though your hair is not growing. 

 

1 Formation and structure of human hair.  Pierre Jollès, Helmut Zahn, H. Höcke

2 Hair Growth and Disorders. Ulrike Blume-Peytavi 

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This is the first installment in a series called Hair 101. I will try and explain everything in a manner that is easy to grasp. However, if I do not succeed with this objective, please feel free to let me know.

We begin with the dermal papilla - it is located at the bottom of the hair bulb.e

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The Science - techie stuff

The Dermal Papilla acts like an umbilical cord by delivering glucose, nutrients and oxygen to the hair follicle.

Breaking it down:

Imagine a pregnant woman. Once she finds out that she is pregnant, she goes on a diet of pre-natal supplements and baby friendly food. She also stops drinking and tries to drop any bad habits that will affect the baby. All this is done so that she ensures that her baby gets exactly what (s)he needs to develop properly. Some go the extra mile by taking supplements that are supposed to build the baby’s brain function so that it is born with advanced cognitive function e.t.c .

Imagine, if you will that the mother is trying to grow not just a healthy baby, but a good quality baby.

Using this to your benefit

One of the things that contribute to the quality of your hair is what sort of nutrients you provide it. Your diet, exercise or lack there-of all play a role.

When you exercise, you get oxygen circulating within your body. When you eat your leafy greens, vegetables and fruits (in the right amounts), you get vitamins and hair growing nutrients.

I have said here "in the right amounts" because when your body draws nutrients from food, it delivers them to different parts of the body in a certain order. Hair is one of those that get served last so if you take one carrot a day, don’t expect that it will do a lot for you hair-wise.

To get a full listing of food that is good for your hair, please go to Sherese Ijewere’s part of the presentation here.

What you should do:

  • Exercise - it is not only great for your body, it is good for your hair.
  • Eat the right amounts of fruits and vegetables -Look into taking a green smoothie a day, or making carrot juice at home as a drink. Liquidizing your veggies means that you absorb more nutrients and you can "eat" more of them.
  • Only if you can't get the right amount of vitamins and nutrients from your diet should you consider supplements. 
  • Eat less processed foods as they do absolutely nothing for you nutrition -wise.
Please note: 
This information is also true for those desiring better skin and a generally healthier body!

Sources:

The Science of Black Hair by Audrey Davis-Sivasothy. 

Wnt signaling maintains the hair-inducing activity of the dermal papilla by Jiro Kishimoto Robert E. Burgeson, Bruce A. Morgan