Hair Health: Stress and Tresses

Your hair health can often tell you when there is a underlying problem with your wellbeing. Here’s what you need to know and what you can do to get to the root of the problem

As we age, and the seasons change, it is common for our hair to become dry, brittle and to develop split ends. This is often our body’s way of telling us there is a problem.

Of course, this reduction in your hair health and quality may be linked to the fitness activities we are doing, or could simply be the result of hair colour and heat treatments. But it also could indicate that our body is stressed, or we are on the road to hair loss – or both.

Rasheed A Patel from Fusion Labs explains that a single follicle grows approximately 0,35mm per day.

“The normal cycle of growth of each follicle consists alternatively of rebuilding and tearing down of the structure. After a period of rest, the follicle regenerates from raw materials, each hair follicle replicating this process as it grows longer and stronger.”

The metabolic requirements of the hair follicle must be met at this time, or adequate and optimal hair growth will not occur. This, he says, requires that certain vitamins and minerals be present in adequate quantities, or there will be non-existent or defective hair growth.

“Good nutrition and a diet adequate in multinutrients are required to encourage healthy hair and skin. High-quality vitamins, herbals and minerals minimise hair loss and thinning. In our modern lifestyle, our typical diet is invariably low in multinutrients, leading to vitamin deficiency and hormonal imbalance, both of which are prominent causes of hair loss.”

Stress and Your Hair

Stress has a major impact on the condition of your hair, warns hair expert and owner of Tanaz Hair Boutique and Day Spa, Shelene Shaer.

“The fastest-growing cell is your hair. If you have highly stressful periods, or internalise stress, of course it’s going to show in your hair.”

Alopecia areata is one condition that arises from severe stress. Your body thinks it is under attack, and the white blood cells, which are supposed to heal your body, attack the hair follicle, stopping hair growth and making your hair fall out.

“You need to look at your whole life holistically. Start from the inside and the outside will follow. A friend of mine put it perfectly: it’s about being ‘wholelistic’ – looking at your body as a whole, and not your hair as a separate entity,” Shaer says.

Maameya Dankwa, brand manager of Vigro®, a hair and scalp support product from Nativa, notes:

“Non-genetic hair loss can be caused by illnesses, medicines and pollutants, but stress is something that most people experience in their day-to-day lives, and the build-up of this stress can play havoc on your hair.”

When your body is undergoing a physically stressful event, all of its energy and available nutrient supply is focused on healing itself. However, in order to give everything to the healing process, your body stops growing hair and your hair goes into a resting phase; after about three months the hair follicles shed the hair all at once.

“This is your body’s way of coping, and making sure that the necessary jobs are dealt with first – and growing hair is not a necessity,” says Dankwa.

Hair Health: Did You Know?

It’s normal to lose up to 100 hairs per day, or even 250 on the days when you wash your hair. However, if hair loss is excessive, you will need to take a look at your diet and lifestyle.


Chemical Dependency

Henkel Beauty Care SA (the company behind Schwarzkopf Smooth ’N Shine and Ladine) has an R&D Laboratory specifically focused on ethnic hair. Experts from the company explain that your hair health can be compromised if it is over processed during relaxing, colouring or straightening and can cause breakage (but not hair loss).

“The hair will break off at the scalp area, but will grow back again, unless severe chemical burning has been caused, which could result in permanent damage.”

However, braiding can cause hairline loss; this is due to too much tension being placed on the follicle and root of the hair in the long term, which loosens the grip of the hair in the follicle.

“Continuous straining on the hair and follicle may result in permanent hair loss.”

Hair Health

Thinning Hair

Thinning hair is a common concern, with up to 50% of people worldwide experiencing some level of thinning at some point in their lives. It can occur along a spectrum from barely noticeable to significant.

While this is considered a complicated issue, thinning hair is most commonly caused by stress, poor diet and hormonal imbalance, or it can be genetic. There are a number of products, available in salons and in stores, as well as through prescription, that can help with your hair health.

Shaer suggests that if you are noticing unusual hair loss, your first port of call should be your doctor.

“Only once you know what is happening internally can you build stronger, healthier hair.” Look for products that target the underlying causes of hair loss and that stimulate hair growth. Ingredients such as Coenzyme Q10 are beneficial.


Top 5 Causes of Thinning Hair

  1. Medical treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy have an effect on your hair.
  1. A diet low in vitamins A and B, protein and zinc can cause thinning hair.
  1. Elevated stress levels shift your hair from the growing phase right to the shedding phase. Eliminate the stress, and hair production will return to normal.
  1. Increased or decreased hormone production can cause your hair to thin or fall out.
  1. Low iron levels can stunt hair growth, but this is usually short-term.


5 Ways to Make Your Hair Look Thicker

Dankwa shares these top five tips on how to help make your hair look thicker:

Cut heavy bangs: By having this extra hair against your face, your hair will look thicker than it is. Take it a step further and colour the under-layer of the fringe two shades darker; this will also make your bangs look thicker.

Outward-facing waves: When you create waves during styling, have them face outwards instead of towards your face; this will give your hair the extra volume you are looking for.

Love the curl: If you are sporting a short/medium hairstyle, think about adding some bounce with a curl. Gone are the days of the frizzy perm, but by adding a few large rollers to your hairstyling regime, you can create a fuller look.

Don’t grow your hair too long: With shorter hair it is easier to create volume, whereas long hair can weigh down your hair and lose any volume you are trying to build.

Blowdry your hair correctly: How you blowdry your hair impacts on the way your hair is styled. Flip your hair forward and dry the underneath of your hair until it is no longer damp. Flip it back over and blowdry in sections with a large, round brush, to create volume.

“As these tips are only a temporary solution, it is important to get a handle on the cause of your thinning hair,” adds Dankwa.


Men and Hair Loss

hair health

A survey conducted by independent company Plus 94 Research, on behalf of Alpecin Caffeine Shampoo, has found that hair loss is more prevalent in middle-aged South African men than erectile dysfunction. Close on 40% of the 600 men (aged 20 to 65) showed signs of hair loss. This rose to two thirds of men between the ages of 36 and 55, who commented that, after weight issues, hair loss was more of a concern than strong body odour or bad breath. A quarter of the 600 said they felt losing hair would affect their attractiveness, and a third aged between 36 and 55 commented that this would negatively affect their social lives.

According to the survey:

  • 39% of all respondents were showing signs of early hair loss (22%), had a serious hair loss problem (9%) or were almost bald (8%).
  • Most men (59%) spend R100 or less a month on their hair, 37% spend up to R499, and 4% spend over R500.
  • Almost half (45%) of the men surveyed are willing to spend an additional R150 a month to prevent hair loss, while 9% are willing to spend more than R150.
  • Single, divorced and separated men are willing to spend more on countering hair loss than married men.
  • Cape Town men spend more on their hair than their Durban and Johannesburg counterparts.
  • Almost 40% of respondents showing signs of hair loss are treating the problem.

Women and Hair Loss

hair health

A similar survey was conducted on women over 30 by independent company Plus 94 Research, on behalf of Plantur 39. More than a third of the women surveyed admitted that they are showing signs of early hair loss, which they said has impacted negatively on their self-confidence and their appeal to their partners. This, in turn, has led to a rise in anxiety and depression.

Of the 505 women surveyed, 37% were showing signs of hair loss (28%), had a serious hair-loss concern (8%) or were in fact going bald (1%). Of those who were showing signs of hair loss, 38% said they had experienced signs and symptoms of depression or anxiety. The research revealed that this figure rose to almost 50% in women aged between 46 and 55, while, demographically, the figure was slightly higher among white women (42%).

According to the survey:

  • 69% of those surveyed believe healthy hair plays a huge part in their self-image, while 55% said healthy hair builds self-confidence and attracts attention from the opposite sex.
  • A third believes hair loss will affect their appeal to their partner.
  • Almost 75% are spending up to R500 a month on haircare, 13% up to R1 000, and 7% over R1 000.
  • Half say they would be willing to sacrifice a new wardrobe, while 39% would sacrifice holidays, to solve a hair-loss problem.


Feed Your Hair

Kim Snyder, a nutritionist for the mind, body and soul, a yogini and the New York Times bestselling author of The Beauty Detox Solution, The Beauty Detox Foods and The Beauty Detox Power, explains that deficiencies in your diet may also contribute to hair loss.

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Your hair is made mostly of protein, and if you are not eating enough protein, you may notice that your hair is thinning. In general, if you are not deficient in calories, it is virtually impossible to be truly deficient in protein. However, those on severely calorie-restricted diets, or anorexics, could have this problem.

What to add to your diet: Nutritional yeast (it has 18 amino acids and 9g of protein in three tablespoons), broccoli, mushrooms, romaine lettuce, raw nuts (such as almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, hazelnuts and pine nuts), legumes, beans, and hemp or sprouted raw protein powder are good.

“There’s no need to panic and start eating animal protein again if you’ve decided to stop. There’s plenty of protein in the plant world,” says Snyder.

Fatty Acids

Omega-3 and omega-6-rich foods help to nourish your scalp, and a healthy scalp is necessary for thick, beautiful hair.

What to add to your diet: You can get omega-3 fatty acids from spinach, kale and other salad greens. Brussels sprouts are another great source, as are pumpkin seeds (these contain zinc, B vitamins including biotin, and other vitamins and minerals that benefit hair health), chia seeds, avocados, flax seeds, acai berries and walnuts.

B Vitamins (in particular biotin, which is B8, and B12):

“Along with thinning hair, you may also experience loss of hair colour if you’re deficient in biotin. If you’re vegan, consider a B12 supplement, since it’s difficult to get that vitamin on a plant-based diet. It, along with vitamins B6, E and A, helps to nourish the hair follicles,” suggests Snyder.

What to add to your diet: Again, nutritional yeast comes up a winner. Snyder suggests that you add more sprouts, pulses, pumpkin seeds and spirulina to boost your vitamin B intake.

“Taking daily probiotics, which I wholeheartedly recommend, helps to balance your gut, where B vitamins can be synthesised internally.”

Vitamin A

Antioxidant vitamin A (and beta-carotene) helps to cleanse and detoxify the liver and the blood, which means nutrients can more easily get to your scalp and hair. In addition, it works with vitamin C to create sebum, which keeps the hair from becoming dry and brittle (and breaking off).

What to add to your diet: Carrots, spinach and other leafy greens, sweet potatoes, red peppers, sea vegetables and squash also contain vitamin A.


The jury is still out on whether an iron deficiency could directly be connected to your hair health and cause hair loss; there is evidence to suggest that it could. Iron is one of the most common deficiencies in the world. If you do suspect that you have an iron deficiency, consult with your doctor to discuss how much iron you need and how to get more in your diet. It is also possible to get too much iron (which can come with dangerous consequences). When you’re eating plant foods to increase your iron intake, always be sure to eat something with vitamin C as well. This aids in the absorption of non-heme iron (iron that isn’t from animal products).

What to add to your diet: Try spirulina, lentils, beans, almonds, squash, pine nuts, quinoa and pears. Dark leafy-green vegetables such as spinach contain iron, and the vitamin C your body needs to use it. If you eat cooked spinach, the vitamin C would be denatured, however, so be sure to add fresh lemon juice for vitamin C.


“If you’re dehydrated, the way your hair looks will be your body’s last concern,” says Snyder. “You need water to keep the hair you have healthy and to grow more. If your scalp is dry and dehydrated, it’s not exactly a welcoming place for new hair to grow.”

What to add to your diet: It goes without saying – drink more water. You can also increase your water intake by eating watery fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes and celery.


Foods to Avoid to Improve Hair Health

Just as food can help to nourish your hair, so too can it damage your hair. Be sure to cut down on “clogging” foods such as dairy, soy, wheat, animal fat, sugar and cooked vegetable oils, which make it difficult for blood to get to your hair follicles, warns Snyder.

Other causes of hair loss or hair thinning:

  • Certain medications;
  • Hormonal changes (including menopause, childbirth and even birth-control pills);
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome;
  • Thyroid disease; and
  • Adrenal fatigue.


If you have taken all of the steps with your diet and lifestyle, and still don’t see any changes in your hair health, perhaps it is time to speak to your healthcare professional, to see if there is an underlying cause.