- One of the biggest hair concerns among women is thinning and hair loss.
- Such concerns can be accelerated, not only by the winter season but also the type of hair brush or comb you use.
- A leading UK trichologist debunks hair myths and shares advice on the best things you can do for your hair.
I've had my fair share of hair woes over the years. While I've always been genetically blessed with length and fast hair growth (shoutout to my own keratin), I'm one of the many black women who experience traction alopecia. So much so that I was going for hair filler treatments in 2019 - the results of which are still gradual.
I've since ditched my natural hair journey and gone back to chemically relaxing my hair - a solution brought to me courtesy of the lockdown.
Since I've had my hair relaxed, I'm experiencing far less hair loss and breakage than I did with my going-nowhere-slowly natural hair. Perhaps I was using the wrong comb. Possible.
Maybe I wasn't moisturising well enough. Also possible.
Of course, I'm by no means saying relaxed hair is better for your hair compared to staying natural. Rather, for some, it's easier to manage their hair when it's in a certain style. And while we recognise the history of chemically straightening our hair as a colonial construct, we also agree that hair texture is a personal choice. Do what works for you, as long as your hair isn't falling out.
With that said, any kind of hair loss can be scary, but there's an expert who can quell your fears.
Iain Sallis is a leading trichologist in the UK who acts as an advisory to hair care brand Tangle Teezer. In addition, Iain is the director of the Hairmedic Trichologly clinics and co-founder of the International Trichology Congress. So trust us, you're in good hands.
We got to pick his brain on hair, hype and health. But first, what is a trichologist?
The definition of trichology is the study of diseases and disorders of the hair and scalp. A trichologist can be anyone from a hairdresser who takes an interest in the science and hair problems, to the hair biologists at the cutting edge of hair science – it all comes under the umbrella of trichology.
"Personally, I am an investigator and problem solver," says Iain. "People come to my clinic with particular hair problems, which cannot be corrected through orthodox channels – your GP for instance. I'm a specialist, so I can spot subtle differences which may be missed by a GP or dermatologist," he says.
What are the most common hair complaints in your clinics?
General hair thinning in females. This could be due to nutrition, hormones, mechanical trauma, genetics, medication, long-term illnesses or any one of these exacerbating another.
All of the above can cause the hair to become finer, thinner and less voluminous than it once was - approximately one in three women will suffer from hair thinning at some point in their life, so it is a very common issue which has no set answer.
What’s your first piece of advice for women suffering from hair loss?
Get a diagnosis. Hair loss is multi-faceted and unique to each person. So if you are suffering from a low iron level, the shampoo you are using isn't going to correct the problem – it doesn't even help.
The hair supplements people take are a blunderbuss approach, hoping that the stuff in them is the thing they are deficient in and will eventually help. On rare occasions, this may be the case, but it is unlikely anyone in the western hemisphere is suffering from biotin or selenium deficiency. Iron and protein are the two main supplements you should look at using and this is because the modern diet doesn't have enough of these in them.
What's the biggest hair myth?
There are literally hundreds of hair myths, ranging from sublime to ridiculous. Some have a grain of truth. Hair turning white overnight, for example. This comes from people who have suffered such a severe shock that it induces a form of diffuse alopecia, causing all the pigmented (coloured) hair to fall out from the scalp over a period of days.
For reasons we don't quite know of, non-pigmented hairs (white/grey hairs) can be immune to this response, so these are left. The coloured hairs fall out and the white hairs are left - and as if by magic, a person's hair turns white overnight!
And some myths are harmful – such as: "This shampoo will help with your hair loss." These are the ones I really don't like.
How important is diet in maintaining good health and is there any wonder ingredient for hair?
Hair and health are inextricably linked, the best way to maintain hair as you get older is to ensure you are healthy and don't rely on long-term medications.
There is no "superfood" for hair, but iron and protein are the main ingredients that are usually missing in a person's diet when it comes to dietary hair loss.
Sulphur-rich amino acids found in red meat, eggs and oily fish are great for hair. If this type of diet is unattainable (for vegetarians, for example) that is where a good supplement will come in handy.
What's the number one thing you can do for better hair (internally and externally)?
Internally – make sure you are as healthy as possible. It is boring, but it is so true. Smoking, obesity, malnutrition, long-term medication will all impact on hair growth to an extent.
Externally – treat your hair like a piece of clothing, make sure you do not overbleach it and make sure you have a decent brush if your hair is fine or fragile.
How important is the right brush for your hair type?
Immensely! There is no point to putting a massive amount of effort into diagnosis and treatment of the hair if all you're going to do is use a 20-year-old radial brush that rips out 10 to 20 hairs every time you use it. Those 10 or 20 hairs soon build up.
Using a brush or comb specifically designed to limit hair breakage from the natural traction imparted upon the hair, such as the Tangle Teezer's Fine & Fragile Hairbrush (R255)will only help the hair in the long run.
Less traction, less friction, better quality hair. And it is something a person can easily employ daily to help themselves.
You can also try these combs:
Shower Detangler Brush, R149 at Clicks
Plastic Wide-Toothed Comb, R15 on Loot
Natural Curl Comb, R115 at The Body Shop