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How to Grow Truly Healthy Hair (Part I)

healthy hair

Subjecting your locks to the latest dyes and dos can leave your hair looking less than lively. Add to that a nutrient-deficient diet and it’s little wonder our tresses can appear they belong to an aged rocker. Yet, there are steps you can take to reverse the damage and get a natural shine, no products necessary.

If you’ve ever been to a hairdresser, you’ll be well familiar with the end-of-session sales pitch of the latest product to hit the market—a little pot of hair miracle promising to shine and polish your locks to perfection.

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While immediate effects of chemically made products, including colour dyes, may take your tresses from unruly to tame with an enviable shine, in the long term, hair is being damaged, follicle-by-follicle, cuticle-by-cuticle. Couple this with daily use of heated styling tools: straighteners, dryers, curlers, crimpers; and you’re getting further away from achieving true healthy hair, which can only come from the roots up.

Laying down your favourite tools may not be an option, but there are steps you can take to bring back your silky locks of childhood, to a time when split ends were simply a band. However, it’s firstly important to understand how hair is formed and what essential nutrients make up each strand, from root to tip.

The Foundation of Healthy Hair

While hair is deemed “dead” once it leaves the scalp, it’s very much alive and dependent on good nutrition as it grows. The bulb and shaft make up each hair strand. It’s the bulb at the hair root where cells multiply due to minerals, oxygen and essential nutrients including magnesium, sulphur, zinc and silica, as well as Vitamin B6, biotin, inositol and folic acid. Beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A, is also essential to maintain healthy skin, nails and hair.

As hair grows, its cells become rich in keratin, a protein-packed sulphurous amino acid, which forms the hair shaft. Under a microscope you would see three layers that make up the shaft, including the medulla at the centre, the cortex and the cuticle. The medulla has minimal pigment, while the cortex determines the hair’s strength and colour. The cuticle is what reflects light and shine. This flat outer layer protects the hair’s internal composition, working as a barrier to harsh environment conditions. It’s these cells that become damaged with over colouring and styling, leaving the hair dull, limp and often broken.

Working from the Inside Out

Before we began barraging our hair with chemical shampoos, conditioners, dyes, styling products and heated tools, hair naturally shone provided the person ate a diet rich in nutrients essential to healthy hair growth. Yet it’s not one vitamin or mineral that leads to better growth, says Mal Pace, who counsels clients to a healthier lifestyle from the inside out at his Pace Training and Health clinic in Sydney.

“We need about 100 different nutrients to survive and thrive—we need lots of vitamins and minerals. Not five, not 10 but 100,” he says.

“(Healthy hair depends on) a tonne of essential trace minerals, like manganese and copper, as well as fatty acids—most of us have heard the term ‘Essential Fatty Acids’, and as the name implies, there are absolutely necessary, not optional. These fatty acids are found mainly in non-animal foods, such as seeds, nuts and vegetables. Jeopardise your diet and your jeopardise your hair.”

Pace adds that while some mineral supplements can help to replace what has been lost, there is no substitute for eating real wholefoods when it’s optimally healthy hair you seek. Additionally, superfoods such barley grass, acai and goji berries, wheat grass, chlorella and a spirulina from a pure source as also a good idea due to their high concentration of hair-loving nutrients.

(Healthy hair depends on) a tonne of essential trace minerals, like manganese and copper, as well as fatty acids—most of us have heard the term ‘Essential Fatty Acids’, and as the name implies, there are absolutely necessary, not optional.

Iron, Vitamin D and Iodine are also essential hair nutrients, says Tony Pearce of National Trichology Services.

“These are the three most important nutrients for metabolic functioning,” he says. “Essentially, by virtue of their ‘femaleness’, women are more prone to be deficient in these nutrients than males. Hair is the first tissue to have these supports withdrawn when the body’s levels are becoming depleted.”

Pearce adds that thinning hair on a woman’s scalp is often the first symptom of an internal disturbance or deficiency.

“If you are noticing you are losing more hair than normal or suffering from Telogen Effluvium (a form of alopecia)—keeping in mind other factors such as post pregnancy, shock if you have been ill and required intravenous drugs—start with a simple blood test to determine your iodine, iron and Vitamin D.”

Essentially, by virtue of their ‘femaleness’, women are more prone to be deficient in these nutrients than males. Hair is the first tissue to have these supports withdrawn when the body’s levels are becoming depleted.

Dr S.K. Thomas, author of The Fertile Ground e-book, says health of the scalp is also imperative to healthy hair growth. Every cell in the body, he explains, is dependent on blood supply for nourishment and removing of each cell’s waste.

“If that acid waste is not removed, it will concentrate around the cells and burn them—this is physical stress, creating an acid condition. The skin cells of the scalp want to be happy like every other cell,” he says. “Vasoconstriction is when the body’s blood vessels contract to a smaller size, diameter.”

Substances such as nicotine and caffeine are just two of the culprits that trigger vasoconstriction, Dr Thomas adds. When this happens to any tissue, blood supply and nutrition decreases, as do elimination of cell waste, which directly affects hair health or lack thereof.

“Mental stress is also a problem because we contract our muscles chronically and prevent blood and nutrition from getting to the cells, restricting elimination, cell happiness and balance,” he says. “Bottom line, hair cannot grow if the cells are not kept happy.”

NEXT WEEK: (Part 2 – Best Foods for Healthy Hair + Chemicals to Avoid)

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