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The Science of Healthy Hair

old message The Science of Healthy Hair Darrell Miller 06/10/05


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Date: June 10, 2005 03:44 PM
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Subject: The Science of Healthy Hair

The Science of Healthy Hair

by Susan Weiner Energy Times, January 5, 2002

From the strength-giving mane of Sampson to the magically long locks of Rapunzel, hair has had the power to captivate since biblical times. Today, its lure is just as compelling and hair remains an important form of self-expression and self-image. A healthy head of hair is more than an asset to your appearance. A hairstyle can reflect a mood, an attitude or a personal style, while unkempt hair may reveal the status of one's emotional or physical health. Even a "good" hair day vs. a "bad" hair day can significantly determine how your frame of mind takes shape. We can't always control the frizz factor or the humid weather that makes our curls fall flat, but many natural approaches are available to allow us to put our best looking follicle forward. Whether your hair is sleek and stylish, long and slinky, spiky punk rock-hip or wash-and-wear, botanical-based products and proper nutrition can bring out the very best in your locks.

Don't Fool Mother Nature

No matter how often you cut, dye, perm or blow-dry your hair, Mother Nature, with the help of your DNA, has blessed you with a quite specific quality and quantity of hair. Styling may work to change the appearance of your hair, but nothing can change your genetics. Every hair on your body, from the soft down on your arms to the coarser, longer hairs on your head, grows from a cell-lined indentation called a follicle. The hair follicle consists of three cylinders; the central cylinder determines whether your hair is straight, wavy or curly. Each hair shaft alternately grows or goes into a dormant phase. "At any one time, approximately fifteen percent of the one hundred thousand or so hairs on the head are resting, while the rest are growing or lengthening," say Arthur Balin, MD, PhD, and Loretta Pratt Balin, MD (The Life of the Skin: What It Hides, What It Reveals, and How It Communicates, Bantam). Hair constantly comes and goes, falling out consistently even when it is healthy. Consequently, a normal head can shed up to one hundred resting-phase hairs a day. When hair is subjected to harsh chemicals and treatment, even more may fall out. If you're concerned with hair loss, gently pull on a small section of hair; if fewer than five hairs come out, hair loss is within normal range.

What's Your Type?

Normal hair is an elusive commodity in these stressed-out days of over-washed, over-dried and chemically treated hair. If your tresses look frizzy, tangle easily or generally lack moisture, they're probably dry. Dry hair lacks the proper oil content to maintain an ample sheen and is usually dull-looking. To gain back a natural shine, cut back on shampooing and use a natural conditioner formulated for dry hair. Look for essential oils such as jojoba, evening primrose, blue chamomile, and white camellia, and B vitamins (such as panthenol) and aloe vera, suggests Aubrey Hampton, founder of Aubrey Organics. Drinking plenty of water, eating a diet that's not ultra-low in fats and using a humidifier may also help improve dull-looking dry hair, points out David E. Bank, MD (Beautiful Skin: Every Woman's Guide to Looking Her Best at Any Age, Adams Media). (Excessively dry hair may be a significant sign of metabolic disease. If you don't notice a marked improvement in your scalp after taking measures to improve dry hair, or your hair is abnormally dry, consult your health practitioner to see if stronger cures should be implemented.)

Too Much Oil

Hair that appears greasy within 24 hours after shampooing is oily. In that case, try gentle shampoos and herbal rinses with essential oils including quillaya bark, amino acids mixed with saponins, non-coloring henna and peppermint. For an oily scalp and dry ends, condition only the ends. Styling products should be oil-free. For thin or flyaway hair, products with natural thickening agents such as panthenol can help pump up the volume. Color treated and damaged hair can benefit from sulfur-containing amino acids; check your natural foods store for hair care products that contain horsetail, coltsfoot and cysteine. Tea tree oil products are effective when you are trying to control dandruff and a problem scalp.

The Must-To-Avoids

If the label lists sodium lauryl sulfate, steer clear, warns Hampton. And, says Dr. Bank, sodium C-14-16 olefin sulfonate, a harsh chemical found in cheap shampoos, is the worst of the worst when it comes to offensive hair care ingredients. "You also need to watch out for sodium chloride-table salt-in the ingredient list. It's a cheap ingredient to thicken shampoo and strips the hair of oils."

Feed Your Head

To optimize shine and fullness, improve your nutrition, says Bruce Miller, MD, author of The Nutrition Guarantee (Summit Publishing Group). "Good nutrition is as essential to healthy, attractive hair as it is to clear, glowing skin," notes Dr. Miller. "Your hair directly reflects your care and feeding of it." Your hair consists of about 97% protein, containing nineteen of the twenty-two amino acids that form protein, explains Dr. Miller. If you skimp on quality protein, your hair may reflect this amino acid imbalance by breaking, cracking and splitting. Hair follicles pass on the nutrients you consume, nourishing the new cells that form the growing hair shaft. As the hair gradually pushes upward, the shaft is continually lubricated by the busy sebaceous glands. For a smoother transition through the shaft and undamaged hair, lecithin provides a welcome dose of lubrication, as well as the important B vitamins choline and inositol, vital to healthy hair. In fact, the B vitamins are crucial to the growth of full bodied, healthy hair. The B complex strengthens, forms and smoothes the hair shafts, and helps maintain an even hair color, even warding off the beginning of gray hair. For thick and shiny hair, vitamin A works in conjunction with the B vitamins. Zinc can strengthen the hair shafts by thickening them. Thicker and stronger hair shafts increase your chances of holding on to your hair and suffering fewer lost hairs. When it comes to hair retention, genetics count. The more hair your parents retained, the greater your chance of keeping yours.

Think Diet

If you're interested in optimal hair health, think nutrition. Eating for the sake of your curls is a lot like eating for overall health: plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy grains and lean sources of protein, including tofu and other soy-based foodstuffs. To support healthy hair, some experts advocate foods high in biotin, including brown rice, brewer's yeast, bulgur, green peas, lentils, oats, soybeans, sunflower seeds and walnuts. The natural phytochemicals in green tea may aid hair, while ginkgo biloba improves circulation to the scalp. Don't forget your daily vitamins and be sure to take an iron and B12 supplement.

Chinese Treatment

Herbs from China show great promise for helping hair. He Shou Wu, made from Polygoni multiflori (the eastern wild rose), is reputed by devotees to restore color, slow hair loss, and help hair grow back. In Chinese medicine, this botanical has been used as an adaptogen to boost overall health and longevity. Within the context of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), He Shou Wu is supposed to strengthen the liver and kidney meridians and support healthy blood. Many Asians use the herb to promote higher levels of qi, the TCM concept that encompasses your life's overall energy.

Show a Little Tenderness

Long-term exposure to sunlight and seawater can damage hair, as can combing or brushing wet hair. Treat your hair with kid gloves, use natural products that are gentle on hair, and avoid chemical treatments. If you're looking to lose weight, avoid crash diets; a sudden drop in nutrition can cause deficiencies and lead to hair damage and loss. Keeping a wonderful head of hair means staying ahead of the curve with proper nutrition, the right supplements and a continuous program of TLC. In that way, you can maintain the crowning head of hair you've always coveted.



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