Did you know that an average woman changes her hair style 104 times between the age of 13 to 65, from trimming, layering, perming, bleaching and hair dyeing? Are we putting our health and scalp at risk?
Urban Health speaks to Dr. M. Nasir Zahari, Medical Director and Consultant Plastic, Reconstructive and Cosmetic Surgeon at Beverly Wilshire Medical Centre about chemical hair treatments and their effects on our hair and health.
ARE WE KILLING OUR HAIR?
There are many types of chemical hair treatments but the two most common ones are those for styling such as hair gel and wax, and the second type for dyeing, bleaching, rebonding, relaxing and perming.
“Extensive use of treatment chemicals can pose hazards to our hair and cause hair loss,” says Dr Nasir. The hair, he says, is just like the rest of the body. Placing our hair under excessive stress and harmful chemicals will weaken and strain it. In ‘hair terms’, this is referred to as hair loss.
Dyeing your hair neon pink hair or platinum blonde may seem trendy and make heads turn, but the process of successfully obtaining the hair colour you desire can cause more harm than you imagine.
Hair problems usually originate from the hair root or hair shaft (visible part of the hair). “Most hair problems begin with hair shaft injury such as shaft fragility,” explains Dr Nasir. Treatment chemicals can damage the hair shaft and when used extensively, can penetrate into the hair root causing damage to the hair root as well.
All these result in problems such as hair loss, whether temporary or permanent.
“A person has over 100,000 hair follicles and loses about 100 strands of hair daily. This is a natural cycle and new hair will soon grow,” says Dr Nasir. However, waking up to a pillow covered in hair is a call for immediate action.
Besides chemical treatments, Dr Nasir outlines other reasons that may contribute to hair loss:
- STRONG SHAMPOOS – The use of strong shampoos are unnecessary and can potentially harm the scalp and hair. Dr Nasir recommends delicate shampoos such as those used for children. If you require a stronger treatment shampoo, his advice is to purchase products from reputable brands.
- HAIR COMBS – Choose a comb or brush with soft and blunt bristles. Although many of us enjoy the ‘scratching’ sensation of hard bristles from the comb or brush on our scalp, it can be harmful to the scalp and will aggravate hair loss.
- VIGOROUS WASHING – Vigorously massaging or washing of the scalp in salons can cause up to 250 strands of hair to fall. That is more than double of the normal amount. Instead, gently massage the scalp using the tips of your fingers and not your finger nails.
A strand of hair is supposed to last about six to eight years before it falls off. However, with the extensive use of hair treatment chemicals and bad hair habits, most of our hair fall out earlier than they should.
It is important to look out for tell tale signs of damaged hair that require treatment, Dr Nasir cautions. “The effect of hair treatment chemicals is long term. In your younger days, your body may be able to sustain the hair chemicals but as you grow older, the nutrients in your hair may become insufficient, leading to excessive hair loss.”
Signs of damaged hair include dry tips, hair with split ends and has lost its shine and. Signs of hair loss include waking up to a ball of hair on the bed or pillow or more hair shedding than usual when combing.
MAINTAINING HEALTHY HAIR
To maintain healthy hair, Dr Nasir’s advice is to allow a break of at least three months between hair treatments. Also, choosing a reputable hair salon is vital to ensure you right hair care advice from professionals.
A balanced diet complemented with exercise helps to improve blood circulation and hormonal secretion, leading to healthier hair growth. On top of that, avoid excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays, smoking and tying tight pony tails.
Many people change their hairstyle to celebrate an event, after a break up, to please their partner or due to peer pressure but are not aware of its consequences. Hair loss affects both men and women.
It is important to maintain healthy hair and avoid excessive exposure to hair treatment chemicals which can be harmful. “You can give yourself a new look but the key is to keep things simple,” says Dr Nasir.
IS IT CANCEROUS?
There is no definite proof that links hair treatment chemicals to cancer. However, Dr Nasir explains that some ingredients in hair chemicals are known to be carcinogenic. His advice is to look at labels before proceeding with a hair treatment and to avoid ingredients such as ammonia.
HAIR TREATMENT GONE WRONG
When Leann* wanted to treat herself to a makeover, little did she know the end result would be so disastrous. She shares her experience as a warning to others who are contemplating a change in hair colour:
“It all started when I was inspired by something I saw online. I made an appointment with my usual hairstylist and he suggested two rounds of treatments – bleaching followed by dyeing.
It was the first time I bleached my hair. I was aware of the possible damage and the commitment to care for it after that. What I did not expect was the end result.
When the towels were finally removed, I was shocked to see that the colour was far too light. But that was just the beginning.
When I got home, everyone was shocked. They called me all kinds of nicknames after that, which affected my confidence levels.
Now, I keep my hair tied up to avoid negative comments. This new hair colour also made me appear less professional.
I visited another hairstylist later to fix the situation and found out that my hair actually did not require bleaching. But he refused to do anything more as he didn’t want to damage my hair further. I had to live with my experiment gone wrong until my hair grew back and recovered.
My advice is to get a second opinion. Hair treatment is not something to be taken lightly. Once your hair is damaged, it is tough getting it back to its original healthy state.”
* Name changed to protect privacy