Thursday, May 2, 2013

Hair growth vitamins, products that repair damage, and other hair myths

We've all heard the marketing hype. For thicker, fuller hair.... Repair months of damage.. stops hair fall... grow hair longer and stronger; but how much of this is true? Can this shampoo really make my hair thicker? Can this vitamin really make my hair grow? Let's explore the truth behind these claims!
Claim number 1: Hair formula vitamins. These claim a variety of benefits. Grow hair longer, stronger, thicker, etc.
The truth is, the body can only use so much, and extra vitamins and minerals are either excreted in urine, or extras stored in fat. For a normal, healthy person, eating a balanced diet will provide enough nutrition and excess vitamins are unnecessary, and too much of some can actually be dangerous. My hero Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory put it best when he observed Penny shopping for vitamins, "While there is some benefit to taking a multi-vitamin, the body can only absorb so much. What you are buying there are the ingredients for very expensive urine."
The exception to this is if you are not healthy and/or do not eat a balanced diet. Some conditions do benefit from vitamins. I myself have Crohn's Disease and Lupus. A few years ago, my hair started falling out at an alarming rate. While it's normal to lose around 100 strands a day, I was losing so much that it would clog drains, have clumps all over the floors and furniture, gobs of it in my combs! After 3 bowel resections, I no longer absorbed B-12. And I was put on a folate blocking drug. Along with being iron anemic, and put on a restrictive diet. So I was put on B-12 shots, potassium (I forgot to mention I also had trouble keeping my potassium up), iron, a multi-vitamin, and finally folate. After being put on the folate, I started noticing quite a bit of regrowth in my crown area. After a few months, those bitty hairs were turning into short little clumps. Now my hair is almost back to it's normal thickness. So I am proof that health problems or poor diet (in my case, both, as the diets I am forced to eat to control Crohn's symptoms are very limiting) can benefit from added supplements.
Claim number 2: Repair damage. This one, while technically true in a sense, is very misleading. Let's get one thing straight, hair is dead from the moment it grows out of the follicle. It can be damaged, from a number of things from just washing it to chemical damage, to blow drying/curling irons/flat irons. Because it is dead, it can not repair itself like our living bodies can. It can however, be temporarily patched. Proteins are the best way to patch damage. Your hair is made up of keratin, which is a protein. The size of the protein does matter! Food proteins (egg, yogurt) are generally too large to penetrate the hair shaft, (however, food products containing hydrolyzed proteins are a different story) so they lie on the outside of hair and are easily washed away. Amino acids are smallest, they can penetrate the hair shaft, and can provide conditioning properties, but are usually too small to patch damage. Hydrolyzed proteins however, are the perfect size to patch up damaged hair.
Most often, though, hair product companies rely on silicones to temporarily "glue" splits and damaged cuticles down. The problem with this is that the glue is removed each time you sulfate wash your hair. And to remove most silicones, you do need a sulfate shampoo. There are exceptions, PEG and PPG modified silicones are water soluble, and there are a list of others that may be water soluble, or removed with a low sulfate shampoo. At any rate, each time you need to remove the silicones you are damaging it even more with sulfates. These silicones coat the hair, so they must be removed regularly. They can build up and suffocate hair. Not allowing moisture in, and ultimately causing more problems. 
Claim number 3: for thicker fuller hair. Again, this is semantics. These products may make your hair appear and/or feel thicker and fuller, but your hair isn't actually thicker or fuller. Again, hair is dead. It is what it is. You can only improve the health of the hair that is growing in the follicle by eating right (or taking vitamins if you need to), drinking enough water, and caring for the health of your scalp. Anything you do to (dead) hair (with the exception of damage, which is permanent) will be temporary. This is not to say that these products are without worth. If you have fine, thin, or limp hair, extra body can be very welcome, even if it is just the appearance of fullness.
Claim number 4: stop hair fall. As far as I can tell, it's just regular shampoo and conditioner with caffeine and protein. They recommend scalp massage with use. I have no idea if applying caffeine externally would actually increase blood flow to the scalp. The massage definitely will, however. Increasing blood flow by massage will help clear off dead skin and excess oil. It stimulates the follicles and the oil glands which does help the health of the scalp.  And the protein would help patch damage on hair stands to resist breakage. So in reality, if you already cleanse your scalp properly, and give yourself protein treatments, your already doing everything this line would do for you.
Keep in mind that it is normal to lose around 100 strands a day. In straight hair, these stands slip out throughout the day and aren't as noticeable. With wavy or curly hair, the texture does not allow for these hairs to slip out unnoticed. They stay stuck in their clumps, nestled up with their curly buddies, until we wash and detangle and physically pull them out with our fingers or wide tooth combs. So a clump of 100 hairs seems like a lot, all at once, but it is perfectly normal. Broken hairs are usually pretty obvious, since they are shorter. In conclusion of this claim, cleansing your scalp properly with a good massage, keeping up with your protein/moisture balance, and for very damaged hair, a hair cut, trim, or "search and destroy" for damage will go a long way for the health of your hair and scalp and reduce breakage.
Claim number 5: grow hair longer and stronger. This claim appears on things from shampoos, conditioners, hair treatments, oil treatments, vitamins, and more. It's the same principle as claim number 4. Some of these products will help in this goal if used regularly, as part of a good hair care routine. Massaging the scalp with an oil helps with blood flow, exfoliation, dissolving excess oil, and moisturizing dryness. Shampoo (hopefully a low sulfate shampoo!), conditioner, treatments, stylers, etc that are moisturizing and/or fortified with protein will help keep the moisture/protein balance of your hair to keep it hydrated, elastic, and strong (keeping in mind any damage is still there, it's just patched up). Hair in good condition may grow longer, and keeping it in good condition can keep it as strong as your hair can be. But it's important to have realistic expectations. A girl with hair as fine as silk won't have her hair transform into the plump strands of a girl with course hair. Your hair is your hair, and no product will change that, all you can do is aim for the healthiest version of your hair.