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We ask the experts to settle common questions we've all wondered about.

QUESTION

Does washing your hair too often make you get dandruff or go bald?

ANSWER

The quick answer to your question is absolutely not. The idea that washing your hair frequently causes baldness or dandruff is actually a misconception.

Although you might be losing your locks while in the shower or combing your hair, that is perfectly normal.

The hair follicle has a three-phased life: growth, rest and shedding. Five per cent of your hair is in the shedding phase. That means you can lose 80 to 100 hairs every day. If you only shower once a week, for example, it may seem like you are shedding an awful lot, when in fact that hair is ready to be released.

There are many types of baldness, including male- and female-pattern baldness. Hair loss is caused by hormones and can be genetic. Men typically lose hair in the crown and frontal areas, while women's hair tends to thin all over.

Medication can cause hair loss as a side effect, as, for example, with chemotherapy treatment.

Some of my patients who have gone through stressful situations, such as motor-vehicle accidents, operations, pregnancy or the loss of a loved one, have experienced sudden hair loss. Certain diseases such as lupus and syphilis can also cause hair loss.

If you are worried about losing your hair, it is very important to have it evaluated by an expert. A dermatologist will be able to diagnose the type of baldness you're experiencing, as well as potential causes. It can be as simple as a thyroid hormone imbalance, which can be corrected. Other treatments include creams, pills and hair transplantation. Light and laser treatments have not proven successful for hair growth.

Despite the popular belief, dandruff is not caused by daily hair washing, either. Dandruff, or seborrheic dermatitis, happens when your scalp is too dry or too oily. Your skin produces natural oils, especially on the scalp, ears and the T-zone (the forehead, nose and chin areas) to help lubricate your skin and hair follicles. Excessive oiliness can cause dandruff to occur. Dandruff is an abnormal amount of flaking from your scalp, which can be accompanied by redness or irritation.

In fact, daily hair washing can improve the problem. Using a shampoo such as Head & Shoulders or Selsun Blue is an effective and inexpensive treatment for dandruff. Ask your family physician about other treatment options, such as prescription-strength medicated shampoos, as well as prescribed creams or pills if the problem is severe.

While it is perfectly safe to wash your hair every day, I give my patients a few tips. I don't recommend using very hot water, which can lead to dry, flaky scalps. Don't vigorously scrub your scalp; hard scrubbing can pull follicles in the rest and growth phases. Hair is sturdy and strong, but you can damage it. I also remind my patients that chemicals, such as hair straightener, can weaken the structure of your hair. While it won't fall out, weaker hair is subject to breakage.

For more information on dandruff and balding, visit the Canadian Dermatology Association's website: http://www.dermatology.ca.

Dr. Jaggi Rao is an Edmonton dermatologist with Capital Health region and associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of Alberta.

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