Merciless temperatures outdoors and dry heat indoors do little to soothe your hair. But blaming brittle and lustreless locks on the cold may be misdirected.
In many cases, observant hairstylists, who are often the only people looking at your hair patterns over the long term, first see the warning signs. As a hairstylist, I've noticed women with severe hair breakage and loss in every season. Many of them are going through menopause or have recently had a child, which cause hormonal changes that can also affect hair health. But with proper medical treatment and care, women can have healthy hair well into their later years.
I spoke to Dr. Fred Hui, a general practitioner who specializes in integrative health and lectures at the University of Toronto. He says weak hair or hair loss can result from low cortisol levels, which can prevent a person from retaining essential nutrients. Alternatively, our adrenal glands, which produce hormonal responses including stress, can stifle hair growth if they're imbalanced.
"Pregnant women have extra estrogen and extra progesterone. It's nourishing their bodies and their growing baby. As a result, their hair is shiny and radiant," Dr. Hui says. "After the birth, there is a drastic drop in estrogen and progesterone, and the hair reflects this. You see the same thing in peri- or post-menopausal women. They also experience this drop, or even develop thyroiditis, leading to hair loss, or weak, coarse hair."
Dr. Hui recommends bioidentical hormones when appropriate. This hormone therapy treatment is not without its controversy, since it has not undergone wide clinical studies, but Dr. Hui says his patients soon experience a renewed vitality. He also recommends iron and progesterone supplements for patients with iron deficiency or postpartum depression. It's also important to get your thyroid checked out – hair loss can signify an overactive or underactive thyroid.
At my salon, we take notes on the quality of a client's hair at every visit. I can't tell you how many times I've mentioned to a woman she may need to check her iron levels with a physician, only to find out she has a significant medical condition.
Naturopathic doctor Cinzia Genuardi says her hormonal hair was a huge source of stress during her two pregnancies. Now she helps patients avoid the frustration she went through using a naturopathic approach.
She pays close attention to the changes in the patient's life and how that has impacted the person as a whole: physically, mentally and emotionally. She says stressful circumstances are the most common reasons for weak, brittle and dull looking hair.
"I believe the magic is really in helping a woman restore her hormonal balance and her entire being," Genuardi says. "Hair is resilient and can bounce back to what we call a 'new normal.' The key is to keep stress levels at bay and replenish the adrenal glands while also supporting the thyroid and liver."
Genuardi recommends a daily dose of seaweed or a product such as e3 live, which contain an abundance of minerals, protein and good fat.
Another daily must-do is drinking freshly squeezed lemon juice in warm water upon waking. She says this simple habit allows the liver to detoxify and helps balance hormones.
Flax seeds are a fabulous source of phytoestrogens so they not only help restore hormonal balance but they also help detoxify 'bad' hormones from the body, such as forms of estrogen that are associated with an increased risk of cancer. Phytoestrogenic veggies, such as winter squash, green beans, collard greens and broccoli should be part of the daily dietary regime. Also try cabbage, asparagus, bok choy or carrots. But the most important take-home message is to include a daily ritual that allows you to keep calm and balanced, so your body can heal.
Genuardi emphasizes that there is not a "one size fits all" solution to hair degeneration, and I'd say the same goes with hair styling: every client is different, with unique needs and goals. For me, as a hair expert, I believe my role is to focus on a woman as a whole in addition to creating the latest Kim Kardashian waves in their hair. That may sound like holistic hair styling, but I just call it smart hair care with flair.