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Creating a healthy head of hair is worth the effort. Ultimately, it means you’ll shed less, slow down any thinning or hairline recession, experience less breakage and fewer split ends and even preserve your hair’s thickness and volume. Taking good care of your hair, from your scalp outward, means better hair days, more consistently, either because you’re investing in the right products—or maybe even taking a targeted prescription, if that what the doctor orders.
Whether you’ve had a string of bad hair days or you just want to ensure your hair is as healthy as it can be, it’s worth it to get expert advice. Which is why we asked two tonsorial professionals—a dermatologist and a hairstylist—for their expert advice and hair health tips.
Read on to learn how to make your hair healthier—and thank us later.
Don’t let the “derm” in dermatology limit your dependency on these doctors: They don’t just assess your skin. They’re hair experts, too (after all, it sprouts from your skin—so, in that way, they’re skin experts as it pertains to hair growth). Dermatologists can help pinpoint the best solutions for improving hair health, as well as the underlying factors that contribute to your unique situation.
Maybe your situation is genetic. Maybe it’s seasonal or habitual. To know with certainty, you should visit your doctor frequently, says dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon Dr. Dendy Engelman (aka Dr. Dendy), the director of dermatology, Mohs surgery and laser medicine at New York City’s Shafer Clinic. She assesses her patients’ scalps for thinning patterns and patches, irritation, sebum buildup and more. In her view, routine visits will allow for faster, more effective solutions.
In terms of medical solutions, dermatologists will often harness the powers of lasers, plasma, and prescriptions to fortify your hair, reduce hair fall, and even revive some recently lost hair. But many people prefer a strictly holistic approach to the problem, especially given the costs and occasional risks that come with medical approaches—though “holistic” doesn’t necessarily equate to “inexpensive”. It all depends on your approach.
“A holistic approach generally means making changes to your diet, taking natural supplements and using hair or scalp care products in order to promote natural, healthy hair growth,” says Engelman. “This approach tends to be less effective overall and takes longer, compared to other pharmacologic approaches, which have been clinically proven to be more effective.” That’s not a discouragement, it’s simply a matter of setting proper expectations. Compare it to a common-cold scenario: You can either have hot tea to soothe a cough and fall asleep, or you can take Nyquil and doze off quickly and quietly. To each their own.
Many people combine natural and medical approaches to arrive at the end goal of thicker, fuller, stronger hair. And, two of the most popular solutions these days (low-level light therapy and platelet-rich plasma) blur the line between the two.
Low-Level Light Therapy (LLLT)
Laser therapy stimulates the follicles and scalp cells, boosting hair growth and strength. Some hair clinics will offer it onsite, though you can also buy an at-home helmet that offers the same benefits. “LLLT is a great option if you are not interested in taking medication for hair growth,” Engelman says. “It treats hair loss caused by many different factors, including genetics, chemotherapy and conditions that affect the hair, like alopecia. Laser therapy treatment is generally painless, and it has been shown to provide effective results.”
Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP)
“PRP consists of drawing small amounts of blood from the patient, extracting the plasma from the blood, and then re-injecting the plasma into the target treatment areas,” Engelman says. “It is a way of using a patient’s own personal healing system to promote hair growth, and it has yielded fantastic results for many patients.” This is because everyone’s plasma has growth factors that act as a personal super vitamin wherever injected (it’s also common for people to get “vampire facials” which utilize the same science). As a two-time recipient of PRP, I can vouch for its effectiveness in terms of density and growth stimulation, but it’s a rather expensive solution yet, costing upwards of $1,000 per treatment (and oftentimes, two or three treatments are suggested for each boost).
Minoxidil and Finasteride
Two pharmacological solutions often associated with hair retention are minoxidil and finasteride.
Engelman frequently recommends minoxidil to her patients. The now over-the-counter drug is the generic version of Rogaine. It’s either a serum, spray, or foam that stimulates circulation in the scalp’s dermis (the second layer of skin, which Engelman notes is where the hair follicle resides). The circulation boost significantly improves nutrient delivery to these follicles, which in turn fortifies hair growth, and can even reverse and prevent hair loss if you’re experiencing crown thinning.
“Minoxidil is a tried and true treatment for genetic hair loss,” Engelman says. “It is not for people who are having very sudden, unexplained hair loss. It is most effective when used in combination with another hair loss treatment.”
Oftentimes, that other treatment is finasteride—the generic version of Propecia, which prevents the suffocation and shrinking of hair follicles by neutralizing the accumulation of dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. DHT is a byproduct of testosterone production and is responsible for recessed hairlines as well as male-pattern baldness. It is typically taken as a daily pill, though some brands, like hims, now sell topical finasteride; this spray-on treatment is believed to offer the same benefits without risk of sexual side effects (which is one major turn-off for the daily oral dose). Still, the oral finasteride is the current gold standard in terms of significantly slowing hair recession, while aiding minoxidil in restoring fuller, stronger hair around the crown.
Engelman offers her doctor’s warning on both drugs: “Consult with a doctor before starting. It is important for a professional to walk you through the dos and don’ts that come along with treatment, so that you thoroughly understand potential side effects, the time frame of usage, et cetera,” she says. It is important to note that if you want to maintain the results of these products, then you must be consistent in your use. It is OK to stop taking them, but your hair will eventually return to its previous state.”
Aside from the treatments mentioned above, Engelman recommends three holistic, habitual strategies for improving the quality of your hair.
Audit Your Diet
“People tend to believe that if they are using high-quality products in their hair, then that should be enough for hair health,” Engelman says. “In reality, most of the nutrients we need for our hair should be obtained from the foods we eat. Our hair is made up of protein, and in order to support its health, we need to maintain a balanced diet.”
For this, she recommends healthy fats (like nuts, fish, flax), vitamin A (from milk and yogurt), vitamin B (from beef, chicken and potatoes), and iron (from lentils, spinach and eggs).
“Fats are necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) nutrient absorption, and vitamin B helps to break them down along with carbohydrates, which ultimately strengthens the hair,” she says. “Vitamin A is utilized by our cells to produce sebum, which is an oily substance that coats, moisturizes and protects the skin; sebum is essential for scalp health, which is a direct line to healthy hair growth. Finally, iron distributes oxygen to the cells, and low iron levels can directly lead to hair loss. Together, these nutrients work as a system to regulate not only your hair health but the health of your entire body.”
It should go without saying then, that anything counter to healthy dieting—like binge drinking and ingesting over-processed, sugary foods—can hinder the health of your hair just as it can the rest of your body.
Manage Your Stress
One of the most common causes of hair loss is stress, and it’s not just from sudden instances of stress. Sometimes it can steadily sneak up on you, after months of working long hours or never getting enough sleep. Any kind of stress—physical, mental or emotional—can increase cortisol levels, which can then trigger follicles to shed the hairs.
“Find ways of managing stress that work for you—like yoga, walking, time with friends or therapy,” Engelman advises. “You may be surprised by the effect it has on your hair!”
Use a Humidifier
Your hair’s health is often directly correlated to the environment around it. “Especially in the dry winter months, hair becomes much more brittle, fragile and breakable,” Engelman says. “Using a humidifier daily is an easy way to bring moisture back into your environment, allowing your hair to better retain its own moisture and protect itself.” She uses and recommends the Canopy Humidifier because it prevents mold and bacteria growth and doesn’t spew contaminants or allergens into the air, unlike some traditional models.
Frequently, the root cause of your hair problems isn’t at the root at all: It’s everything above the scalp—the hair itself and the products we use on it, as well as the ones we mistakenly overlook. Nobody is better at assessing this situation than a top-tier hairstylist. Enter Meg DiGiovanni, owner and stylist at Salon V in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Here are her tips for improving hair health when it comes to your care and styling regimen.
Understand Your Hair Type
The approach you take to hair remedies is entirely dependent on your hair type. A guy with fine, straight hair will have vastly different solutions for something like hair breakage than another guy with thick, coily hair.
“Determining your hair type is the first step in determining which type of products you should be using for a healthy hair regimen,” DiGiovanni says. “Many hair products are formulated for specific hair types, and using the wrong one may even cause damage over time. Once you determine the density, texture and oiliness of your hair, look for products that will work best for you. If you’re not sure, ask your stylist for help and product recommendations.”
Find Your Shampoo Balance
A healthy hair care regimen centers around a balanced shampoo and conditioner cycle. Typically you should be using conditioner more often, since it should always follow the use of a shampoo, and can even be used on non-wash days.
As for shampooing, here’s where your hair (and scalp) types start to play a big role. The amount of sebum your scalp produces will often dictate how frequently you wash. “There is no [single] right answer for how frequently one should be shampooing per week. Overwashing can cause extreme dryness, frizz or breakage over time,” DiGiovanni says. “Someone who naturally produces more oil, or has an active workout routine may feel like they have to shampoo every day, and that’s OK, but I recommend alternating your daily shampoo with a cleansing cream, or a 2-in-1, that won’t strip natural oils from the hair or leave the hair and scalp feeling too dry.” Some people even choose to rinse their hair with conditioner on the in-between non-shampoo days, since it can still rinse the excess oils and grime away while nurturing the hair itself.
“As you age, your scalp may produce less oil, so you may not need to shampoo as often, but if flakes or scalp issues arise, then you may not be washing it enough,” DiGiovanni says. “Also try rinsing hair with lukewarm water, as hot water can leave the hair cuticle too open causing it to look dull and frizzy.”
See a Pro for Color
Don’t try bleaching and dyeing at home. These products severely strip and damage hair’s integrity. “Any chemical hair service should always be done by a professional to prevent damage or breakage,” DiGiovanni says. “Also, washing less frequently is recommended after a chemical service to preserve any loss of moisture or elasticity.”
Adjust Your Regimen for the Seasons
Just as you might use a humidifier in your bedroom during winter (per Dr. Dendy’s tips above), you should make other adjustments to your hair care and styling regimen year-round. Take summer, for example, and the increased exposure to UV rays, the excessive humidity, not to mention the chlorine in a swimming pool or the salt in seawater. You should protect your hair from all of these things if you want to prevent dehydration, breakage and frizzing.
DiGiovanni suggests using products that seal off the hair’s cuticle and act as a shield to keep these threats from compromising your good hair day (and good hair month, for that matter).
A heat and humidity spray (like this one from Amika) will protect against frizzing—and can also be applied before blow drying for the same reasons. (That’s the “heat” in question—not the summer temps.)
A UV filter cream or spray (like Sachajuan’s) will prevent cuticle damage, frizzing, and split ends caused by UVA and UVB rays.
A restorative or repairing shampoo and conditioner (like Kiehl’s conditioner) to help hair quickly recover after exposure to chlorine and saltwater.
Keep Your Hair and Scalp Hydrated
Routine hair treatments can also help target your specific concerns, DiGiovanni notes, and they tend to fall into one of three categories:
Scalp masks: “Healthy hair starts from a healthy scalp,” she says. “Oil and product residue can build up on the scalp and clog pores inhibiting hair growth, so show your scalp some extra love with a detox cleansing treatment at least once a month.” (At Robb Report, we like Prose’s.)
Hydrating masks: In winter or arid environments “dry air outside mixed with the dry heat inside can really leave hair feeling dull and thirsty, so I always recommend a deep conditioning treatment when a burst of hydration and shine is needed,” DiGiovanni says. (Try JVN’s new moisture mask.)
Leave-in conditioners: “If there’s too much heat, if color or chlorine are leaving your hair parched or damaged, then a leave-in treatment after conditioning will help combat the dryness and restore porosity to the hair,” DiGiovanni Says (Moroccanoil’s version is a longtime favorite.)
Go Easy on the Towel Drying
While blow-drying hair can cause significant damage and breakage, so can towel drying. But don’t be discouraged—simply take it easy. “Don’t be aggressive when towel drying your hair, instead gently pat out the excess moisture,” DiGiovanni says. “Drying with a cotton t-shirt is an ideal way to limit frizz and breakage, especially on curly strands.”