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Beautiful Hair: Through Thick and Thin

Each day, women are bombarded with advertisements for products and services to improve their hair. While some of these products may enhance appearance, they also can contribute to hair loss.

Breaking through the myths of hair loss and hair care is the first step to maintaining beautiful hair for life.

Dermatologist Zoe D. Draelos, M.D., clinical associate professor in the department of dermatology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., dispelled traditional myths about hair care and discussed how poor hair care can contribute to hair loss.

"Hair loss affects 80 million men and women and while it isn't life-threatening, it can cause emotional distress," said Dr. Draelos.

"Disease, genetic predisposition and even poor cosmetic grooming practices all cause hair loss. Even simple changes in your hair care routine can result in healthier hair."

Myth #1 - Dandruff does not contribute to hair loss.
Dandruff is caused by a fungus known as malazzesia globosa. This fungus is commonly found floating in the air which is why dandruff can be treated, but not cured. In addition to the scaling which characterizes dandruff, the condition also can lead to hair loss.

Studies have shown that with only 90 minutes of continuous scratching by the fingernails, it is possible to remove all of the cuticular scale, a protective covering on individual hairs, off of a hair shaft. This loss leaves the hair shaft weakened and permanently damaged, making it easily susceptible to breakage and hair loss.

"The most effective dandruff shampoos and conditioners contain zinc pyrithione," advised Dr. Draelos. "These ingredients leave behind thin plate-like pieces of medicine on the scalp to prevent regrowth of the fungus, thus acting as a preventive measure for both dandruff and the hair loss associated with scratching."

Myth #2 - Prescription shampoos treat scalp diseases, but also damage hair.
The two most common scalp diseases are dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis, which is characterized by both redness and scaling. "People often view products that treat these conditions as harsh and medicinal," explained Dr. Draelos. "These misconceptions have led many people to choose to live with the scalp itching rather than treat it with what they fear are harmful chemicals."

Technological advances now allow prescription shampoos to have the necessary medication to treat dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis while also containing the same mild cleansers found in cosmetic shampoos. "These potent prescription antifungals remain on the scalp, preventing reoccurrence and ultimately helping keep hair healthy," said Dr. Draelos.

Myth #3 - As hair turns gray, permanent waves and color treatments should be stronger.

As people age, they lose melanin, the pigment that gives the hair color. To retain a youthful look, many people dye their hair. Hair dye interacts with the melanin already present in hair to produce the final hair color, but gray hair is less likely to dye as dark as hair that contains more melanin. Also, as hair ages, the hair shaft becomes finer, and thinner hair shafts are more susceptible to chemical damage from permanent waves and coloring.

"Hair growth slows with age, meaning the same hair is often chemically treated multiple times. The more the hair is treated, the more damage is done and the more chance for hair breakage," stated Dr. Draelos. "As hair ages, perming and coloring solutions should be weaker and be left in contact with the hair for as short a period as possible."

Myth #4 - Blow drying hair with heat gives the hair body.
Blow drying hair is a common morning ritual for many people. While it is a quick, convenient way to dry and style hair, blow drying damages hair as the high heat from a blow dryer can actually boil the water in the hair shaft leaving it brittle. In addition, vigorous towel rubbing or combing of wet hair also can cause hair loss, since wet hair is more elastic and more vulnerable to breakage than dry hair.

"Rather than blow dry, the hair should be allowed to air dry, with styling and combing occurring once the hair is partially dry," recommended Dr. Draelos. "This will provide excellent body with less opportunity for hair shaft damage."

"Hair Loss Awareness Month is a good time to refine your hair care routine. Keep your hair healthy by eating a well-balanced diet, avoiding overprocessing with chemicals and using styling tools that are flexible and easily slip through hair," advised Dr. Draelos. "If you are experiencing itching or hair loss, visit your dermatologist to explore a treatment that will work best for you."