For many people, hair is like the ultimate accessory – like the perfect handbag or watch. For those people, styling their hair every day is as important as being dressed appropriately. You probably don't go to work in your pajamas – and you don't go to work without fixing your hair, either!
For other people, hair is more like toenails – a part of the body that needs to be maintained, but that they don't spend much time thinking about.
However you view your hair, it's sending signals to other people – whether you want it to or not! It's telling them about your preferences, your tastes, your style, and even your hygiene.
But did you know that your hair can also be sending signals about your health?
"From dandruff and dehydration to anxiety and infection," says Dr. Linda White, a medical doctor, educator, and writer at DryScalpGone.com, "the health of your hair and scalp can be an early indication of underlying medical problems. In order to fix issues with your hair, you sometimes have to first discover the root cause (pun intended!) of the problem."
From our discussion with Dr. White, we've broken down a few of the important early warning signs your hair and scalp might be trying to send.
1. Dandruff? You might need some natural self-care.
Dr. White and colleagues tell us that overproduction of the oily secretion sebum can lead to dandruff. Treatment is as easy as preserving the right kind of moisture on your scalp to keep it healthy.
To balance your scalp's oil production, dab coconut oil onto your fingers and massage your head. Leave the oil in overnight for best results. Your scalp will absorb this clean oil efficiently. A gentle shampoo in the morning will rinse it out nicely. You can repeat this 2-3 times weekly.
2. A dry scalp might mean stress is challenging you.
Anxiety isn't all in your head; it also has hormonal effects. Chronic stress depletes the body's aldosterone, which regulates moisture retention.
The results appear in the drying or flaking of the scalp, or hair that feels dry.
Now that you know, what can you do? Take a bath in Epsom salts. It will relax you. And because your skin absorbs minerals, Epsom salt will help replenish the magnesium you’ve lost due to stress. And yes, you can rinse your hair with Epsom salts. Both oily and dry hair can benefit.
3. Thinning hair? You may have had a life change, and your body’s feeling it.
What about thinning hair? Sped-up hair loss can signal telogen effluvium. This condition can follow mental and physical stress brought on by a major life change, physical injury or surgeries, or a heavy workload.
Because the hair loss won't be obvious until a few months after the triggering event, it can be hard to pinpoint the exact cause.
Soak in bath salts three or four times a week to relieve the effects of stress. Avoid tight-fitting hats or any styling that tugs on your hair. If you suspect the problem is due to injury or illness, then you only have to be patient! Once your health is better, your hair should grow back.
4. Does your hair seem to hold in heat? You may be dehydrated.
According to Dr. White and colleagues, your body probably needs more water. Hydration can reduce sweating, flaking, and inflammation of the scalp.
You can also stay hydrated with fruits. And vegetables nourish your hair with B and E vitamins, essential fatty acids, and zinc. So, fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats (we’re looking at you, avocados).
5. Dry skin and hair combined? You could be under the weather—literally.
Our skin, scalp, and hair tend to dry out when winter arrives. But there are protective remedies available.
Scalp massages and hydrating hair masks help lock moisture in, and enable your scalp to produce natural sebum, so it’s flake-free and healthy year-round.
Chemicals in some hair products can be the culprit behind dryness. Take a break from chemical products to let your hair replenish its natural oils.
6. Naturally blonde? Check your eyes.
Blondes (specifically, blondes who also have blue eyes) don’t produce as much of the protective pigment melanin as other folks. This can put them at risk of macular degeneration – the leading cause of vision loss in America. The causes are complex and not well understood, but involve both hereditary and environmental factors. It’s best to have an eye doctor’s advice to discuss any changes in vision.
Protect your vision by shading your eyes on sunny days. People aged 50+ are all at heightened risk, and should see an eye doctor yearly.
7. Intense thinning? Ask your doctor about possible hormonal imbalances.
The thyroid is the gland in charge of your endocrine system. It produces hormones that your body needs for hair growth.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a common disorder of the endocrine system in women. Its symptoms include abnormal menstrual periods, problems managing weight, acne, and excess hair growth and hair loss.
8. Is your hair flat or breaking easily? Try something a little more natural.
Avoid any kind of heat-styling if you can, and look to nature for help. The pros say frequently washing your hair can compromise its fullness and strength.
Try reviving your hair and scalp with tea tree oil. It’s a natural antibacterial agent. It's soothing for insect bites, and any kind of skin or scalp inflammation. It will leave your hair refreshed and moisturized.
Seeking a tried and true shampoo? Dr. White and colleagues suggest you give Paul Mitchell tea tree oil shampoo a try.
9. Are you scratching your head? It may be more than confusion.
It could be the pH balance of your scalp that’s making you itch. Apple cider vinegar, mixed 50/50 with water, can neutralize your scalp's pH. Leave it in for a few minutes before showering and shampooing.
10. Does your hair seem duller or wispier than usual? Go easy on the processed foods.
Go for whole foods as much as possible. Your body directs nutrients to your heart and other key organs before taking care of your hair. When you’re well nourished, there’s plenty for your body to spare.
Don’t let your hair be left behind! Focus on those fresh veggies.
Let your doctor know of any specific concerns. And, as an everyday habit, look to nature as much as possible. It's usually the best reply to the messages your hair sends.