Your relationship with your hair is like any other: put the work in, and you better the chances of staying together; but get complacent, and you run the risk of losing it all.
While there’s no single cure for keeping your mane (just as there’s no easy fix for a floundering relationship), the good news is – even if your genes want you bald as an egg – there are steps that can be taken to prolong your locks’ lifespan.
Why Does Hair Loss Happen?
Much like you can’t choose whether or not you’re blessed with a Jon Hamm jawline, you can’t decide the fate of your hair, either. Hair loss and the rate at which it takes hold is – although partly influenced by factors such as diet and lifestyle – primarily determined by the genetic cards dealt in the first place.
“The major hair loss problem suffered by men – over 50 per cent by the age of 50 – is androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern hair loss. This occurs when genetically predisposed hair follicles become gradually sensitive to [the testosterone by-product dihydrotestosterone, or DHT],” says Glenn Lyons, a trichologist at Philip Kingsley.
“The affected follicles produce increasingly finer and shorter hairs until growth ceases altogether. [Age is the main determiner of] the rate at which men bald; experiencing hair loss in late teens or twenties means the gene is more dominant.”
That doesn’t mean you should take hair loss lying down. Whether you’re 21 or 51, there are several ways to stem the tide – even if DNA is conspiring to see your healthy crop taken before its time.
Don’t Lose Your Head
Fretting at the sight of an ever-expanding forehead? Don’t. Chances are you’re only making the hair loss worse.
“Stress can lead to increased cortisol levels, which can, in turn, induce the hormonal changes responsible for hair loss,” says Leonora Doclis, a senior hair loss specialist at The Belgravia Centre. “If cortisol levels remain high over a significant period of time, the active ‘anagen’ growth phase of the hair growth cycle can be prematurely terminated.”
All this science basically means more hair lost faster for those who already have male pattern baldness, and earlier onset of the condition in those with a genetic predisposition towards it.
Although there’s nothing more, well, stressful than when a medical specialist blames the onset of a condition on something as wishy-washy as ‘stress’, listen up. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be stress in the emotional sense of the word – when you are ‘feeling’ stressed, such as by a family situation or work pressure,” says Doclis. “‘Stress’ may also refer to the physical strain put on the body, for example, in cases of an underlying illness, or lifestyle issues such as a dietary imbalance or extreme dieting.”
So what can you do about it? “Find ways to release and manage the stress so that the ‘fight or flight’ hormone gets released, rather than being allowed to build up,” says Doclis. “Everyone has their own coping mechanisms but it’s obviously best to choose healthy, calming options such as aerobic forms of exercise and talking about experiences rather than bottling them up.”
Kick The Habit
As if you didn’t have enough reasons to ditch the death sticks, smoking – or more specifically, the chemicals found in cigarettes and cigars such as nicotine and carbon monoxide – have been linked to hair loss.
“Smoking 20 cigarettes a day was shown to be associated with male pattern baldness during a 2007 study in Taiwan, the results of which backed up previous research published in the British Medical Journal,” says Doclis. “The reason for this is believed to be because smoking damages the DNA of the hair follicles.”
Couple that with smoking’s devastating effect on skin, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for premature ageing. So put the 20-pack down, unless the aim is to look 20 years older, too.
Eat For Growth
Want to make gains up top? Then feed your hair the same fuel as your muscles.
“Hair is approximately 80 per cent protein, which makes this food group an essential for healthy hair,” says Philip Kingsley’s Lyons. But, as well as the raw materials, the body needs energy to build hair, too. “Hair cells in the follicles are, in their rapidity of development, second only to those in the gut; hair on the scalp grows at a rate of 1-1.5cm per month.”
To keep operating at full throttle, the body needs complex carbohydrates such as grains, pasta, potatoes, root vegetables and rice. “A well-balanced intake of all food groups [as opposed to crash diets or long-term diets which exclude certain food groups] will help to maintain healthy hair,” says Lyons.
Doclis also recommends getting your recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of iron, vitamin D, B-complex vitamin, selenium and zinc, all of which come together to optimise hair health. But only in the right doses, she warns: “A larger than necessary intake can actually cause hair loss, which is especially true in the cases of iron, vitamin B12 and biotin.”
Enlist The Help Of Nature
Nature giveth, and nature taketh away. While there’s little that can be done to stop genes from doing their thing, elsewhere in the natural world you’ll find something that could help bolster your barnet.
“The most common natural remedy believed to help delay hair loss in men is an extract from the fruit of the plant saw palmetto,” says Doclis. This extract could play a part in inhibiting 5 alpha reductase, the enzyme in the body that converts testosterone to DHT, and by extension, help prevent hair loss. “By blocking the DHT, and stopping the testosterone conversion in the first place, the hair should grow unhindered.”
Want to harness the power of plants? Try Hair Vitalics (available at The Belgravia Centre), a specially formulated blend of vitamins and extracts designed to keep hair in top condition.
Saw Palmetto Capsules, available at Holland & Barrett, priced £15.35.
In most cases, allocating time and effort to styling your hair only makes it look better. However, indulge your inner hairdresser too much, or too often, and run the risk of being left with little to work with.
“Regular chemical styling – such as bleaching or colouring the hair – and heat styling (which includes using a hairdryer, not just straightening irons) can weaken the hair,” says Doclis. “This can then lead to hair breakage – where the hair snaps off along the shaft making it look frizzy and thin – and, in some cases, hair loss.”
It’s not only what you use to style your hair that could damage it, but the way you style it, too. “Tight hairstyles, such as man-buns, dreadlocks and braids, can if worn regularly lead to traction alopecia [resulting in a receding hairline or patchy hair loss due to the strain on the hair follicles] especially for men with afro hair, as this hair type is naturally more brittle.”
The fix? Opt for no-frills au naturel where possible. As well as avoiding styles which place a strain on follicles, Doclis recommends letting hair air dry, using a heat-protecting styling spray and ensuring tools such as hairdryers or straighteners are set to medium at most. Bad news for Swedish models and Rastafarians; good news for their hair.
Bring Out The Big Guns
Want to get the most mileage out of your mop? Then dial hair-preserving efforts up a notch with non-surgical treatments such as finasteride (a DHT inhibitor taken orally once per day) or minoxidil (a vasodilator applied as a liquid or cream to areas of thinning to encourage blood to flow towards the affected follicles).
“Finasteride and minoxidil are the two clinically proven treatments for hair loss,” says Doclis. “We tend to find a combination course including both finasteride and high-strength minoxidil solutions alongside [supplements such as Hair Vitalics] produces the best results.”
Regaine Foam, available at Lloyds Pharmacy, priced £44.49.
Ready to embrace your baldness instead? Read our guide.