Written by Solaade Ayo-Aderele - Punch, Nigeria
The most important beauty asset a woman has is her hair. However, physicians express concerns that many women are going bald because of the treatment they give their hair.
The various hairdos, ranging from plaits to perms, have been leaving women bald in droves
The attention that was commanded by the 1,000 braids on Esther's head was enviable. Anywhere she went, women – old and young alike – wanted to know which hairdresser made it for her.
The long and neatly done hair became her fashion signature for eight weeks, after which she decided to loosen it. Then trouble started. The false hair, otherwise called attachment, having gathered dirt over the weeks, was tightly wrapped around her natural hair and it became a Herculean task freeing her hair from it.
She resorted to cutting the hair along with the attachment. Although she succeeded in loosening the entire hair, her odysseys were just beginning. At the hair salon where she had gone for washing and conditioning, she discovered that her hair was just falling out in clumps.
Although her stylist recommended more hair treatment and specialist creams for her, Esther simply couldn't regain the beauty of her hair again. To compound issues, she discovered that she was losing hair each time she attempted to comb. In desperation, she visited a hair clinic where her case was diagnosed as traction alopecia.
Welcome to the world of baldness among young women.
Until very recently, baldness was regarded almost totally as exclusively a male thing. Again, it's common among older men, and only seen among women who have advanced in age. But not anymore.
Female Traction Alopecia
The CEO of Vinci Hair Clinic Nigeria, Dr. Ayo Otubanjo, notes that the way modern women treat their hair is cause for concern, as the various styles and processes of hair styles have been known to not only damage the hair, they also cause extensive damage that usually necessitates specialist hair treatment. Those who cannot afford specialist treatment or who are impatient to wait for the natural rejuvenation of their hair where possible, readily take to wearing wigs.
Otubanjo explains, "A young female in her early 30s who wears a wig and/or weave may be doing so in order to hide the true state of her hair and scalp.
"Based on clinical experience, we see on a regular basis that hair and scalp may have been damaged over the years due to the repetitive use of very strong relaxers, combined with the tugging from both braiding and weaves. All these cause damage to hair follicles."
Otubanjo expresses surprise that following astounding cases of hair loss he saw among his female clients, he visited some upscale hairdressing salons on the island where he discovered that in many cases, the ingredients of some hair perms were not clearly labelled on the containers; and through some labeling, he detected that many of them had wrong chemical composition.
He adds that in some hair salons, the stylists are ignorant of how long relaxers should stay on hair; while in yet other places, the hair relaxers are simply substandard and should not be used for anybody.
"With all these assaults, the end result is damaged frontal hair, which starts with a miniaturization of the hair follicles. In other words, hairs in the frontal region of the head become thinner over time. Eventually, the follicles die and the lady goes bald around the hairline, with the result that rather than the hairline framing the face, it actually starts a couple of centimetres back from the natural hairline, resulting in the very obvious syndrome of you looking like you have a prominent forehead; looking skeletal or, even in some cases, obviously bald. This is what is known as the 'Mama Eko' syndrome."
Otubanjo advises women to undo braids after 28 days, instead of the usual 60 or more days that many women carry their braids; while he counsels women to allow hair to rest for two weeks before a new braid is done after loosening one.
But then, many things cause baldness, apart from the causative factor that Otubanjo has narrated.
What causes baldness?
Specialists say male pattern balding is related to a male hormone called Dihydrotesterone, DHT. Otubanjo says, "We all produce the DHT, but baldness affects some men more than others. Some may experience mild hair loss or receding, while others can become almost totally bald if nothing is done."
The hair physician says how bald one becomes is mostly down to the inherited genetic programming, while lifestyle and other factors also influence how quickly baldness happens. Otubanjo laments that far too many men believe that hair loss is a bullet you can't dodge and often shave off their hair or, worse still, start styling their hair in certain ways to cover the bald and thinning areas.
Most people are unaware that women can suffer baldness in much the same way as men, until they or someone they know experiences it.
Otubanjo says among men and women, hair loss can be either temporary or permanent. "Permanent loss or genetic female pattern balding is similar to male pattern baldness. However, the pattern of loss is different. Temporary baldness can be the result of medical conditions, shock or stress, hormonal fluctuations, and more.
"Hair loss that is diffuse is common in women, making it hard to diagnose, since the thinning takes place over the whole scalp area. Often, there is a family history of loss – mother, sisters, grandmothers, and aunts," Otubanjo submits.
He reasons that female pattern alopecia (baldness) is also genetic and is remarkably different from traction alopecia, which is caused by pulling the hair and applying pressure on the roots of the hair follicle through weaving and other laborious hair processes that take toll on hair health.
"The many possible ailments and conditions affecting a woman's hair can be hard to diagnose. Therefore, it is recommended that affected women come for free consultation," the physician offers.
ABC of hair growth
Scientists say the average scalp has 100,000 hairs. "Each follicle produces a single hair that grows at a rate of half an inch per month. After growing for two to six years, hair rests awhile before falling out. It's soon replaced with a new hair, and the cycle begins again. At any given time, 85 per cent of hair is growing, and the remainder is resting," researchers explain.
They add that because resting hairs regularly fall out, most people shed between 50 and 100 strands every day, and that's why you typically find a few strands in your hairbrush or on your clothes whenever you comb your hair. This shedding of hair is necessary in maintaining hair health, and it is different from hair loss due to health or cosmetic reasons, experts say.
While there are various reasons for hair loss, experts note that the commonest cause of hair loss in men and women – medically called alopecia – is androgenetic, which may be due to ageing, changes in heart rate or genetic problems.
Otubanjo says the typical baldness that accompanies ageing in most men usually begins between the ages of 12 and 40 years, while visible hair loss occurs in about 30 per cent of men over the age of 30 and more than 50 per cent over the age of 50.
Scientists say 40 per cent of people who experience temporary or long-term hair loss are women. And this may be due to thyroid problems or hormone imbalances.
According to a gynaecologist at the Federal Medical Centre, Owo, Dr. Joseph Ayeyemi, during pregnancy, many women experience thick hair growth as a result of oestrogen surge. He explains, "Each human hair has a life cycle – it grows, then rests, then it is pushed out by the new hair growing in the follicle. However, pregnancy changes this pattern.
Receding hair line occasioned by tugging
"When you are pregnant, oestrogen extends the hair growth cycle, as hair stays in its resting phase longer and therefore remains on the head far longer than usual. This is why women in the later stages of pregnancy often have very thick, lustrous hair.
"Child delivery changes this, however. Once the baby is born and the level of oestrogen drops back to normal, the hair growth stops and remains dormant for a few months. About three months after the baby is born, the new mother starts to lose the extra hair; but hair growth should be back to normal 12 months after childbirth."
Otubanjo says hair loss can vary from person to person, but all new mums can expect to lose some hair. This is called "post-partum effluvium."
Physicians also say hair loss can occur after a severe illness, particularly if it's an infectious disease marked by high fevers.
Described as "febrile-toxic effluvium," family doctor, Grace Oluwaseun, says it's usually seen in patients who have lost weight rapidly or among those who are on starvation diets.
She also warns that drug-associated hair loss may result from certain medications such as the progestin oral contraceptives, high doses of vitamin A, retinoids (a class of chemical compounds that are forms of vitamin A), cimetidine (largely used in the treatment of heartburn and peptic ulcers), beta-blockers (drugs that treat angina, heart failure, migraines, high blood pressure, anxiety, etc) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (drugs used to treat inflammation, mild to moderate pain, and fever).
"In the case of oral contraceptives, the hormones that suppress ovulation can cause hair to start thinning in some women, particularly those with a family history of hair loss. Among some women, the hair loss begins when they stop taking the pill," Oluwaseun says.
She adds that certain medical treatment a patient undergoes may also contribute to hair loss.
They include chemotherapy and radiation in the case of cancer treatment.
Another reason why one may suffer hair loss, experts say, is when the body's own immune system mistakenly attacks healthy hair follicles. This may lead to hair loss all over the body, though scientists say once appropriate treatment is obtained, hair can be restored to full health and growth within six months.
Dermatologists say caring for the hair and the scalp skin are intertwined because hair grows from beneath the skin. They are of the view that the scalp skin, just like any other skin on the body, must be kept healthy in order to ensure a healthy body and healthy hair production.
A dermatologist, Dr. Godwin Osazie, says if the scalp is not cleaned regularly by removing dead skin cells, toxins released through the skin or external hazards, such as bacteria, viruses, and chemicals, may create a breeding ground for infection, which may lead to hair loss.
Osazie adds that negligence of hair hygiene and excessive dandruff problem can lead to hair loss.
Diet and your hair
Moreover, a nutritionist, Dr. Remi Omotunde, draws attention to how hair loss can be influenced by change in the diet and lifestyle. "When you take too much of fatty or high-calorie foods, if you decrease aerobic exercise, and if your stress level increases, you are likely to have a dramatic increase in the incidence of alopecia," he warns.
Again, psychologists say, emotional pressure can cause health complications, which, in turn, can have an adverse impact on your hair health.
"Serious illness or major surgery, trauma involving blood loss, and severe emotional trauma can also lead to hair loss lasting between six and eight months," Omotunde warns.
He says that omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids are vital to every cell in the body, as its benefits extend to the heart, breast, bone, brain, hair and skin.
Osazie gives omega-3 fatty acid a thumb-up for its ability to heal dry and brittle hair, prevent hair loss, or the dryness that could lead to flaky scalp.
"Omega-3 fatty acids therefore add lustre, sheen and elasticity to the hair by nurturing the hair follicles. This will help in restarting hair growth, making it to grow quicker and stronger," Osazie says.
Foods rich in omega-3 include fish such as salmon (Titus), tuna, sardines and mackerel; dairy such as cheese, eggs, soya milk and yoghurt; wild rice (available in stores), walnuts, and beans.
Oluwaseun notes that lack of zinc causes an increase in a chemical messenger called Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha.
"This TNF-a causes the immune system to attack healthy tissues in the body, including the hair. Sufficient levels of zinc help preserve healthy hair," she counsels. A word of caution, though. Oluwaseun says heavy doses of zinc supplements can reverse the process and cause accelerated hair loss.
Zinc-rich foods include pumpkin seeds, eggs, cucumber, bell pepper, liver, mutton, dried watermelon seeds, crab meat, and peanuts.
Scientists say hair is made up of protein, and that's why a protein deficiency may lead to hair loss or dry and brittle hair. They maintain that poor diet occasionally causes excessive hair loss, particularly if you stick with diets low in vitamins, minerals, and protein.
To help your hair, eat foods rich in protein, especially the protein found in animal sources like fish, chicken, pork and turkey. Other sources of protein include beans, eggs, yoghurt, milk, soya milk, nuts, watermelon, etc.
Experts aver that if your hair is thinning, iron-deficiency may be to blame. They say that iron deficiency can make the hair to become dry, brittle, and lose shine and body.
To boost the amount of iron in your diet and give life to your hair, try these iron-rich foods: red meat, egg yolks, dark, leafy greens (spinach), dried fruit, iron-enriched cereals and grains, turkey or chicken giblets, beans, lentils, and soya beans, as well as liver.
Oluwaseun adds, "Using shampoos and moisturisers that are high in protein, and following your doctor's orders for diet, exercise, and iron supplementation, the look and feel of your hair will improve gradually over time."
Described as "nature's beauty enhancer," experts say this mineral plays a significant role in bone health and maintenance, as it is directly responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It is also needed in order for hair to grow properly.
Indeed, scientists say the beauty of our hair, skin, and nails depends on how "mineralised" we are.
Magnesium-rich foods include dark green, leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish, avocado, beans and lentils, non-fat yoghurt, bananas, dark chocolates, whole-wheat bread, coffee, sweet fresh corn, okro, peas, cucumber, watermelon, guava, and plantain, among others.
Experts say selenium, a trace mineral, aids the body in processing and using proteins. "Hair is primarily composed of proteins; so, when the body is able to better process the proteins, hair growth will follow," scientists say.
They warn that deficiencies in selenium (and zinc) often lead to hair loss. Good natural food sources of selenium include nuts (like Brazil nuts and walnuts), many fresh and salt water fish such as tuna, cod, red snapper, and herring; beef and poultry; grains, liver, veal, shrimps, lobster, crab meat, bacon, etc.
Described as "nature's hair conditioner," experts say these two vitamins contribute to the production of sebum - the oily substance in the hair follicles - and keeps the hair from breaking. Foods rich in these vitamins include dark leafy greens such as spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, pumpkin (ugwu), red and green peppers, guava, bell pepper, pawpaw, carrots, milk, tomatoes, eggs, bananas, boiled egg, sweet potato (baked), etc.
Cosmetic way to hair regrowth
While Otubanjo does not discountenance the role of good diet in maintaining healthy hair, he explains that when extensive hair loss occurs, leading to baldness, there are cosmetic treatments that could offer long-lasting solution and restore confidence among the sexes.
"A wide range of hair loss treatments is available at our clinic for the treatment or concealment of hair loss. For those who want to do more than simply stop the hair loss and would much rather get their hair back, a hair transplant is the only option that can do this for you. A Vinci hair transplant is permanent and perfectly natural; you style and take care of the hair exactly as you would your own existing hair because that is actually what it is – your own hair," Otubanjo assures.
A procedure, called the Micro Scalp Pigmentation, to cover all hair loss and create an incredibly natural looking simulation of micro hairs on the scalp resulting in the appearance of a short, cropped hairstyle is another form of treatment for baldness.
"The MSP recreates the image of a full head of hair and restores the hairline. Alternative treatment solutions might also be Minoxidil, Finastride or therapies such as laser cap, depending on the extent of the thinning or baldness," the hair physician adds.
"Getting professional advice is the first step to recovering your hair and at Vinci Hair Clinic, we can offer you a free consultation to enable you determine which of the hair loss treatments is suitable for you. Exactly which treatment or procedure is right for a client depends on his/her personal circumstances. However, not all solutions are appropriate for everyone, and we give qualified, unbiased advice in order for clients to achieve the most satisfying outcome," Otubanjo says.
He says the beauty of the MSP is that it's non-invasive, non-surgical and doesn't require the client to take any medication. "MSP is usually used to create the look of a closely cropped hairstyle, and it can also be used to enhance the look of density for both men and women, hide unsightly scars and help most alopecia patients to achieve a good result," he enthuses.
Other non-surgical treatments for balding include laser cap treatment, medication, nutritional supplements, Platelet-Rich Plasma therapy, and Mesotherapy – a non-surgical cosmetic treatment that employs multiple injections of pharmaceutical and homeopathic medications, plant extracts, vitamins, and other ingredients into subcutaneous fat.
He says where a client prefers a non surgical solution, hates medication, yet loves the looks of a cropped or short hairstyle, it can be created, using the MSP technique that can achieve desired effects without any surgery, medication or maintenance.
"This technique places pigments under the scalp and they look very natural without the need for any maintenance. The MSP works effectively for women with long hair," he says.