Goldilocks and the three hair myths: Sorting out hair loss facts from fiction

Apr 12, 2021
Want to maintain healthy hair as you age? We've got you covered. Source: Getty

The natural cycle of hair growth involves growing, shedding and regrowing. But the cyclical hair growth period varies from person to person, from about three years, which evens out to be about 100 hairs per day, to five years, which is about 50 hairs per day. This determines your natural shedding rate, which some often mistake for hair loss.

Hair loss vs hair shedding

“Hair loss and hair shedding are two different things,” Dr Russell Knudsen, one of Australia’s most experienced hair-loss experts and founder of The Knudsen Clinic, confirms. “Loss of hair means there’s fewer hairs growing back than normal. Shedding means the normal cycle, which is a random process of hairs falling out and three months later growing again for another three, four or five years. The cycle is determined by your genes.”

Shedding can also be seasonal, according to Knudsen, who says mid to late summer is the most common time of year for the most complaints about increased shedding to occur. “As the temperature warms up, the scalp warms up, the body warms up and the hairs are hanging around longer than they usually would and eventually have to fall out, so you get this big shed around mid to late summer,” he says.

Most of the time, hair loss is genetic and essentially unavoidable, but it can also be linked to other causes — one of which is natural ageing. For men, their mid-20s begins to see a decline in their total number of scalp hairs, with 70 per cent of men experiencing some kind of thinning by the age of 50. For women, this process generally begins in the mid-40s, which is also due to the impending hormone change that comes with menopause.

Hair myths

Myths about stopping hair loss have been circulating for years. For example, in ancient Egypt, people were encouraged to rub crocodile dung into their scalps to stimulate hair growth. “These myths persist and there’s no scientific basis to them,” Knudsen says. “There’s a lot of myths about hair. These are things we can fool ourselves into believing because you observe something without understanding exactly what’s going on.”

Let’s take a look at three of the biggest hair myths.

1. Excessive washing and/or brushing increases hair shedding/hair loss

False. “The frequency of washing or brushing determines how much shedding you notice but none of this impacts the ability of the hair to grow,” Knudsen says. “So, if you wash your hair once a week, you’re going to lose a week’s worth of hair. If you wash your hair once a day, you’re going to lose a day’s worth of hair. At the end of the week, it’s the same number. So washing does not increase shedding rates and does not increase hair loss.”

2. Hats and/or helmets worsen hair shedding/hair loss

Those who often wear hats and/or helmets do not have to worry. Knudsen assures that it has absolutely no impact on the rate of hair loss.

3. Shaving my head will help my hair grow back stronger

Knudsen says people should not shave their heads in an effort to grow their hair back stronger, as this is also completely false. The only thing shaving your head will be successful in doing is giving you a new head of hair with much less environmental damage from external forces, such as sun, heat and pollution.

So what does benefit your hair?

“Things like zinc, vitamin H, vitamin D and vitamin B are essential for hair growth,” Knudsen explains. “At the end of the day, you need to eat healthy.”

Fiona Tuck, skincare expert and nutritionist, says: “If you are not getting adequate nutrients in your diet, such as amino acids, minerals, zinc, iron, B vitamins, vitamin C and essential fats, this can affect the quality of the hair (and nails), and may result in thinning, dull, brittle hair. In this instance, using a good-quality supplement may be beneficial.”

You can find a range of high-quality hair growth supplements from Bioglan and Nature’s Way on the Starts at 60 Marketplace, along with Australian-made, plant-based hair tonics for men and women.

“Unfortunately, nutritional supplements, vitamins and other products will not stop or decrease the rate of greying,” Tuck adds. “This can start as early as the 30s in some people, and [is when] hair follicles produce less of the pigment melanin, resulting in hair colour becoming lighter or grey.”

What do scalp and facial hair transplants involve?

These procedures are gaining popularity due to their success rate of more than 90 per cent and easy recovery process, Knudsen says. Basically, for scalp transplants, hairs from the lower scalp are carefully cut out and transferred to the problem areas up top. This is because the hairs in the lower scalp are genetically different from the hairs on the upper scalp due to a specific enzyme that makes them more balding resistant. And because they are coming from the same tissue, the immune system allows it to regrow — hence the high success rate.

The downside to the surgery is some mild discomfort afterwards, which can be controlled with pain killers. There’s also some minimal scarring on the back of the head which, if the surgery is done one hair grouping at a time, will turn out to be a scattering of small dot scars.

When it comes to facial hair, Knudsen says the process is slightly different. Facial hair transplants are definitely possible but not as popular, possibly due to the increased grooming that’s required afterwards. The same hair is taken from the lower scalp to replace the missing hair in beards or eyebrows, but this then means it grows at a faster rate than hair would normally grow on the face, creating the need for more maintenance in the future.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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