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Photo by Jessica Felicio on Unsplash

Let’s briefly hold a bit of a science class, shall we? When it comes to having hair that truly thrives, it’s important that you take really good care of your hair follicles. Basically, they are the “foundation” of each strand of hair that you have; they are what anchor your hair into your skin. Within each hair follicle, there is a hair bulb and, inside of that, there are tiny blood vessels that help to provide your strands with the nutrients that they need.

It’s hair follicles that cause your hair to grow. And, as far as the stages of hair development go, there are three of them: anagen (birth), catagen (death), and telogen (rest) stages. The anagen phase (where hair grows between ½ inch and one-inch each month) can last for up to six years, the catagen phase (when hair follicles stop producing the protein keratin that hair needs to grow) typically lasts around 10 days and the telogen phase (which is when your hair sheds and follicles are able to rest) can last for a whopping 10 years (it should also go on record that approximately 10 percent of your hair is in this phase at all times).

Keeping all of this in mind, I’m sure you can see just why it’s so important to be super proactive when it comes to taking good care of your hair follicles. One way to do that is to stay aware of some of the signs that your follicles are either weak or damaged. If you’re curious about what some of those indicators are, I’ve got seven of them for you below.

1. Excessive Root Shedding

Here’s the thing about hair shedding — we all lose somewhere between 50-100 strands a day and that’s totally normal. So, how do you know if something “abnormal” is going on? One, if you can tell that you are losing way more than that. Two, if every time you gently tug at the ends of your hair, a few strands come out, that’s another red flag. And just what can lead to excessive root shedding? Stress, imbalanced hormones, becoming a new mom (because it shifts your hormones), heredity and a poor diet are all the leading causes. So, if this is the issue that you’re noticing, go down the list that I just made and see a doctor, if needed. Sometimes, just a shift in your lifestyle can nip this particular hair (follicle) issue right in the bud.

2. Dry and Brittle Hair

Something that I personally have to stay on top of is dry hair. While I know that my personal issue is I need to drink more water (because dehydration plays a direct role in our locks not receiving all of the moisture that they need), some other culprits include medical conditions (including hypothyroidism), heat styling (more on that in a bit), not eating right — oh, and a biotin deficiency (although many health professionals consider this to be rare). Another thing that dry and brittle hair could be alerting you to is your hair follicles are not producing enough oil because they are damaged in some way. If this is the case, the bad news is if they are too damaged, things might be irreparable (a dermatologist can help to confirm). But, if it’s just a case of either not receiving enough nutrients or clogged hair follicles, changing your diet towards eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, exfoliating your scalp (check out “3 Easy Ways to Exfoliate Your Scalp This Fall”) and deep conditioning your hair every wash day can help to restore moisture and stimulate your follicles to produce more sebum (natural oils).

3. Dry Scalp

When it comes to this particular topic, it’s important to always remember that hair follicles produce hair fibers and when those fibers are growing out of a moisturized space, it’s easier for them to flourish. That’s why it can also be a not-so-good thing if your scalp is dry. Some of the things that lead to this include washing your hair too much (or using a sulfate-based shampoo or applying too much hot water whenever you do), not deep conditioning, using hair products that irritate your scalp and not adjusting to the shifts in seasons. When any of these things happen and you don’t make some necessary adjustments, this also can damage your follicles over time. As far as seasonal shifts go, humidity levels oftentimes drop in the fall and winter months. Plus, we tend to spend more time in dry heat via our HVAC systems in order to keep warm. So, definitely make sure to invest in a humidifier (especially at night). Also, it doesn’t hurt to massage your scalp with a soothing oil like sweet almond, avocado or grapeseed to give your scalp and hair follicles the extra pampering that they need.

4. Scalp Acne

Like any other kind of acne, scalp acne is what happens when breakouts occur due to 1) an overproduction of sebum; 2) an increase of bacteria that causes acne; 3) a blocked hair follicle and/or 4) a build-up of dead cells within your hair follicle. And when a hair follicle is irritated on some level, inflammation can occur. If you happen to see or feel tiny bumps on your scalp, if you notice pimples along your hairline or it feels like you’ve got cysts developing somewhere, this is another good reason to make an appointment with a reputable dermatologist. In the meantime, do your own process of elimination to see if any of your hair products are playing a direct role. You also might want to go with an oil-free shampoo. Oh, and while this should be the case for all of us, change your bedding on a weekly basis, wash your scarves, bonnets, turbans, etc. consistently and massage your scalp with some lavender, rosemary or tea tree oil along with a carrier oil like sweet almond or coconut; this process can help to soothe acne and kill the bacteria that causes it.

5. Unmanageable Hair

When I say “unmanageable hair”, what do I mean? Hair that is super frizzy (which usually means you need to condition it). Tangled hair (which usually means that you’ve got a lot of fairy knots or it’s time for a trim). Split ends (which often means that you’ve applied too much heat). Rough texture (which is oftentimes tied to a hormone imbalance of some sort). Raised cuticles (which can be the result of your hair’s pH balance being off; applying an apple cider rinse can seal them). When things like these are overlooked, it can cause you to constantly pull and tug at your hair follicles which can lead to traction alopecia, if you’re not careful. That’s why you should never get accustomed to being too rough with your hair. If you feel like you have no other choice, that’s a clue that something is up with your stresses that needs to change as soon as possible.

6. Over-styling

Probably the best way to illustrate this point is, saying that you’ve got a long stem rose in your hand. Because you think it’s so beautiful, you keep touching on the petals; so much that eventually some of them start to fall off. This is your hair in a nutshell. While it can take a fair share of manipulation, hair is not designed to constantly undergo that kind of pressure. If it does, that can weaken your hair follicles and possibly damage them, long-term, for sure. As far as your hair follicles go, heat can dehydrate them. Harsh hair product chemicals can irritate or inflame them. The ammonia in a lot of hair dyes can permanently damage them. A constant protective style with no breaks in between can weigh them down and make them weak. Constantly touching your hair can cause your hair follicles to lose their strength as well. Hairstyling is fun and you should enjoy it. At the same time, if you know that you are a bit “high-maintenance” when it comes to how you care for your hair, try easing up a bit. Your hair follicles will be oh so very grateful if/when you do.

7. No Multivitamin in Your System

Something that is interesting about the points that I just made is the fact that all of them can point to a sign of poor nutrition at the end of the day (including if your hair is super thin or you happen to be experiencing any premature greying). That’s the bad news. The good news is ramping up your healthy eating habits could very well be all that you need to do to get your hair follicles — and ultimately your hair overall — back on track. Your hair needs protein because it’s made of mostly protein. Meat is a great source of this yet if you are a vegetarian or vegan, so are lentils, chickpeas, green peas, quinoa, oatmeal, wild rice and Ezekiel bread. Zinc assists with cell growth and tissue repair and foods that are high in it include legumes, pumpkin seeds, cashews, eggs, cheddar cheese, potatoes and whole grains. B vitamins literally carry oxygen and nutrients to your hair follicles. Foods that are full of them include beef, salmon, dark leafy greens, black beans, poultry, fortified cereal and yogurt. These are just a few examples of how to get your diet where it needs to be; however, even if you are eating right, it can never hurt to take a multivitamin — just be sure that you’re getting vitamins and minerals that you may be lacking in supplement form. If you do this — and follow all of the other things that I mentioned — you will be effectively protecting your hair follicles which your hair will certainly thank you for, for years to come.