Ask The Expert

What your scalp and hair can reveal about your health

What are your scalp and hair trying to tell you? Many symptoms like itchiness, redness and hair loss could be down to an underlying health issue – or else it could just be because of the harsh hair products you’re using.

It’s important to prioritise natural ‘clean’ formulas that are devoid of synthetic chemicals, which can upset your scalp and affect hair growth. But if you suspect that there’s something going on internally, here are some common culprits.

Hair loss and scalp irritation can be caused by stress

Where the scalp is concerned, stress can cause our underlying skin conditions to become worse or even trigger a severe flare-up. These include inflammatory skin conditions, such as atopic eczema, seborrhoeic dermatitis, psoriasis, scalp lupus and also alopecia.

The stress hormone cortisol regulates the normal functioning of our hair follicles. When cortisol is present at high concentrations, it causes cells in the hair follicles to undergo apoptosis (i.e. die) prematurely by up to 40%, resulting in hair loss.

Premature greys aren’t always cause for alarm

While stress or trauma are often linked to going grey early on, it can also be a simple case of genetics. So if you happen to notice a few grey hairs in your 20s or 30s, this isn’t always a sign of ill health – it could just be hereditary! If you choose to dye them, make sure you read the ingredients carefully to ensure that they do not contain chemicals you are allergic to (such as PPD). Harsh chemicals in hair colourants such as ammonia and peroxide can also irritate sensitive scalps.

Dandruff or oily scalp? This could be due to hormonal disruption

Contrary to common belief, dandruff isn’t down to poor hygiene (but regular washing and brushing can lessen its symptoms). Issues like stress, puberty or pregnancy are often to blame. They can wreak havoc with our hormones, sending our body’s normal processes into a tailspin and our skin’s oil glands into overdrive. This gives our hair a greasy appearance and can also lead to seborrhoeic dermatitis, manifesting as red, irritated and scaly skin – which often leads to dandruff.

Crash dieting? It can show in your hair

Although there’s a current craze for fasting and extreme detoxing, this can have disastrous consequences when not carried out under strict medical supervision. Reduced food intake results in a lack of nutrients needed to sustain the hair follicle so it can function properly. The natural life cycle of hair means it grows and then falls out, during which time there is a resting ‘telogen’ phase. If the body doesn’t get these vital nutrients, it can actually reduce new hair formation during this phase, resulting in hair loss and bald patches.

Common causes of damaged hair

I would advise to avoid common causes of hair ‘wear and tear’; for example, avoiding drying your hair with high setting heat hairdryer, not pulling your hair back in tight braids or ponytails and refrain from using harsh chemicals on your hair and scalp.

If you have serious concerns with regards to your hair loss, it would be advisable to seek advice from a dermatologist to obtain an appropriate diagnosis and medical treatment for your scalp, preferably at an earlier stage, before hair loss becomes advanced.

About the expert

Dr Sue Ann Chan is Consultant Dermatologist at the King’s College Hospital NHS Trust. She is MONPURE London’s resident dermatologist and scalp expert. MONPURE was created as a way of transforming how we care for the scalp, bridging the gap between skin and haircare. Find out more at monpure.com

You Might Also Like