They say hair is one of the best accessories, but for some of us, it’s only our most significant source of worry. Whether it involves dying our hair to a specific shade of ash blond that looks amazing on Pinterest or it is to maintain its luster and thickness, hair can easily fail to reach our desired expectations. Therefore, we work harder and try the latest and greatest products to get the magazine-ready hair we’ve always dreamed of – in the hopes that something will work.
The reality is normal hair growth is slow. We’re talking 1.5 cm per month slow. It’s almost unnoticeable. However, there are cases where hair grows even slower than this and doesn’t increase in length for months. If you feel your hair has slowed down considerably, we’ve created an in-depth guide to help you find out the causes and possible solutions for slow growing hair.
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Hair growth is not a continuous cycle. Each hair follicle goes through phases of growth, during which hair grows (anagen phase) and then undergoes a period of rest (telogen phase). During the telogen phase, hair falls and is replaced by new hair. In some animals, this process is more synchronized, which is why dogs “moult” or lose a large amount of fur at one time.
Human hair growth isn’t as coordinated, so one hair follicle’s phase may be completely different from another hair follicle’s. Therefore, it’s normal to experience ongoing hair loss as it is often balanced by new hair growth. However, sudden or rapid hair loss or telogen effluvium is a cause for concern as it can be triggered by many issues. Some common causes of this type of hair loss include increased levels of stress, a significant operation, certain illnesses, nutritional deficiencies and so on.
The stress of a disease or change in diet causes more of your hair to dive into its resting phase. This causes hair to fall more than its shed. Fortunately, rapid hair loss is treatable by addressing its cause. Keep reading to discover the most common causes of rapid and sudden hair loss and what you can do improve your hair growth.
This is an autoimmune condition that is characterized by the body’s immune system attacking its own healthy tissue. In the case of alopecia areata, the body is attacking the hair follicles in the scalp, causing existing hair to fall and preventing new hair from growing.
Alopecia areata affects both adults and children and can occur at any point in an individual’s life with no prior warning. The condition causes hair to fall out in small patches, with slow hair growth at the top, without any pain. Sometimes hair in other parts of the body, such as the eyelashes or eyebrows may fall as well. If left untreated, the disease may progress to alopecia totalis or total hair loss.
If you suspect you’re suffering from alopecia areata, a dermatologist will prescribe the right medication to help your hair regrow. Joining a support group or participating in forums related to alopecia may help you cope with your condition better and even help you find different lifestyle choices that have helped others.
Your hair follicles undergo a natural cycle of hair growth and rest. At any given time, a small portion of your hair may be at rest phase, while a large portion is growing. However, specific changes in the body can throw off this cycle, causing excess hair to go into rest phase together, not allowing enough to grow. This causes slow hair growth, excessive hair loss and thinning.
Thyroid disease is among the most common causes of hair loss and slow hair growth. Thyroid problems include an underactive thyroid gland that produces not enough thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) and an overactive thyroid gland that is producing too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism). Thyroid issues can lead to dry scalp, which is a further cause of thinning hair on top.
Hair growth depends on the proper functioning thyroid gland so any changes in the level of thyroid hormone being produced can throw off your natural hair growth cycle, accompanied by many other health concerns if left untreated. Hypothyroidism causes hair loss on the scalp and body, and hyperthyroidism causes hair to become finer, resulting in hair thinning all over the scalp.
Thyroid disease causes many symptoms, but they may be subtle for some people. Along with hair loss or thinning, people with thyroid disease may experience the following symptoms:
Thyroid function can be checked via a simple blood test. Therefore, if you notice any of these symptoms along with your hair problems, see your doctor as soon as possible. After diagnosing your condition and receiving the right treatment, you should expect improvements in your hair growth.
Eating disorders are severe conditions that affect many individuals, regardless of age or sex. Anorexia and bulimia are common eating disorders, where food intake is primarily restricted or is purged after eating. Without the right treatment, eating disorders can lead to a series of health issues, which also bring about rapid hair loss.
When food intake is limited, a person’s body can get malnourished, causing the protein reserves in the body to get depleted. This pushes the body to focus only on its essential functions, such as retaining muscle tissue and maintaining organ function. Hair growth is not at the top of the body’s priority list at this point.
Your hair is made up of keratin, a protein, and maintaining it is not a vital body function. Furthermore, the increased emotional stress from an eating disorder can cause hair follicles to jump into rest phase early so that the body can focus its energy towards other essential functions.
Like with other conditions, hair growth is likely to return after treating an eating disorder.
During and after pregnancy, the body’s estrogen levels tend to rise frequently and dip rapidly. The sudden dip in estrogen levels may lead to hair loss after giving birth. Fortunately, this type of hair loss or hair thinning is normal with pregnancy and giving birth. Therefore, one should expect hair to grow back normally once their hormone levels balance again.
If other symptoms accompany hair loss, there may be a deeper problem beyond estrogen fluctuation – such as imbalances in thyroid function. Note that fatigue, mood swings, an intense struggle to produce sufficient breast milk and difficulty losing weight, along with hair loss, are not always normal when having a baby. If you are experiencing any of these issues following your pregnancy, be sure to talk to your doctor about them to reach a possible solution.
Apart from pregnancy and breastfeeding, your body can produce too much estrogen as a result of perimenopause, weight gain, and toxicity.
Toxicity can be caused by exposure to endocrine disruptors, which are abundantly found in water, food and plastic products. All of these factors can lead to slow hair growth and thinning hair. According to a 2014 study published in Environmental Health, most plastic products, including BPA-free products, may leach chemicals with estrogenic activity.
Iron deficiency anemia is due to a lack of iron in the diet, allowing the body to produce low numbers of red blood cells. It can also occur if the body isn’t absorbing iron properly, regardless of its high intake. Blood loss, pregnancy, and illness can cause anemia as well. Most women who report slow hair growth and hair thinning often have some degree of iron deficiency anemia.
If your hair isn’t growing at the same rate as it used to, see a doctor to test your iron levels. In case you are anemic, try not to worry as your doctor can prescribe you a supplement along with advice on what you can eat to increase your iron levels.
Pay attention to dosage as high intake of iron can be detrimental and will not result in faster hair growth. The best treatment for anemia is revamping the diet to include more iron-rich foods, along with the correct supplement.
Foods that are rich in iron include red meat, liver, kidneys, spinach, lentils, kidney beans, raw peaches, prunes and prune juice, broccoli tops, apricots, almonds, potato skins, walnuts, treacle, beetroot, and parsley.
Ferritin is a stored form of iron that aids in hair cell protein production. Ferritin is found in each cell of the body and is imperative for healthy hair. Proper ferritin levels increase your hair’s anagen or growing phase and allow hair to grow to its full potential.
When you aren’t receiving enough iron from your diet, your body begins to obtain ferritin from reserves in non-essential tissue, such as the hair bulb, and provides it to essential tissue, like the heart.
Your hair bulb is where new hair cells are produced, allowing hair to grow longer. Any diet changes that decrease your iron intake will cause ferritin to leave your hair before your hair reaches its maximum length. Note that hair loss can occur from high ferritin levels too – a condition called hemochromatosis, where the body produces too much iron, affecting the heart and liver.
Even when your iron is being tested, your ferritin levels may not be checked. If you notice excessive hair loss, ask your doctor to test them. It can take up to 6 months for your ferritin levels to return to normal after diet changes and supplement intake, so be patient. Your hair will benefit massively as your iron levels improve.
A stressful scenario such as a fire or a suspicious individual following you leads to the production of adrenaline and cortisol. Although these hormones are characterized as stress hormones, they play a critical role in keeping us safe. They trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response.
For short periods, these hormones can boost energy and concentration levels – allowing you to safely get out of a dangerous situation. Your adrenal glands are responsible for regulating hormone levels in the body. Also, they produce other hormones, such as testosterone.
However, stress that is continued for long periods causes these hormones to accumulate. The adrenal glands fail to cope with the increased workload of regulating cortisol, affecting other hormones in the body. This condition is called adrenal fatigue and commonly results in increased levels of Dihydrotestosterone (DHT). High DHT levels cause hair follicles to shrink, forcing them to enter their resting phase, thus slowing down hair growth.
Your hair and skin can be a reflection of how healthy your lifestyle is and how you perform self-care. If you’re always under stress, eliminating the cause of it may help restore your adrenal gland function, hormone levels, and hair growth.
If you’ve been battling stress for a long time, whether it is because of work, a death of someone close to you, or disagreements with your partner, it helps to try the following steps:
Nutrition is a complex topic as the effects of proper nutrition are often indirect and take time to appear. Hair responds slowly to any stimulus. However, experts agree that a proper diet plays a role in healthy hair growth – and the converse is also true. Any nutrient deficiency can impact hair growth.
Therefore, nutrition should be a vital part of any self-care regime, whether it involves the hair or skin. Not maintaining proper nutrition can lead to dull, dry, thinning hair, along with hair loss because your body seeks these nutrients from non-essential tissue, which in this case are your hair follicles, to feed your essential tissue, such as the heart. Crash diets are notorious for causing rapid, temporary hair loss because a considerable amount of nutrients are being cut down.
Vitamins A and C are required for the healthy production of sebum – your hair’s natural conditioner. Also, vitamin C is necessary for the absorption of iron, which is needed for hair growth. Similarly, B complex vitamins found in fish and other animal products help prevent dull hair color and dry scalp. Fish is also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help moisturize the scalp and produce shiny hair.
Biotin, a B-complex vitamin, found typically in hair and skin supplements, is vital for hair growth. Biotin is responsible for a myriad of enzymatic reactions, including the metabolism of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Improper metabolism of nutrients can contribute to poorly nourished hair follicles. Biotin can be found in liver, eggs, poultry, legumes, and soy. Zinc and selenium, found in nuts, are also crucial for a healthy scalp and hair fall prevention.
Try increasing your intake of the following foods if you’re experiencing slow hair growth:
Hot tools, tight hairstyles, teasing, chemicals in hair dyes, bleaching and not conditioning your hair enough, can all result in dry, brittle and weak hair.
Hot tools, such as straighteners, curling irons, and blow dryers add heat to the hair, which lifts the hair’s cuticle, impeding its ability to act as a moisture barrier. This dries hair out. Similarly, over-exposure to the sun leads to UV ray oxidative damage, which dulls the hair and affects its vibrant color. If this seems a lot like your scenario, try reducing your use of hot tools, lower the temperature of your irons and be sure to use a heat protectant spray before styling.
When heading out, use a sun-protection product for your hair to protect yourself from UV damage. While styling your hair, try avoiding tight hairstyles, such as tight braids, cornrows, high up-dos and hair extensions as much as possible to prevent tugging and mechanical damage to the hair.
What you can do is increase the amount of nourishment you provide for your hair. Use a deep conditioner every week to restore the moisture balance in your hair, allowing it to grow smoothly. Moroccan oil is an excellent deep conditioning oil, and it’s a natural and inexpensive option that can be used as a deep conditioning treatment, as well as a styling product – be sure to use a tiny amount!
One of the biggest mistakes people trying to grow out their hair make is that they don’t get regular trims. Although it may sound counterintuitive, getting regular trims, every 6-12 months is critical for increased hair growth.
Split ends are like a slightly torn piece of paper. As you handle the paper, you notice the tear becomes bigger. Split ends are the same, they travel upwards, damaging the rest of your hair shaft and making it susceptible to breakage before your hair’s growth phase is over.
Trimming your hair eliminates split ends and prevents hair breakage – which may be causing your hair to grow slower. It’s also important to understand that the longer the hair gets, the older it becomes so it needs more maintenance to look its best.
How long your growth, or anagen cycle is, is determined by your genetics. If your hair always grew slower than some people you know, it could be because you have a longer anagen cycle.
Human hair growth varies from person to person, and it could, to some extent, depend on your ethnic background. A study published in the European Journal of Dermatology analyses diversity in hair growths. It states that Asians typically experience fastest hair growth and have thicker hair shaft diameters, whereas Caucasians show a higher hair density. Africans have relatively lower hair density and growth rate.
The problem isn’t that black people’s hair cannot grow, the challenge lies in retaining the hair that grows. African hair is always starting over, because of excessive dryness, too much hair fall and breakage.
According to a research, published in Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia, the official publication of the Brazilian Dermatology Society, this is mainly because of the asymmetrical hair follicles and irregular shape of hair shafts among black individuals, which reduce proper protein and moisture distribution throughout the hair shaft. This makes African American hair susceptible to knots and breaking. Furthermore, even though sebum levels are normal in the scalp of individuals of African descent, the curled configuration of their hair shaft deters the normal distribution of natural oils from root to tip. This makes hair dull, dry, brittle and prone to breakage.
Although African hair is more brittle and vulnerable to chemical and mechanical damage due to its structure, the study explains that it has several advantages. In hot climates, its spiral shape acts as a natural barrier against the sun, allowing air to cool and circulate throughout the scalp. Also, water and sebum not being able to distribute through the scalp and shaft have a thermoregulatory advantage, as they reduce water loss and help regulate body temperature.
Proper nutrition, taking enough iron and following nourishing hair care techniques that don’t tax the scalp and hair are crucial to improving the health of your hair – despite your genetics.
Aging brings in a host of complications, including loss of hair. As we get older, our hair gets weaker. Many years of coloring, bleaching, styling and product build-up can accumulate and contribute to significant damage. As we get older, our anagen phase begins to shorten, giving hair less time to grow before it reaches its resting phase. Furthermore, your oil production starts to decline after the age of 45, causing lack of hydration to the scalp and ultimately leading to coarser, more brittle hair.
Aging hair can be improved by proper nutrition and using products that nourish the hair and scalp and moisturize it. Weekly deep conditioning and oil treatments can do wonders for your scalp and improve the condition of new hair growth.
If you have seen your doctor, had the necessary tests done and have discussed the possible causes of slow hair growth and nothing showed up, it is possible that you are going through a normal cycle of your hair growth. Try improving your diet, practicing stress-relieving activities, reducing chemical and mechanical damage to your hair, and most importantly, have patience. Your hair will eventually grow longer and stronger like it used to.
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