The other involves overuse of products and intense heat. But many of us have been going through these styling routines for so long, we fail to notice the damage they are doing to our hair. Excessive sun damage and chlorine, can also contribute to hair damage.
That’s what Jo Gonzalez, a student in New Jersey, realized were the main causes of her annually thinning, breaking hair. Gonzalez also chose to correct her hair woes naturally. But instead of popping vitamin pills (she has an aversion), she exercised more frequently, which increases blood flow to the scalp, and started eating homemade guacamole made with flax seed oil. Avocados are also rich in vitamin B. Not only has she noticed a thickening in texture, but significant growth in just one year.
Our hair, like our body, say experts, relies on a system of balance. Anything that alters that balance will have either a positive or negative affect on the hair's health. Medical experts measure our hair’s health by its pH level, which ranges from zero (strongly acidic) to 14 (highly alkaline). At its healthiest, they say, your hair's pH level should range from 4.5 to 5.5. A higher pH indicates a dangerous level of alkalinity, which strips the hair of its natural sebum, leaving it dry and susceptible to damage. Applying a relaxer (or any chemical) shoots your pH level up to 11, requiring pH-balancing shampoos and conditioners that normalize.
Not having enough nutrients within the body—from vitamins and minerals—will also cause the hair’s natural balance to shift. According to Nexxus hair care experts, an alkaline state of hair can not only make strands dry and dull, but causes a decrease in response to chemical services (the reason the relaxer or color didn't take). It makes the hair resistant to seemingly normal hair maintenance regimens ranging from relaxers, perms and hair color, to heat-applications such as blow drying and flat ironing.
"We have a tendency to take [hair] for granted because it doesn’t have any nerve endings... The hair has no ability to repair itself, so it's important that you feed it from within." explains Barry Fletcher, celebrity stylist, owner of The Hair Palace Salon & Spa in Mitchellville, Maryland and author of "Why Are Black Women Losing Their Hair?"
In addition to flax seed oil and vitamin B, Fletcher also suggests incorporating a daily intake of vitamin A—found especially in cod liver oil pills, for example—to moisten the hair and, in turn, coat an itchy scalp. "The longer you leave a weave in, the more malnourished [your natural hair] becomes." This piece of advice is crucial to all weave wearers, says Fletcher, regardless of if they are wearing synthetic or human hair. "Synthetic fiber will zap the true integrity of your hair by pulling vitamins and nutrients away from it, and human hair [is no better], as it is really chemically altered in manufacturing," he says. "so you’ll find that when you remove it the hair is thinner, breakable, and doesn’t want to hold a curl."
But what about women who employ steady exercise and diet regiments, but can't seem to pinpoint the source of dry scalp and breakage? "For African-American women, scalp dryness is often a sign of seborrheic dermatitis, a condition where there is actually too much sebum production," says Dr. Susan Taylor dermatologist and author of Brown Skin: Dr. Susan Taylor’s Prescription for Flawless Skin, Hair and Nails. While more severe conditions of seborrheic dermatitis (psoriasis, for example) are most effectively treated with prescription medications and tar-based shampoos, exercise, daily intake of multivitamins, vitamins A, B, and C (in either pill, powder or liquid formulas), and eating vitamin-rich foods, such as tuna, eggs, and bananas, are also recommended to reduce symptoms.
Can any vitamins work? Biotin, like all vitamins are prescribed by weight and age and can be ingested in either pills, liquids or powder form. The best option according to most nutritionists is in powder form. "Pills don't get absorbed as easily into the bloodstream, so they’re not really the best option," explains Dr. Law, who recommends adding the powder to anything from food to health shakes to ensure maximum dosage. However, Dr. Taylor suggests that quantity overrides form when it comes to intake. "Look at the list of ingredients and percentage of Daily Recommended Allowance, and try to get as close to 100% for as many of the vitamins as possible," she recommends.