Is your hair dry? Dull? Brittle? Thinning? While you’re probably tempted to spend a lot of money on expensive hair care products or supplements to make your hair look healthier, there may be a better way…
How the air affects your hair
Every time we take a breath we breathe in pollutants that can spread throughout our body and cause health problems. But, pollution doesn’t just affect the inside of your body. Everywhere you go, there are microscopic particulate matter (known as PM) hovering in the air. When your hair is exposed to these pollutants, a lot of damage can occur.
We spend a lot of money trying to keep our hair color vibrant. But, pollutants in the air can dull your hair and lead to early graying.
This color loss is often a result of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress means that there’s an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body.
Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules with an uneven number of electrons created from cell metabolism or by exposure to external sources like X-rays or air pollution. Their uneven number of electrons allows them to easily react with other molecules.
That’s where the antioxidants come in. Antioxidants are molecules that can donate an electron to a free radical, causing the free radical to stabilize. Free radicals and antioxidants can continue to reach with each other, causing large chain chemical reactions in your body.
Oxidative stress happens when your body’s production of free radicals surpasses its ability to control them. When there are too many free radicals, they can start to break down cellular structures, including DNA and cell membranes.
Research has shown that free radical damage to the hair can manifest in loss of color, or even premature graying.
Particulate matter can build up on your scalp and hair, causing it to look dirty and weighed down. PM on your scalp is particularly harmful as it can lead to dandruff, irritation, and, even significant damage to the hair follicles.
Hair that won’t grow
Have you been trying to grow your hair out forever, without much luck? Pollution may be a factor.
A recent study exposed the cells at the base of hair follicles to particulate matter from dust and diesel.
After 24 hours, the analysis showed that exposure to these pollutants resulted in decreased levels of beta-catenin, which is essential for hair growth.
The more pollution the hair follicles were exposed to, the more these proteins decreased. While more studies are needed, it seems likely that pollution affects how fast and thick your hair grows.
It’s not just new growth that is affected by pollution, particulate matter can even cause your hair to fall out and thin. That same study also showed the levels of three other proteins (cyclin D1, cyclin E and CDK2), decreased when exposed to dust and diesel particulate matter.
These proteins are responsible for hair growth and hair retention. Without them, hair is much more likely to stop growing and even fall out.
How can we keep pollutants from damaging our hair?
If you live in a city or near a highway you know that your air quality probably isn’t great. But, did you know that no matter where you live, indoor air is usually 2 to 5 times worse than outdoor air? That means, no matter where you are, pollutants are doing damage to your hair.
Fortunately, there are some ways to minimize the damage.
Increase your antioxidant intake.
Because your hair is constantly being exposed to free radicals, upping your antioxidant intake can help maintain your internal balance and reduce oxidative stress.
There are many foods that contain high levels of antioxidants including green tea, strawberries, and black beans.
The best way to remove the pollutants that build up on your hair and scalp is by regular shampooing. Shampoo works by stripping some of the fatty layer off the outside of the hair shaft, taking dirt and pollutants with it. Follow up with conditioner to restore protective fatty molecules to your hair.
In areas with poor air quality, a hat or scarf will offer some protection from pollutants.
Minimize product use
Not all pollutants come from the air. So many of the hair products we use contain chemicals that ultimately do more damage to our hair. Look for products with simple, natural ingredients.
Use an air purifier
Since we spend around 90% of our time indoors and indoor air quality is usually a lot worse than outdoor air, one of the most important ways to keep your hair healthy is to clean the air inside your home.
A high-quality air purifier with a True HEPA filter will remove particulate matter and other harmful pollutants, helping to keep your hair healthy and full.