By Ciarra Williams
Hair, for many Black women, is a part of our identity. Each woman has experienced difficulties and transitions in their hair journey. Each has had to work to love their hair in its various textures and curl types. Embracing our hair is a process.
As we navigate that process, our hair can sometimes go through changes that we don’t see coming or have control over, including alterations in thickness and length. With studies finding that over half of Black women have experienced hair loss, we wondered about the ways in which our lifestyle choices are connected to that. So we checked in with experts in hair and health to understand the ways in which everything from our diet to how much or how little sleep we get impacts our strands.
Whether you’re trying to grow out your hair, maintain moisture or avoid breakage, your diet will have an effect on all of that. We are what we eat, so incorporating a more nutrient-dense diet into your lifestyle is a great place to start to see positive changes.
“Our hair needs proper nutrients to grow; thus, maintaining a diet rich in essential vitamins that the body needs to function correctly is vital,” says Hope Mitchell, MD FAAD of Mitchell Dermatology.
She recommends vitamins A, C, D, E, K and the B options, as well as minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iodine, which all help to promote healthy hair.
In addition to these offerings, studies have shown that deficiencies in iron, Omega-3s, and zinc may lead to hair loss.
“Therefore, a Western diet or a mineral poor diet can be associated with hair loss. We must not underestimate the power of lifestyle,” says Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD FAAD, creator of Specific Beauty skin care.
When you feel out of alignment, stress can wreak havoc on your mind and body.
“Stress affects the body’s immune system and the hormonal balance internally compromises hair growth,” Mitchell says. “In addition, cortisol levels may be elevated with stress, promoting thinning and hair loss. Stress is inevitable, but choosing to be happy and maintaining a positive outlook on life may help control the stress level.”
Getting a good night’s sleep can sometimes be difficult when you have a long list of responsibilities, but poor sleep habits can eventually lead to several health-related issues, including those connected to hair growth.
“Sleep is a vital element to keep our bodies in their optimum function state,” Mitchell says. “During our sleeping hours, nutrients are absorbed and cells are regenerated. Lack of sleep weakens our immune system and absorption of nutrients that are essential in our body and hair needs, resulting in weaker hair strands and growth stagnation.”
Therefore she recommends sleeping for eight to 10 hours a day. It can help to promote hair growth. In addition, putting in place a routine to make sure you get to bed in a timely manner can greatly benefit your mane as well as the rest of your body.
“Establishing a nighttime routine such as reading a book or drinking a cup of water or tea before bed helps adjust your brain preparing you for sleep,” Woolery-Lloyd says. “In addition, practicing healthy sleep hygiene can be associated with healthy hair growth.”
Smoking tobacco can potentially damage your hair follicles, increasing hair loss risk.
“Cigarettes contain toxic chemicals that may accelerate the aging process. With age comes many changes, but the potentially damaging effect of smoke on the DNA of the hair follicles is of great concern,” Mitchell says.
Smoking and excessive drinking has been associated with hair loss. And Mitchell says exposure to too much of the sun could also have adverse effects on hair health.
“Our scalp can also experience sunburns and too much exposure may lead to skin cancer in the scalp, so protecting your scalp the same way you protect your face and body is a must,” she says. She also suggests when taking showers to avoid excessively hot water, saying we should treat our scalp and skin the same way. “Hot water and long baths may cause skin and scalp dryness.”
Suppose you are trying to incorporate self-care into your everyday hair and lifestyle routines. Both doctors recommend meditation. Studies have shown that just five minutes of meditation a day can benefit your overall health, and going for walks is connected to healthy hair growth. Yoga and other exercise practices also are said to promote hormonal balance.
Dr. Mitchell notes that incorporating scalp massages and exfoliation encourages blood circulation and removes dirt buildup and dead skin cells.
With all of that in mind, while everyone’s hair is different, taking care of the mind and body is essential to the health of all of our manes.
“There may be factors that contribute to the health of our hair, such as genetics and the aging process; however, day-to-day choices may also affect our hair condition and health,” Mitchell says. “Growth rate, appearance, strength, and follicle activity may be affected by lifestyle choices.”
Maintaining a well-rounded diet filled with fruits, vegetables, healthy grains, and moderate fish consumption (and drinking plenty of water) is associated with hair growth and good hair health. No matter your hair type, it needs nutrients and care, just like our skin. Practicing healthy lifestyle habits can aid in growing those healthy tresses we desire and deserve.