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Your hair follicles contain oil glands or sebaceous glands that are responsible for the secretion of sebum. Sebum coats the hair to help lock in moisture and protects the hair from photooxidation caused by UV rays. This oil also helps nourish the scalp and hair.
Many factors can interfere with sebum release or can strip the natural oils from the hair, which can lead to rough, lifeless hair. This may even lead to hair loss and damage.
Hair dryness is a common problem that affects people of all ages, sex, and ethnicity.
Causes of Dry Hair
The outer layer of the hair, coated with sebum, helps protect the inside layers from damage. However, various factors that can strip the oil from the hair, turning it dry, including:
1. Nutritional deficiencies
Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, proteins, folate, biotin, zinc, selenium, calcium, copper, and vitamins A, B12, C, D, and E are essential for hair health. (1)(2) Therefore, a lack of any of these nutrients due to improper food intake or medical conditions such as bulimia, anorexia, and hypoparathyroidism can render your hair dry. (3)
A reduced thyroid secretion in the body can contribute to hair dryness and brittleness. (4)
3. Genetic disorders
Common examples include Menkes kinky hair syndrome and Cockayne syndrome. (5)
4. Other medical conditions
Dry hair is a common symptom of various medical conditions, including keratosis plantaris, hypotrichosis, trichodysplasia xeroderma, and Cushing’s syndrome. (6)
5. Improper blood circulation
Proper blood flow to the scalp ensures a constant supply of nutrients and oxygen to the hair. Therefore, when blood flow is obstructed, the hair doesn’t receive enough nutrients and turns dry and damaged.
6. Psychological stress
7. Hormonal changes
Hormonal fluctuations associated with periods, pregnancy, menopause, or any hormonal disorders can also cause hair dryness.
Certain medicinal drugs such as cortisol can cause hair dryness.
9. Improper conditioning
Not using conditioner after shampooing the hair can lead to moisture loss from the hair. It also increases friction between the hair strands. (8)
10. Use of hot water
11. Use of harsh chemicals
Using hair products such as bleach, mousse, hair dyes, and gels that contain harmful chemicals can dry out the hair. These chemicals include propyl alcohol, isopropyl, silicones, parabens, and sulfates. (9) Washing the hair with high-mineral-content water can also be harmful.
12. Heating tools
Frequently styling the hair using perming tools, hair relaxers, curling irons, straighteners, and hair dryers can damage the hair. (10)
13. Frequent shampooing
Excessive shampooing of the hair can strip the oil from the hair, leaving it rough and dry.
14. Rough handling of the hair
Practices such as drying the hair by rubbing with a towel, excessive tugging of the hair, or harsh combing can contribute to hair dryness.
Medical Treatment for Dry Hair
Hair dryness generally occurs due to environmental pollution, use of harsh chemicals, excessive heat styling, or improper hair care. In such a case, simple self-care measures can help improve the health of hair and prevent dryness.
However, if the hair dryness is caused by medical conditions such as Cushing’s syndrome, appropriate medical treatment is necessary, i.e., chemotherapy in this case.
If the hair dullness is resulting from malnutrition, the doctor may prescribe supplements such as biotin. You can also consult your doctor to review and change the dosage of your existing medications if necessary.
Diagnosing the Cause of Dry Hair
To diagnose the cause of your dry hair, your doctor will ask for your medical history and conduct a physical examination of the scalp and hair. He may also order the following tests:
- Hair and scalp biopsy
- Blood test
- Urine test
- Blood pressure test
Risk Factors for Dry Hair
The following factors can increase the chances of developing hair dryness:
- Chlorinated or excessively salted water
- Dry, hot weather
- Excessive indoor heating
- Sun-induced damage
- Smoking (1)
Complications of Dry Hair
Since dry hair is usually caused by the improper functioning of the sebaceous glands, the scalp also becomes dry. Prolonged scalp dryness can lead to the following complications if not treated early:
When to See a Doctor
It is suggested to make changes to your lifestyle and hair care routine to help manage hair dryness. If such measures do not show results in a couple of weeks, hair dryness could be indicative of an underlying problem, which requires medical attention.
You should also consult a doctor if you experience:
- Hair thinning
- Hair loss or alopecia
- Infection in the scalp
- Quick drying of the hair
- Inability to tolerate cold
Hair dryness is a common problem among people, which generally develops due to improper hair care and, rarely, due to an underlying medical condition.
It is essential to treat your dry hair to prevent any complications such as scalp infection and alopecia. The treatment involves simple self-care measures and home remedies that help improve hair health. Visit your doctor if the hair dryness doesn’t improve despite proper care.