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Smoking is a health hazard that accounts for most of the preventable deaths and diseases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (1)(2)
Everyone knows that smoking cigarettes can kill you, but around 17% of Americans are habitual smokers nonetheless. In fact, smoking causes about half a million deaths in the United States alone every year. (3)
Tobacco cigarettes contain a highly addictive chemical called nicotine, which makes it especially difficult to give up this deadly habit.
Smoking is mainly associated with lung disease, but it also can be injurious to your entire body, including your hair.
A study conducted on 740 Taiwanese men shed light on the link between smoking and hair loss. The researchers found that those who smoked 20 or more cigarettes daily were two times more likely to suffer hair loss than nonsmokers. (4)
Tobacco contains several harmful chemicals that damage the body in different ways. These include:
- Carbon monoxide
Of all these toxic elements, nicotine and caffeine affect your hair the worst. This article will discuss the harmful effects of cigarette smoking on your hair health and how it contributes to hair loss.
How Cigarette Smoking Triggers Hair Loss
Here are some of the ways that cigarette smoking destroys your hair quality and triggers hair loss:
1. Damages the hair follicles
Nicotine increases oxidative stress within your hair follicles and all over your body. (5) It does so by releasing unstable molecules called free radicals, which attack and destroy healthy cells to cause various illnesses.
These nicotine-induced free radicals damage the basic structure of your hair down to the cellular level and inhibit the production of new hair cells. So, smoking can make your hair progressively weak or brittle and impair new hair growth as well.
2. Decreases blood circulation
Tobacco inhalation releases certain toxins that shrink your blood vessels, thereby limiting blood supply throughout the body. (6)(7)
Blood transports oxygen and nutrients to your hair follicles, which are used to produce healthy, strong hair.
But if your hair follicles don’t receive enough oxygenated blood, your hair will be starved for nourishment and become brittle and dry. This progressive weakening of the hair will make it more likely to break or fall out.
Without proper blood supply, your hair follicles won’t be able to produce hair cells fast enough to regrow new strands. Losing hair faster than you can regrow results in bald patches.
3. Weakens the immune system
Smoking can weaken your immune system and make you more vulnerable to various diseases that trigger hair loss.
For instance, when your immunity is compromised, your body won’t be able to fight off scalp infections. Prolonged fungal or bacterial infections on the scalp can destroy the hair follicles and permanently impair their ability to produce healthy hair.
Smoking inhibits collagen synthesis by depleting the reserves of vitamins A and C.
4. Toxifies the scalp
Cigarette releases smoke and soot into your immediate environment, some of which settle on your scalp and negatively affects your hair follicles. This is particularly true if you regularly smoke indoors or in your car with closed windows.
A healthy scalp has a slightly acidic environment that is conducive to hair follicle function but inhospitable for microbial growth. The toxic substances from cigarette smoke, however, are alkaline and can disrupt your normal scalp pH.
Moreover, these pollutants can trickle down the follicles and diminish the production of the main hair-building protein, keratin. Low keratin production leads to thinner and weaker hair that is prone to breakage or shedding.
So, even though most hair loss is genetic, airborne pollutants released through cigarette smoke can significantly exacerbate this problem.
5. Causes stress
Many people smoke to relieve stress, but the notion that smoking can help you relax is a complete fallacy.
Nicotine is a mild-altering substance that may provide instantaneous but short-lived relaxation. This might explain why people feel calm immediately after having a cigarette, but there is a flipside.
Nicotine is highly addictive, which can heighten your stress every time you have a craving. Living with this kind of chronic stress has a negative impact on your hair growth and hair health.
6. Increases DHT production
Testosterone is a sex hormone found in both men and women but is basically responsible for the various masculine characteristics such as facial or body hair, muscle mass, and baritone.
An enzyme called 5-alpha reductase metabolizes testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This hormone derivate binds with certain protein molecules (receptors) present on the hair follicles and ultimately causes them to shrink.
Moreover, DHT pushes the hair follicle into a premature and prolonged resting phase by cutting short the anagen phase of active hair growth. Shrunken hair follicles don’t receive enough nourishment to sustain a healthy hair growth cycle, resulting in short, weak, and brittle hair that falls out easily. (8)
Smoking is known to increase DHT production in the body by altering the endocrine system, thus aggravating DHT-related hair loss.
ALSO READ: Does DHT Cause Hair Loss and Ways to Manage It
7. Stimulates excessive oil secretion
Nicotine overactivates the sebaceous glands attached to the hair follicles and prompts them to produce excess oil. Greasy scalp and hair trap more pollutants, dead cells, and grime daily, paving the way for scalp infections.
Moreover, the oil buildup gradually seeps into the hair follicles and clogs them. As a result, your hair follicles are unable to receive the nutrients and oxygen needed to build strong and healthy hair.
8. Causes premature graying of hair
Cigarette smoking unleashes a lot of oxidative stress on the hair follicles, which can make your hair turn gray before their time.
Just like your skin, your hair gets its color from a compound called melanin, which is produced by specialized cells called melanocytes. The tobacco-induced free radicals damage the hair follicles and hamper melanocyte activity to cause early-onset hair graying.
Several studies have shown that smokers are more likely to suffer premature hair graying than nonsmokers. (9)
How to Stop Hair Loss Due to Smoking?
The following self-care and preventative measures can help address hair loss due to smoking:
1. Quit smoking
The first and foremost step to address hair loss related to smoking is to give up the habit for good.
All other hair repair or hair regrowth measures will be useless if you continue to subject your hair to this toxic damage. The little improvement that you might make will be quickly undone through the continued onslaught of cigarette smoke.
Smoking cessation can be difficult, but keep trying until you succeed. Once you are nicotine-free, your body will continue with its natural hair growth cycle and repair the damage already done.
A smoke-free environment will enable the growth of healthier hair.
2. Eat healthy
A nutrient-rich diet will nourish your hair follicles from within to promote fast and healthy hair growth. Moreover, a healthy diet leads to stronger immunity, which helps ward off any scalp infections or illnesses that may cause hair loss.
Eat foods that are rich in protein, which is the main hair-building component. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables that are naturally endowed with antioxidants. Antioxidants help neutralize the free radical-induced oxidative stress in the hair follicles and boost your immunity.
Other must-have nutrients that can stimulate your hair follicles into producing healthy hair are vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K, iron, zinc, and folic acid.
Herbs such as Indian gooseberry (amla), ginseng, fenugreek, ashwagandha, coriander, shatavari, turmeric powder, bala, triphala, and cumin seeds also exhibit medicinal properties that can help repair hair damage, strengthen your immunity, and eliminate nicotine tar from your body.
But for these herbs to work, they must be consumed in appropriate amounts, preferably as part of an overall wholesome, well-balanced diet.
Your diet should be the primary source of hair nourishment, but you can consider taking hair growth supplements as well. These supplements can make up for those nutritional requirements that your diet is unable to fulfill. However, never start a supplement without consulting a doctor first.
3. Implement a gentle hair care routine
The right hair care products and practices can make a world of difference to your hair health, more so if you are trying to reverse hair damage. The basic idea is to be gentle on your hair.
Using chemical-laden hair products can further dry out your hair and scalp. What you need are mild, moisturizing shampoos and conditioners that are devoid of harsh drying agents such as parabens, sulfates, and formaldehyde. Using a conditioner after shampooing your hair is a must.
Hairstyling tools generate a lot of heat, which can burn your hair and damage your hair follicles over time. So, it’s best to use them as little as possible.
Also, avoid hair accessories and hairstyles that pull at your hair as they can weaken your hair roots. Forceful brushing or combing can also cause a lot of hair breakage and hair fall, so always be gentle.
Use a wooden, wide-bristled comb or a detangling comb to get rid of any knots in your hair instead of tugging or pulling at them.
4. Try Ayurvedic hair care
Ayurvedic hair products are made with medicinal herbs that can improve the quality of your hair, promote fast hair regrowth, and fight off scalp infections.
Gently massage your scalp with an Ayurvedic hair oil two times a week to provide deep conditioning and nourishment to your hair. The topical stimulation of the massage will also enhance blood circulation in the head, which is conducive to hair growth.
Follow this up with the regular use of Ayurvedic shampoos, hair masks, and serums to accelerate the hair repair process.
ALSO READ: How to Care for Your Hair With Ayurveda
5. Hydrate yourself
Proper fluid intake not only keeps your scalp hydrated from within but also flushes out the tobacco toxins from your system. It is important to drink water throughout the day rather than in one go.
Storing your drinking water in a copper container can help enrich it with copper ions. Copper is credited with several healing and purifying properties that get transferred through its ions into your drinking water.
6. Treat scalp infections
Smokers with a scalp infection must first treat this condition before they can get around to reversing their hair loss. This is because the infection-causing microbes penetrate the hair follicles and damage them from within. Damaged hair follicles are incapable of producing healthy hair.
Given that smoking inhibits the immune system, you will most probably require antifungal medication such as terbinafine (Lamisil) or fluconazole to overcome the infection.
The longer the infection persists, the greater are the hair loss and hair damage. This is why early treatment is a must to minimize the hair damage caused by scalp infections. (10)
7. Soak up some vitamin D daily
Vitamin D helps repair and stimulate hair follicles to support healthy hair growth. The primary source of this nutrient is sunlight, which is why it’s often called the sun vitamin.
When your skin is exposed to the sun, it synthesizes vitamin D, and most of your body requirements are met through this process. So, you must get yourself a little sun daily, especially if you are fighting hair damage.
Most people struggle to meet their vitamin D needs through sunlight alone. So, it is recommended that you consume vitamin D-rich foods such as codfish in your regular diet.
You can even take cod liver oil supplements, but first consult your doctor about the proper dosage. The recommended daily intake of vitamin D is no more than 10,000 IU. (11)
8. Practice meditation regularly
Meditation and deep breathing can help you control the withdrawal symptoms triggered by smoking cessation. These relaxation exercises help you center your energies and focus within.
When you concentrate on your breathing, you forget about everything else and attain a sense of calm. This can be greatly therapeutic when struggling with the urge to smoke and can keep you committed to the quitting plan.
Some home remedies that are worth a try
The following home remedies can help reduce and reverse the hair damage caused by smoking:
- Ayurveda recommends consuming 1 tsp of caraway seeds (ajwain) and cinnamon daily to curb your nicotine craving.
- Chewing two to three basil leaves in the morning can help diminish the toxic effects of smoking and quell your tobacco addiction.
- Neem is credited with strong antimicrobial properties that can help banish scalp infections. Treat your scalp and hair with neem paste or neem products for a deep cleansing effect.
- Applying aloe vera gel can impart moisture and nourishment to your scalp and improving its pH balance.
Smoking may trigger temporary hair loss, which can be reversed by quitting cigarettes, fixing your diet and lifestyle, and practicing proper hair care. However, smoking can also aggravate genetic or DHT-related hair loss, which is much more chronic and difficult to reverse.
People with a genetic tendency for hair loss are likely to suffer an early onset and faster progression of this condition if they are smokers. Meanwhile, nonsmokers with the same genetic predisposition have a better chance of delaying their balding process due to the absence of tobacco toxins.
Different types of hair loss require different treatments. So, you must consult a doctor to determine the root cause of your problem before you treat it. Your doctor will recommend specific treatments to address your kind of hair loss and revive your hair growth.
Quitting cigarettes is the number one step in addressing smoking-related hair loss, followed by the above-listed hair care interventions.
However, long-term smoking can irreparably destroy your hair follicles to the point that they can’t grow new hair. In such a case, your doctor might prescribe hair graft or hair transplant to cover the bald patches.
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