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Solutions for Damaged Hair

Stylist Jim Shaw and dermatologist Nicole Rogers, MD, discuss solutions for damaged hair and ways to restore the health of your hair.

Question:
My hair has been breaking off for years! I've tried all kinds of products to fix it. I've tried not using my hair dryer, flat iron, or curling iron. And it still breaks. I am so very frustrated! What else should I try doing -- or not doing -- to prevent all the breakage?
Answer:

Jim Shaw, stylist: It sounds like you need moisture in your hair. Try using products with natural oils in them, like avocado, olive, mustard, jojoba, or almond oils to name a few. I've seen great results with these products on hair that breaks easily. Also, if you're using products with a lot of protein in them, this can also break your hair. See your local dermatologist if you don't see any improvement in the next few weeks.

Question:
How can I restore my frizzy, damaged hair back to the healthier, more manageable hair I'm used to having?
Answer:

Shaw: When styling your hair, apply products that contain natural oils for protection, such as avocado, olive, mustard, jojoba, or almond oils. Before styling, use a sulfate-free shampoo and detangling spray.

Question:
I'm 62 and my hair is broken off and dry and damaged from overuse of perms and dyes. What can I do to fix it?
Answer:

Shaw: Most times in my salon, we have to cut the damaged hair off and work with the healthy hair that's left. Make sure your stylist knows that your hair has been over processed.

Question:
I'm 22-years-old and I have golden-brown, curly hair. But my hair is already turning gray, it feels rougher than before, and I have split ends. How can I prevent any further damage?
Answer:

Shaw: It sounds like you need a trim. The coarseness could be coming from a natural change in texture. So I recommend using an oil-based product to give your hair more shine and touchability. These products can also help prevent future damage.

Question:
My hair is damaged from bleaching. I cut most of it off. But it still breaks. What else do you suggest I try?
Answer:

Shaw: Cutting off the damaged hair is a start. You may need to cut some more. Use a good conditioner after washing your hair and products with natural oils in them for styling.

Question:
I'm 24-years-old and my hair looks so dull lately. Is there a shampoo or conditioner -- or some other product -- you'd suggest I use to make it look more vibrant?
Answer:

Shaw: Try using a sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner. There are some great ones on the market right now. These products are good for adding shine and softness to the hair.

Question:
My gray-white hair is turning yellow, supposedly due to over exposure to the sun. (I drive a convertible, so I do get a lot of sun on my hair.) I tried using a special shampoo. But that didn't seem to help, and a friend said it was turning my hair darker. What can I do to go back to the beautiful gray-white I had before?
Answer:

Shaw: I recommend using a blue-based shampoo and conditioner to cut the yellowing of your hair.

Question:
I go to the gym a lot. So I'm looking for easy hairstyles that will work for my partially curly, partially straight hair. I want to spend no more than 10 minutes styling it. But right now I'm spending at least 20, and it doesn't look good when I'm done. What kind of hair cut or styling techniques do you recommend?
Answer:

Shaw: Have your stylist try giving you a stacked bob shape with a razor. Make sure he/ she knows how to use a razor before sitting in the chair.

Question:
I'm African-American and I wear my hair naturally, with no chemical treatments. But my hair gets really dry during the day. How can I keep my hair moisturized and healthy looking?
Answer:

Shaw: Try using a sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner. There are some great ones on the market right now. And these products are good for adding moisture and shine to the hair.

Question:
Is it true that once you develop a bald spot due to some kind of damage, the hair can never grow back on its own?
Answer:

Nicole Rogers, MD: It depends on the degree of damage to the scalp. If you had a severe chemical burn, there is a chance that it may not grow back. However, if the bald spot resulted from traumatic pulling or friction -- such as from a hairpiece or a hair clip -- the hair may grow back just fine. See your dermatologist for intralesional injections of triamcinolone to help it regrow sooner. Topical minoxidil may also help it regrow.

Question:
I used to have large sections of my dark hair bleached to light blond. One time, my hair dresser burned my scalp, and now I notice that my hair is thin in the area where I was burned. Is it possible that my scalp was permanently damaged?
Answer:

Rogers: It is possible that you may have experienced some trauma to these follicles. Usually it can take 6-12 months to regrow hair. You may see your local dermatologist for suggestions for faster regrowth. Adding topical minoxidil, which is available over the counter, may also help.

Question:
Can certain medications cause your hair to break? If so, what kinds?
Answer:

Rogers: The short answer is no. Most medications, if they are contributing to hair loss, will cause a shedding process. Breakage is more commonly due to excessive and repeated chemical or physical trauma to the hair.

Question:
I'm 31-years-old and I started losing my hair when I first started menstruating as a teenager. I've tried numerous "solutions" but nothing has worked. Now, I'm nearly bald. What relation could my menstrual cycle have with my hair loss? What can I do to reverse it?
Answer:

Rogers: Most likely you have an inherited form of thinning called female pattern hair loss. This runs in families and can appear prior to starting one’s menses. The only FDA-approved treatment for this condition is topical minoxidil. But speak with your dermatologist about other off-label options. Hair transplantation can be as helpful for women as it has been for men.

Question:
I had chemo 12 years ago and lost all my hair. It's grown back, but it's still thin at the top. Before chemo, my hair was fuller and straight. Do you have any suggestions as to what I can do to promote thicker hair growth?
Answer:

Rogers: Unfortunately, some patients suffer long-term hair loss following chemotherapy. It is also possible that you inherited a form of hair thinning called male or female pattern hair loss that was just unmasked by the chemo. Using topical minoxidil is a great place to start to help thicken those hairs and keep them in the actively growing phase for a longer time.

Question:
I bought some Rogaine, and it says to only apply to the top of the scalp. Why is that?
Answer:

Rogers: The top of the scalp is where the clinical trials were performed in women. Thus the company is limited in what they can recommend, especially for an over-the-counter product. The product can certainly be applied to other parts of the scalp and will help regrow hair there, too.

Question:
Can putting baby oil in your hair and/or on your scalp help repair damaged hair?
Answer:

Rogers: Coating your hair with oil, silicone, or dimethicone-based products can certainly help replace the shine that may be lost with excessive chemical processing. However, it will only last until the next shampoo. The best way to repair the hair permanently is to allow it to grow in without using any harsh treatments.

Question:
How can I tell if I have dandruff or if it's something else? My flakes aren't big, but my scalp is very itchy.
Answer:

Rogers: You should see your dermatologist for a skin biopsy. You may have psoriasis, which can be a systematic condition involving joints and the cardiovascular system, as well.

Question:
There has been a dramatic change in the condition of my hair. It's become very dry and brittle, when before it was slightly oily, although healthy. I'm noticing some breakage at about a half inch from the root. The only thing I've done differently is that I’m now taking a daily supplement of vitamin E and magnesium (500 mg). Could this contribute to the changes in my hair?
Answer:

Rogers: Interestingly enough, magnesium is one mineral found in hard water. When used to wash the hair it can contribute to increased stiffness and brittleness. It is possible that the magnesium you are ingesting is causing a similar stiffness to your hair. Unless your doctor has prescribed it, try avoiding the magnesium to see if your hair returns to its previous condition.

Question:
Will my hair grow back after I've gotten over trichotillomania?
Answer:

Rogers: Yes, in most cases it does. However, you must be adamant about not pulling your hair out in the future!

Question:
For a year now, my scalp has been peeling around my hairline. It peels in the exact same places daily and continuously. There is no rash, no itching -- nothing but the peeling. Huge swatches of skin are coming off as if I was sunburned, but I haven't been. What could the cause of this be?
Answer:

Rogers: You may be suffering from a skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis. This usually improves with topical ketoconazole shampoo (available over the counter) and topical hydrocortisone cream. But see your dermatologist first for an exam and to confirm a diagnosis.

Question:
The hair around my hairline is gone and the area itches. The hair around the crown of my head is thinning. What should I do?
Answer:

Rogers: You should see a dermatologist promptly to have a scalp examination, possibly for a biopsy if the dermatologist thinks it is necessary. There is a rare form of scarring alopecia called frontal fibrosing alopecia, which can affect the hairline. It can also move backward in the scalp to affect the top of the scalp or even the eyebrows.

Question:
Can having your scalp massaged affect the health of your hair in any way?
Answer:

Rogers: The short answer is no, especially if no chemicals or treatments are being applied to your scalp or hair during the massage.

Question:
Why might my gray hair be turning black?
Answer:

Rogers: This is unclear. It may be that your hair was previously more "weathered", meaning it had been subjected to the effects of chemical overtreatment or excess sun, wind, or cold exposure. And now you are taking better care of it. Regardless, this is a good situation to be in! Most people are experiencing the reverse.

Question:
What does the process of getting hair plugs entail?
Answer:

Rogers: Modern hair restoration no longer uses the oversized “plugs” from 10-20 years ago. Now it's a process by which people can receive natural-looking results with minimal downtime. A long, narrow strip of hair is removed from the back of the scalp, separated into individual follicular units of 1-3 hairs each, and then placed back in the scalp in a very natural distribution and orientation. The body’s natural clotting factors help hold the hairs in place. You could expect to see results from your surgery between 6 to 12 months after the procedure.

Thank you for joining us for WebMD Ask the Hair Health Specialists. 

WebMD Ask the Specialist Transcript

Reviewed by Nicole Rogers, MD on March 13, 2012

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