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Common Hair Problems: Ask the Hair Health Specialists

Stylist Jim Shaw and Dermatologist Nicole Rogers, MD answer your questions about common hair problems.

Question:
I'm dieting to lose weight and my hair is falling out. Could my diet be causing my hair loss? What should I do?
Answer:

Nicole Rogers, MD: Whether or not your hair loss is related depends on how rapidly you are losing weight. If you are crash dieting or using a fad diet for rapid weight loss, you may indeed have a caloric deficiency which is translating to hair loss. I recommend that you lose the weight slowly and in a controlled fashion (1 pound per week) and be sure to maintain good nutrition while you're dieting.

Question:
What could be causing my scalp to suddenly become dry and flaky? How can I fix it?
Answer:

Rogers: To figure this out, first look at what type of hair products you are using. Certain shampoos can be harsh or drying to the scalp. Try switching to a shampoo that is marketed for dry hair or one that claims to add moisture to your hair. If this doesn't help, you may need to see your local dermatologist to have your scalp examined for psoriasis, seborrhea, or another form of scalp dermatitis. A biopsy may be necessary to fully understand what's going on.

Question:
Is there anything I can buy over-the-counter to get rid of the ingrown hairs on my neck?
Answer:

Rogers: First, a topical benzoyl peroxide wash can help prevent your skin cells from sticking together, which can contribute to the formation of ingrown hairs. Second, a topical retinol cream can help increase the turnover rate of your skin cells. This sloughs away the overlying, nonessential skin cells and normalizes the underlying skin cells to help prevent ingrown hairs.

Question:
I am a 21-year-old woman and I live in India. About 8 months ago, patches of my hair started falling out. I've been told I have alopecia, but I don't know where it came from and I'm scared. What can I do about it? Who can help me?
Answer:

Rogers: If you have perfectly round or oval-shaped patches of hair loss and you are healthy otherwise, you may have an autoimmune form of hair loss called alopecia areata. This is something we treat with injections of anti-inflammatory steroid medication. If you see your local dermatologist, he/she can diagnose and treat you. Otherwise, you can apply a topical steroid cream to your scalp. Many pharmacies carry topical hydrocortisone cream that you can purchase without a prescription. If you do have alopecia areata, know that this condition can also subside and your hair can regrow at any time, with no treatment whatsoever.

Question:
My scalp feels like it's been sunburned, but I haven't been out in the sun much for the last three weeks. It especially stings around the crown of my head. What could this be and what can I do to get some relief?
Answer:

Rogers: Pay attention to your skin's reaction to any of the styling products you may be using. Does the stinging begin right after you apply gel, hairspray, or hair color to your hair? If so, then you certainly want to avoid whatever product is causing the irritation. If this is not the case, see your local dermatologist for an evaluation. Many people with redness and burning of the cheeks due to rosacea experience burning or irritation of the scalp, as well. In this case, you may benefit from taking oral doxycycline, an antibiotic with anti-inflammatory properties.

Question:
I used to have really long, beautiful hair. But my mom damaged it by putting chemicals in it. Eventually, because of all the damage, she had to cut my hair until I was nearly bald. I've been trying to grow my hair out for 11 years and it won't grow past my neck. What can I do to make it grow faster?
Answer:

Rogers: It sounds like you're describing overtreatment from the use of chemical relaxers. The best thing to do is to stop using the relaxers altogether, or to stretch their repeat usage out to no less than once every 12 weeks. You may also benefit from steroid injections (triamcinolone) under the scalp to help reduce any inflammation that has resulted from the overtreatment.

Question:
A month ago, my brother-in-law discovered a bald spot about the size of a dime on the back of his head. Now it's about the size of a quarter. What could this be?
Answer:

Rogers: Most likely, this is either alopecia areata, which is an autoimmune form of hair loss, or tinea capitis, which is a localized fungal infection affecting hair follicles. A dermatologist can help diagnose and treat either of these conditions.

Question:
I had a bacterial infection of the hair root follicles. I took antibiotics for a while, along with a medicated shampoo that I could only use once a week. Now the bumps are gone and the infection has cleared up. But I still have an itchy scalp. What can I do now for my scalp?
Answer:

Rogers: You might try an over-the-counter dandruff shampoo. If that doesn't help, return to your doctor for a topical steroid solution that may help reduce the itching.

Question:
I am a woman about to turn 40. For the past seven months I have noticed that my hair is shedding and losing thickness. It also doesn't grow as fast as it used to. I don't want to be in my 40s and be bald. What can I do?
Answer:

Rogers: You may be developing female pattern hair loss, or androgenetic alopecia. Left untreated, this can be a chronic progressive condition. You might benefit from using topical minoxidil, which increases the amount of time your hair follicles are in their actively growing phase and increases your hair's thickness. You can get this over-the-counter without a prescription. And you should allow for a full 3-6 months of use in order to see a difference.

Question:
I am a 53-year-old woman. My hair is fine, curly, gray, dry, and brittle, and I have split ends. Are there any products you would recommend to address all my hair issues at once? The products I've tried are usually aimed toward one specific hair issue. But I have them all!
Answer:

Rogers: The only real solution for split ends is to trim them. After doing so, you can use styling products that contain silicone or dimethicone in order to coat and protect the hair cuticle. Going forward, be sure to minimize hair damage by avoiding overuse of heat, relaxers, or any other potentially harmful chemicals.

Question:
Are there any drawbacks for women using Men's Foam Rogaine? It seems to work better than the product for women.
Answer:

Rogers: Minoxidil is the active ingredient in Rogaine. The concentration of minoxidil in the men’s product is 5% and 2% in the women's product. Theoretically, women could use the men's product once a day, rather than using the women's version twice a day. However, there is a higher chance of developing enhanced facial hair on the sides of the cheek when women use the higher-strength formula.

Question:
My hair falls out a lot, but only when I comb or brush it. Why is this and what can I do to stop it?
Answer:

Rogers: It is normal for your hair to have some shedding, especially when you comb or brush it. I would not be alarmed unless you notice distinct areas of hair loss on the scalp or see diffuse thinning on the top of the scalp or elsewhere.

Question:
Can laser combs and/or laser treatments actually restore lost hair for women?
Answer:

Rogers: There appears to be some science behind these low level light therapy (LLLT) devices. But no one knows exactly how they work, or if the light can truly increase hair growth. I recommend using these lasers only after my patients have exhausted other options. And I warn you not to spend thousands of dollars on this treatment, as the data is still very limited.

Question:
Are there any differences between the way people 60 and over should care for their hair from how younger people do?
Answer:

Rogers: Older people generally have less sebum, or oil production, at the level of the hair follicles. This means they have less oily hair and will likely not need to wash it as often.

Question:
I'm 55 and I've been blonde all my life. About three years ago my hair started getting darker. Why is this?
Answer:

Rogers: No one really knows what would cause hair to go from being blonde to a darker color. Gray hair results from a loss of function of the melanocytes or pigment-producing cells located in the hair follicle.

Question:
Is there some kind of injection you can get into your scalp to make your hair grow faster?
Answer:

Rogers: Some hair specialists use mesotherapy, which is the injection of finasteride or minoxidil directly into the scalp to increase hair growth. However, no studies have shown that this works any better than the traditional oral or topical use of finasteride or minoxidil.

Question:
Are there any nutrients I should be sure to consume, or any supplements you'd recommend to help with thinning hair?
Answer:

Rogers: Unfortunately, we have not identified any supplements that truly help reduce hair thinning. So long as you have a healthy, well-rounded diet with plenty of protein, vegetables, and iron, you should be maximizing your hair’s growth potential. Be aware that high doses of some supplements, including vitamin A, can actually cause hair loss.

Question:
My scalp is itchy, but only on the crown of my head. Sometimes I have bumps in the area that sting, and I’m experiencing some really bad hair breakage in the same spot. What could be causing this?
Answer:

Rogers: You may have a localized folliculitis, or a bacterial infection of the hair follicles. You should see your local dermatologist for an evaluation. Try not to pick or scratch in the meantime, as this will worsen the situation.

Question:
Can using holding gel every day damage my hair?
Answer:

Jim Shaw, stylist: No. Just make sure you shampoo and condition, because gels can build up on the hair and cause it to look and feel dry if not properly shampooed.

Question:
My son is 40 years old. He has a bald spot on the top of his head, closer to the back. But he still lets the rest of his hair grow long. What kind of haircut would you suggest for him? How could he get the hair he has left to look fuller?
Answer:

Shaw: The outcome depends on how willing he is to commit to caring for his hair. But there are several styles he could choose from. I recommend he go to the best salon in his area and have a consultation with a stylist that has experience with men's hair.

Question:
I'm a black woman with tightly coiled hair. How can I keep great-looking hair without adding harsh chemicals to it?
Answer:

Shaw: I recommend using nontoxic, USDA-certified organic products, specifically hair care products that are free of sulfates, parabens, silicone, mineral oil, and synthetics. There are hair care products available to the public that are mostly composed of food-derived ingredients. Do your research and look for products for your hair type and styling needs.

Question:
My 14-year-old daughter underwent the Japanese hair straightening process. But her hair went right back to looking dry and frizzy immediately after she washed it. How soon after the Japanese straightening process can she have her hair straightened again? Is it OK for her to at least use a flat iron in the meantime?
Answer:

Shaw: It's hard to say without seeing the condition of your daughter's hair. But make sure she sees a professional when getting the next treatment, someone who is qualified to skillfully evaluate the condition of her hair before straightening it again. There should be no problem with using her iron for now. But in the future, she should use sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners after undergoing the Japanese hair-straightening process in order to prolong the effects of the treatment.

Question:
I have thin hair, but a lot of it! I can't find the right shampoo or conditioner at all for me. My hair is also frizzy and oily at the roots, but dry at the ends. What kind of hair care products would you recommend for hair like mine?
Answer:

Shaw: I recommend using nontoxic, USDA-certified organic products, specifically anti-frizz products and shampoos and conditioners that are free of sulfates, parabens, silicone, mineral oil, and synthetics. You will be amazed at how awesome these products are for your hair. But do your research and look for products for your hair type and styling needs, and those that make the most sense for your budget.

Question:
Naturally I am a brunette, but my hair has turned really gray around my temples. Whenever I buy a semi-permanent or permanent color to match my hair, my gray hair automatically turns black! And I spend the next eight weeks thinking about how the whole world is looking at my bad dye job. I cannot afford salon visits. So what can I do?
Answer:

Shaw: I recommend saving the money you spend on hair color, or anything else that you can truly do without, and using it towards a visit to the salon. Caring for yourself and improving your image is priceless. And there are plenty of salons out there that will want to help. But do your research on the salons in your area first.

Question:
I've been using the same hair dye for years. A year ago, I noticed burning and itching on my scalp after using the product. Now I have a rash on my scalp to add to the itching and burning. Should I stop coloring my hair altogether? Or are there safer, more sensitive hair dyes I can look into?
Answer:

Shaw: Many people have the same reaction to hair color that you're having. And there are dozens of hair-coloring product lines to choose from.

I recommend you do a scalp test by using any new products you want to try on a small section of your hair first. Watch that spot to see if you have a reaction to the product. Make sure you record the exact colors and brands you try so you can give your stylist a better understanding of your condition. Do not brush or scratch your scalp before your visit to a stylist or colorist. Scratching and brushing can lead to major irritation.

Question:
I have green eyes and fair skin, and I want to color my gray hair. What color would you recommend to best compliment my features?
Answer:

Shaw: I'd say stay away from ash colors, like ash blondes or ash browns. But lighter browns can complement graying hair really well. Be sure to use a product that provides a lot of shine to your hair. I also recommend sticking close to your natural color and maybe adding some soft highlights around your face.

Question:
What kinds of products should I use on my relaxed hair? I feel like it's way too dry.
Answer:

Shaw: I recommend using a nontoxic, USDA-certified organic shampoo and conditioner to all my clients. If the length of your hair is medium to long, spray your hair with a detangling leave-in conditioner before styling. I also use a heat protectant spray when styling my clients' hair. This combination of products can provide great shine and moisture to your hair without weighing it down.

Thank you for joining us for WebMD Ask the Hair Health Specialists. Be sure to check in on Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 1 p.m. ET when we discuss gray hair and thinning hair issues. Sign up if you'd like an email reminder the day before the event.

WebMD Ask the Specialist Transcript

Reviewed by Nicole Rogers, MD on November 14, 2011

The opinions expressed in this section are of the Specialist and the Specialist alone. They do not reflect the opinions of WebMD and they have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance or objectivity. WebMD is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on WebMD. 

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