Can you really turn up the volume on your hair?
Step away from the onion juice for a moment
I haven’t figured out why, as yet, but in middle-class North Indian homes, there was no bigger flex than having marble floors. The black veins on a dazzling white stone screamed success to visitors, even more than owning a flatscreen TV or home theatre system. As an adult now living in Mumbai, I’ve grown beyond looking for marble-tiled flats to rent. Mostly because I end up creating my own. Not through any masonry magic, but with the trail of dark hairs I leave around the house, mimicking the serpentine stylings of marble on what are otherwise plain off-white tiles.
Like a puma in the wild, I’d mark my territory with strands of hair. My shedding lined the sofas, dressing table, my cat’s litter box, even being discovered inside my partner’s suitcase when it was opened on a different continent. An acute vitamin D deficiency had cost me my hair density, lustre and volume. A lot was happening around the same time. I’d quit my job and dealing with the stress of unpaid freelancing invoices while contemplating the next step of my career. House hunting became added stress as the landlord sold the flat and asked us to move ASAP.
The hair thinning and loss wasn’t immediate. In fact, it reached its peak almost four months after things calmed down. A dermatologist termed it telogen effluvium, a form of hair loss that can follow a stressful or traumatic event.
It’s like a glitch in the hair cycle which typically occurs in three phases, though some break it up into four – Anagen or growth phase, Catagen or transitional phase and Telogen or resting phase. The Exogen phase is a part of the third stage where the old hair at the end of its life cycle is shed and new hair continues to grow in its place. When the growth stage slows down, there’s a lesser amount of hair going through the rest of the cycle, which means more hair is shed in the telogen phase than is being grown.
Stress can push a large number of our hair follicles into this resting phase instead of growth so that they don’t produce new hair strands. While I was busy oiling my ends and putting on all sorts of hair masks, I should have been focusing on my scalp health instead. As well as getting some sun for my daily dose of vitamin D.
The hair fall slowed down but then a bigger question popped into my head. Can I regrow hair where it’s thinned out?
Even now, three years later, my hair just doesn’t look the same. In the past week, I’ve noticed a sudden increase in my hair fall, more than the normal 50-150 strands experts say we lose every day. I got ahead of the issue this time, getting my vitamin levels checked and rethinking my diet. I also reached out to experts to get to the root of the problem and find the truth in the myths surrounding hair regrowth.
Hair loss, hair thinning and more – the science of it all
While hair loss can be widespread across your scalp, it isn’t the same as hair thinning. Hair loss can be temporary and hair thinning happens at the level of the hair follicle. Think of hair follicles like little sacks on our scalp from where the hairs grow.
Thinning can give the appearance of sparse hair because, but it doesn’t necessarily cause baldness.
“Hair thinning happens when over time, the roots of the hair begin to shrink, which in turn leads to a decrease not only in the length of the hair shaft but also the thickness of individual hair. At one time, many roots and hair follicles go through this — so there is an increased space created between the roots. As these roots keep shrinking, the gap between follicles keeps increasing. This is how hair thins and we see a reduction in volume or increased gaps,” says Dr Khushboo Thakker Garodia, homoeopath, trichologist, nutrition and stress management expert.
It is the diameter of the hair that is decreasing, says Dr Amrendra Kumar, consultant dermatologist and hair transplant surgeon, Director of DermaClinix. “The most common cause for hair thinning in males is androgenetic alopecia (male pattern hair loss) and in females, due to female androgenetic alopecia. Another important cause is chronic telogen effluvium.”
Why am I shedding like a golden retriever?
All the experts I spoke to concurred that hair loss and the ability to regrow hair is a dynamic condition. The easiest way to pinpoint, treat and regrow hair (if possible) is by consulting a doctor who can determine the cause of the hair loss.
“It completely depends on the state of your hair follicle. If the follicle is dormant, then a lot of natural techniques can help stimulate the follicle and lead to regrowth. But if the follicle has shrunk completely or even closed or scarred or simply disappeared, then it is not possible to regrow hair. If the follicle is intact, then it is possible to slightly improve even the hair that underwent thinning,” says Garodia.
As we get older, the state of our hair can be linked to our genetics and ageing. “As we age, many hair follicles do not produce new hair and when it comes to women, the level of estrogen starts to decline, thereby causing hair loss. In the case of teenagers and adolescent individuals, hair loss can be because of sickness, improper diet or iron deficiency,” says Dr Noopur Jain, founder and consultant dermatologist at Skinzest.
The experts add that there are lifestyle-related causes like over-treating hair, using harsh products, tight hairstyles, high levels of stress and poor diets. Hormonal causes such as childbirth, menopause, hormonal imbalances and starting and stopping birth control also contribute to the problem. If you suffer from illnesses such as autoimmune disorders and scalp infections, you’re likely to notice hair thinning.
Can the specialists then regrow hair?
If you’ve noticed excessive hair loss and thinning, then a doctor’s clinic is where you need to be to identify the cause and treatment plan. Kumar explains that with telogen effluvium, it’s important to find the trigger. Once that is curtailed, it’s likely your hair will stabilise on its own without any major treatment. For example, my hair loss was largely stress-related and due to a vitamin D deficiency. With better stress management techniques and an oral supplement to combat the latter, I was able to stop the shedding.
However, for chronic telogen effluvium. minoxidil and iron supplements may be recommended. Minoxidil is one of the most popular, effective and researched ingredients to curb hair loss. There is also topical as well as oral finasteride. Redensyl is a newer ingredient on the market. It’s creating quite a stir as an ingredient on par with minoxidil in terms of stimulating hair growth, without the side effects.
Products should be used with caution and the consultation of a dermatologist beforehand.
Mostly these medicines regrow hair by prolonging the anagen phase (growth phase) of hair, says Kumar.
“Finasteride reduces testosterone conversion to DHT hormone (the hormone responsible for hair loss). In females, hormonal dysregulation (in diseases like PCOD) can cause androgenetic alopecia. Apart from minoxidil, spironolactone, bicalutamide finasteride can also be used in selected conditions.”
There are a number of in-clinic treatments as well that have shown good results when it comes to stimulating the scalp and giving it a good boost to regrow hair.
Jain breaks them down:
– Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) helps to trigger natural hair growth and maintain it by increasing blood supply to the hair follicle and increasing the thickness of the hair shaft. It can be combined with other techniques for optimum results.
– Mesotherapy is another treatment that is used to treat hair loss from alopecia. It works by negating the DHT hormone and injecting vitamins, medicines that promote hair growth.
– Stem cell therapy for hair also shows promising results. New stem cells are implanted into the hair follicle which helps to grow new hair.
– Low-level laser therapy irradiates photons into scalp tissues which are very effective for hair thinning.
– Derma rollers can also be used to boost collagen production in the scalp which can help to grow stronger thicker hair.
What about the onion juice hair mask recipe I saw on Youtube?
We’re suckers for home remedies and DIYs. And I tried them all. I’ve slathered on yoghurt and methi hair masks. Steeped curry leaves in coconut oil and applied it to my scalp like a tadka. Drenched my hair in onion juice and regretted it for the next three days as the smell refused to subside.
“Home remedies can add nutrients and proteins to the hair, but they cannot show tremendous results for someone who’s facing hair fall due to causes like deficiencies, hereditary causes or hormonal imbalances,” says Jain.
Kumar agrees, adding that while there’s a lot of hype around oils like that of pumpkin seed and rosemary, studies to support their impact on “hair growth are very limited and most of the studies showing positive results have many study design flaws, so to support these products for hair growth is very difficult.”
It’s mostly anecdotal evidence, people’s personal experiences when it comes to using castor oil, rosemary oil, onion juice and more to stimulate hair growth. While it may work for some, when there are serious conditions driving hair loss, there’s little that DIYs can do beyond a point to effectively regrow hair.
With DIYs, there’s always a cautionary warning to use some common sense. If you’re allergic to particular ingredients, steer clear. Do a small patch test before applying it to your skin and if you have a highly sensitised scalp, consult a doctor before experimenting.
What about what’s on my plate?
As much as we love hot, crispy burgers and French fries, it’s not doing anything for our skin and hair health. All of the experts I spoke to said that what’s on our plate can play a major role in the health of our hair. It’s not just junk food either, but extremely restrictive or crash diets negatively impact our hair as well.
“It is essential to fuel your body with enough calories and eat foods that are rich in antioxidants, proteins, vitamins, iron, biotin, zinc, fatty acids, and other minerals,” says Tanvee Tutlani, nutritionist, dietitian and health educator.
Get your daily dose of necessary protein with eggs, nuts like almonds and walnuts, lean meats, lentils and beans. Tutlani says to consume calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, yoghurt and other dairy products for healthy and lustrous hair. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, cabbage and broccoli can serve as as non-dairy source of calcium as well essential vitamins and minerals.
It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. Like Kumar says, there is no special diet or supplement that you need to maintain hair health as long as we keep our plates balanced. It can be dal, chawal and sabzi for lunch and fruits later in the day. As long as we’re checking off all the food groups in the pyramid, we’re giving our hair the support it needs to thrive.