Whether you are male or female, you are not imagining things if you believe that sunlight damages your hair, and even prevents its growth. We all know to protect our skin from overexposure to the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. But our hair also needs protection from the Sun’s radiation.
Researchers in a study published in 2009 in the National Institutes of Health’s database PubMed used organ-cultured human hair follicles that were in their growing stage and saturated them with sunlight. The scientists found that the Sun’s rays caused a decrease in the lengths of hair shafts, a premature end to the growth phase of individual hairs, and death to cells in the hair follicles.
So, if you believe that excessive exposure to the Sun is drying out your hair, thinning it out, or keeping it from growing longer (especially on top of the head, the part of the scalp that gets the most Sun when sunlight is the strongest, from mid-morning to mid-afternoon), it is time to take some protective steps.
The best thing to do is to start wearing a wide-brimmed hat whenever you anticipate you’ll be in the Sun a long time. To bring your hair back to life, you can use gentle shampoos and look for conditioners that have zinc oxide or titanium dioxide added to them. These two substances are natural and are not absorbed by the skin, the way chemical sunscreen ingredients can be. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide work by scattering ultra-violet rays before they reach your skin or hair.
Using a leave-in conditioner is another good way to protect your hair. It will not only make combing easier, but it can protect the hair with other healthful substances. Conditioners can contain vitamins A, C, and E, all of which have powerful anti-oxidant properties and keep hair and skin tissue from being damaged. (Other hair-healthy nutrients that may be present in conditioners are zinc and biotin, a B vitamin.)
Eating Your Way to Healthy Hair
Protecting your hair from the outside is only half the story. You must also nourish and grow your hair from the inside out. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and drinking plenty of water will help your scalp make strong, shiny hair. Conversely, dietary deficiencies can result in diminished hair growth, hair loss, thinning or brittle hair.
The following are important nutrients you should get plenty of, to promote healthy hair growth:
- Essential fatty acids: necessary for hair growth and present in our scalp, these are found in fish like salmon, sardines, trout and mackerel. Other sources of fatty acids are nuts and seeds
- Since hair is made up mostly of protein, you’ll want to get plenty of that in your diet — all meats are excellent sources of protein (look for lean cuts, if you eat beef)
- Combine protein with another important hair nutrient, vitamin D, by eating low-fat dairy products regularly
- Beta-carotene, which the body turns into vitamin A, helps to protect and produce scalp oils; a vitamin A deficiency can result in dry scalp and even dandruff. Good vitamin A sources include: carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots, and red spices such as paprika and cayenne pepper powder
- Versatile eggs are a great source of protein, as well as many other hair nutrients, including the minerals zinc, iron, selenium and sulphur
- Iron is important because it carries oxygen to the hair follicles (low iron can contribute to hair loss, especially in women). Foods rich in iron include: liver, beef, beans, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, collard greens, seeds, eggs, whole grains, and enriched cereals and breads
- Zinc deficiency has been linked to hair loss in some studies; beans, beef, lamb and nuts are all good sources of this mineral
- Vitamin C is important for promoting blood circulation in the scalp, where tiny veins feed individual hair follicles. Foods rich in vitamin C include: hot red and green peppers, bell peppers, fresh and dried herbs, leafy greens, broccoli, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, strawberries
So now, you know to shield your hair from the Sun whenever necessary, you know what foods will help grow hair … the only things left to mention are that you should avoid artificial chemicals in your diet, like those found in processed foods, which will block the cells’ natural processes and clog up your system. Your beverages of choice should be mainly water, which washes impurities out of your system; natural vegetable or fruit juices (dilute fruit juices with water, to cut down on sugar); and milk. Last but not least, be sure to get enough sleep every night (that’s eight hours, for most people), as sleep is essential for maintaining optimal body function. Not only will shorting yourself on sleep leave you feeling miserable and accident-prone the next day, it will also set off a cascade of undesirable effects in your body, including decreased immune function, a decreased ability to absorb and use nutrients you take in, and reduced hair growth.
By Marc Courtiol