Hair problems can be totally harmless — if upsetting — or they can mean something much more serious. How do we know when we should go to the doctor and when we should just stop trying to do our own blowouts at home? According to Dr. Dina Strachan, director of Aglow Dermatology in New York City, “hair health can be a reflection of genetics, poor grooming practices, inadequate protein or iron in the diet, anemia, thyroid disease,” and a variety of other things. Here are some of the major things your hair can say about your health and what that can mean for you in the long run.
1. You can get some clues from your parents
If you look at one of your parents and see that their hairline is receding a little more than it used to, that’s normally a sign of something you can look forward to when you’re older. Sometimes, hair loss can be as simple as what genes you inherit from your parents, and that’s not something you can really help. Certain treatments or medications can help you deal with it a little better, but it’s basically inevitable. But, before you freak out, just know that losing at least around 100 hairs throughout any given day is totally normal. If you’re still concerned, give a small section a little tug and see how much breaks off before you go running to the doctor’s office.
2. You could be lacking important vitamins
If your hair is thinning or disappearing altogether, that could be a sign of some serious flaws in your immune system. Dr. Arielle Levitan, co-founder of Vous Vitamin LLC, tells SheKnows that “it is far more common that [thinning hair] represents deficiencies in certain key vitamins.” Replacing those nutrients with multivitamins or changing up your diet to include more iron and proteins can help remedy this and better the symptoms. But, be warned: It’s a slow process and could take around six months for progress to be visible.
3. It might be the sign of a larger medical condition
Dr. Kimberly Salkey, associate professor of Dermatology at Eastern Virginia Medical School says, “Certain medical conditions like anemia and thyroid disease make the hair more fragile and more likely to break.” So, sometimes breakage or changes in texture can be due to certain diseases. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and ask your doctor if you’re concerned about what your hair seems to be telling you.
4. Your dandruff might mean something
Yes, dandruff sucks and we hate what it looks like, but the good thing about it is that it’s not harmful at all. There are plenty of options for how to control it, whether that’s through treatment or medication. But if your flakes are yellow, that could be a totally different story and the sign of something more serious.
5. Your red, flaking scalp could be more than just uncomfortable
Psoriasis, according to Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills and a clinical instructor at the University of Southern California, is “an itchy, flaky scalp condition that appears as pink-red inflamed areas with adherent, thick white scales.” Even though it can be uncomfortable or seemingly unsightly, topical and oral medications can help you manage the condition. Oftentimes, psoriasis relates to other diseases like heart disease, metabolic syndrome or even arthritis, so a healthy diet and exercise routine should be maintained if psoriasis is something you experience.
6. Your hormones might be out of whack
Just like vitamin deficiencies, sometimes changes in the condition of your hair can be related to your hormones. Normally, hormone imbalances in women occur during instances of menopause, perimenopause or pregnancy, but anyone can be subject to shifting hormones and the side effects that might entail.
7. Some of your meds might be affecting you
Sometimes, certain medications can account for issues with your hair because of ingredients that can be harmful to hair follicles. You should take the time to research your medications to see if there’s a possibility that hair loss, thinning or breakage could be a side effect.
8. Brittle hair could be the presence of the stress hormone
Under some circumstances, brittle hair can be a sign of what’s known as Cushing’s syndrome. Cushing’s syndrome, also sometimes known as hypercortisolism, is when there are large amounts of cortisol — otherwise known as the stress hormone — in the body. If brittle hair is coupled with other symptoms like weight gain, thinning skin, muscle weakness or a variety of other possible symptoms, see a doctor right away.
9. You might be under too much stress
Hair loss or hair issues can happen because of intense stress. And sometimes, it can be because of more environmental causes. Salkey tells us that “hair can only show stress or illness in a few ways — shedding, breakage and texture changes.” She adds that stress is normally what causes shedding, whether that be physical — like what happens with crash dieting or with certain meds — or emotional.
10. You might have harmful grooming habits
Getting that perfect curl or that intense new unicorn ombré for your hair may do more harm than good. Salkey notes that often, “hair-styling practices like too much heat or too many chemicals can also lead to hair breakage.” When you style your hair with too many products, your hair can grow weaker and become much more susceptible to harm or loss.