There are any number of serious reasons your hair can suddenly start to fall out - illness, thyroid disease, nutrient deficiency, extreme physical stress or many other diseases or medications. These are important to consider. Hair loss is a signal of something wrong.
I'm skipping the more serious problems and going right to the things you put on your hair!
Let's talk about friction. You need friction to stop on roller skates, on a bicycle, in a car. Smooth ice = low friction and you just keep going when you try to stop. Rough pavement = plenty of friction to slow your motion and your tires wear down over time.
Friction is an issue for anybody with more than a half inch of hair because there is a lot more to hair care than moisture or protein or whatever the bottle or shampoo or conditioner says a product is for. Some people have healthy hair that doesn't need a lot of extra help staying hydrated, but it does need extra lubrication. The longer your hair is, the more lubrication you need. Tangle-prone hair needs more lubrication.
Usually we want low friction in our hair so the strands slide past each other and don't tangle or rub off cuticles - especially the chipped or broken ones. Sometimes a little friction is okay to help maintain volume, but on a regular basis, friction can cause problems.
©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
What you probably already know:
If your hair rubs on other hairs, your shirt collar, a scarf or necklace or earrings or hair pins or ponytail holder, friction occurs. If your hair does this frequently (collars, ponytail holders) that area can become weakened and break. If you hair has a pre-existing weak spot like a tear or split, it can break with less force than usually required.©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
You'll see breakage as shed hairs shorter than your full length. If you slide your fingers over both ends, you will feel no bulge of a root on the hair. But when you have whole-hair shedding, the whole hair comes out, root and all. It's normal to lose some hairs every day. If you wash your hair once a week or every 2 weeks, you'll shed more hairs during washing than somebody who washes their hair every other day. It's the remarkable increases in shedding that indicate something may not agree with your hair.©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
|Black arrows point to elevated cuticles on this porous hair. These are easily broken off with friction on the hair. Good lubrication in the form of conditioners, oils (and protein for some people) can help slow the process of cuticle breakage.|
What you may not have known:
Sometimes we can have excess whole hair shedding - roots and all - from too much friction. When you see a lot more hair falling out, keep a close eye on it over time in case these simple solutions don't help. But before you panic - consider that your hair might be sticking to itself (friction), rubbing on itself, on your hands during detangling and washing, roughing itself up and yanking itself out by the roots. It sounds painful, but it doesn't feel like individual hairs being plucked from your scalp. What you do notice is a tangly, unpleasant feeling in your hair.
What sort of things create excess friction in hair? (In no particular order).
- Using styling products with a tacky, rough or sticky "finish" - some strong-hold gels, salt sprays, for example.
- Skipping conditioner or not using enough conditioner.
- Not doing oil pre-wash treatments on hair that needs them.
- Avoiding deep conditioning when you need it.
- Using too much protein (how much is "too much" varies from person to person - but I don't recommend making hair gel from gelatin and using that to style your hair regularly).
- Coconut oil - for some people. Sometimes hair will become stiff, rough, crunchy or brittle from using coconut oil. I suspect this may be more a problem for low-porosity hair.
- Acidic or alkaline treatments. These can increase friction in hair. One needs to respond to that need for more lubrication.
- Too much washing, too much high-heat styling, excessive brushing.
- Chemical processing (highlights, permanent waves, relaxers, permanent hair color).
- Henna (especially right after using henna).
- Shampoos - especially sulfate-free shampoos without enough lubricants added.
- Too-high (alkaline) or too-low (acidic) treatments used in hair that cannot tolerate those things.
- Hard water residue
What to do?
Some of these are obvious, use more conditioner if you need it. If you're experiencing more tangling than usual, use an oil pre-wash treatment or deep condition your hair. If your styling products are making your hair tacky and tangly, try something else or use a leave-in conditioner and/or some oil with the product to see if you can reduce the crunch. Or apply the product to wetter hair to dilute it.
For hennaed hair - load on the conditioner, deep conditioning and oils (whatever works with your henna product), especially the first few weeks after hennaing.
For chemically treated or mechanically damaged hair: Your hair needs more lubrication from conditioners, oils, deep conditioning. If you're experiencing a lot of whole-hair shedding, you need to use these things far more than you have in the past
For shampoos: Many of the sulfate-free shampoos can create excessive friction during washing unless they are formulated with lubricants. These shampoos make hair feel tangly when wet and tacky. It's not that they're necessarily stripping your hair or overly harsh - it's a by-product of the sulfate-free detergent itself. Lots of ingredients have a unique "skin feel." Many sulfate-free detergents have a tacky skin feel. To manage that, product formulators often add ingredients to counter that an provide lubrication.
Ingredients that provide lubrication in shampoos. This has nothing to do with mildness, only with likelihood that the product is less likely to increase friction in hair:
- Salt thickeners (Salts thicken shampoos and make them feel slippery - sodium chloride, magnesium sulfate are examples). It's not necessarily the salt itself that's drying for some people, it's the fact that you can only thicken shampoos with a somewhat high concentration of detergents with salt successfully.
- Silicones (Dimethicone, Amodimethicone, Silicone quaternium-18, "siloxanes") - See this blog post for more about silicones. The water-insoluble silicones provide the most lubrication, but the water-soluble ones can reduce that "sulfate-free detergent tackiness" a bit.
- Guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride
- Glycol distearate (makes shampoos "pearly" looking)