In-Office And At-Home Treatments To Help You Curb Winter Hair Loss Woes
We’re upon that time of the year again where as the temperature drops, our hair gets dry and our patience with it wears thin. But if we’re not careful with our choices in protective styles and our styling practices, our strands will quickly start wearing thin as well.
“More people are wearing braids or protective styles to protect the ends of their hair from damage and dryness, but they’re putting unnecessary stress on the root,” says Michelle F. Henry, M.D. She is a Harvard-trained Mohs surgeon, board-certified dermatologist and currently a clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. “Something you’ll start to see first is little bumps around the roots, around the follicles. That’s called traction folliculitis. That’s the very first sign that you’re at risk of having traction alopecia.”
You’ve heard time and again about how styles that pull too tightly can do serious damage and cause traction alopecia. But aside from avoiding them, we aren’t given much insight into our options for treatment. Henry says that you should see a dermatologist the minute you notice hair loss lasting longer than expected and/or when it becomes concerning to you. That way, you can do easier, preventative treatments instead of aggressive ones to maintain the hair. In-office treatments include injections to the scalp, compounds to apply at home and taking supplements like Nutrafol, a favorite of physicians, dermatologists and stylists around the country. All of these options treat one of the most important issues in terms of hair loss, and that’s inflammation, which can annihilate follicles.
“I do steroid injections to help reduce that inflammation, and we inject it because more than the topical, if we inject we’re going beyond that skin barrier, right near the follicle and placing that steroid right where we want it to reduce the inflammation that’s stopping hair growth,” Henry said. “So in addition, at home we have the patient use a topical minoxidil, which is like Rogaine. But I make a special compound that includes Rogaine and retinoic acid because it helps to penetrate. I also do a little bit of steroid as well because it’s an anti-inflammatory. I also make sure that every patient is taking Nutrafol because it also helps to fight against that inflammation.”
“One of the biggest things we’re often lacking in supplements and other treatments is that we need something that will help attack inflammation on all fronts,” she continued. “So if we’re taking it internally, we’re fighting against stress and inflammation. If we’re injecting it, we’re fighting against stress and inflammation. And if we take it topically, we’re fighting at all levels to make sure that we’re fighting against that inflammation that causes that hair loss.”
What women can expect from the in-office treatments is to see regrowth slowly, but surely.
“It’s a process,” she said. “It’s definitely not an overnight treatment. It’s a multi-layer approach. I usually tell patients you need to give it anywhere from three to six months. Really, six months to see improvement. Sometimes patients will see it as early as three, but really, six months is a good point of commitment.”
And when it comes to costs, the good news is that most in-office treatments are covered by insurance because traction alopecia and hair loss is considered a condition. There are other more complex treatments that can be effective, including PRP, or platelet-rich plasma therapy, which is often used on tendon and joint problems but can also be applied to hair loss by creating new, more robust follicles. However, insurance doesn’t pay for that. Insurance also doesn’t apply towards supplements, but Henry says it’s an interval part of all treatments, whichever one you choose. Nutrafol, in particular, costs about $88 per bottle or per month if you seek out the subscription program.
“At home, taking a supplement like Nutrafol and reducing the tension and behavioral modifications are a huge part of protecting against hair loss, especially in the African-American community,” she said. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, almost half of African-American women have experienced hair loss. Henry says that with that in mind, the way we style and treat our hair needs to be checked.
“Change your styling habits, make sure you’re using deep conditioners that are going to nourish the hair and make sure that at night, you have good practices,” she said. “Sleeping on a silk pillowcase or protecting the hair with a silk scarf, something that’s going to keep it from becoming dry and reduce that friction that’s going to contribute to damage. A lot of it is behavioral. A lot of the hair loss is preventable if we protect it. I have a lot of patients that are using braids, weaves or whatever, and the minute they see breakage they think to protect their edges they have to hide them and braid them up. That really does contribute to the breakage.”
As for applying chemicals, rinses are acceptable while permanent hair colors only contribute to dryness on damaged hair. And if you’re thinking about seeking out stylists who say they can rejuvenate your strands by using light “kiddie” perms, run.
“‘Kiddie’ perms is just marketing,” she said. “A lye relaxer and a no-lye relaxer are still going to do damage. It’s still going to break chemical bonds that keep the hair strong and healthy. If it’s weak and you have heat damage, that’s the last thing you want to do is any type of relaxer.”
And again, Dr. Henry says you can’t go wrong with the nutraceutical supplements, like Nutrafol, that can help restore and enrich your scalp, as well as deal with the many cases of female-pattern baldness.
“I like Nutrafol because they actually did the research,” she said. “They actually have data and worked with dermatologists. They did studies to see if it actually works. A lot of the other supplements are usually just biotin without more advanced ingredients. Nutrafol has saw palmetto, and saw palmetto kind of works like propecia. Propecia blocks the way our scalp interacts with testosterone. There is something called female and male-pattern baldness that many, many patients will have and that contributes. I find that most patients, even if they have traction alopecia, they might have an element of female-pattern baldness. So whatever we can do to optimize hair growth is important. Nutrafol also has adaptogen, which is really good at fighting against inflammation. So what we learned from doing biopsy studies is that in women, more so than men, we see some levels of inflammation, but we see it more in women than we do in men. So having a supplement that can also fight against the stress that is contributing to hair loss is really a powerful addition.”
And even if you haven’t experienced hair loss, or enough to be of alarm, Dr. Henry says that if you have a history of hair loss in your family, it never hurts to be proactive even if you haven’t noticed serious breakage or loss just yet.
“In the African-American community, one part is styling, but one part is also genetics,” she said. “So if you think you have a tendency towards hair loss, it’s never too early to start protecting your hair. Think about taking a supplement to make sure your scalp is healthy and think about your styling practices. Even if you don’t notice hair loss, prevention is always better than treatment.”