What causes dry hair? 4 possible conditions
Dry hair occurs when your hair does not receive enough moisture. This reduces its sheen and can make your hair appear frizzy, lifeless, and dull. Dry hair can affect men and women of any age.
Sheen and luster are two important signs of healthy hair. Your hair consists of three layers. In healthy hair, the outer layer thoroughly protects the inner layers. Natural oils in the outer layer also reflect light, making your hair shiny. In cases of dry hair, the outer layer breaks down, which causes the hair to appear dull and unhealthy.
There is no single cause of dry hair. Rather, a variety of factors can lead to dry hair, including environmental conditions, hair care habits, and your physical health. Environmental conditions that may cause dry hair include:
- living in a dry, hot climate
- spending a lot of time in the sun
- frequently swimming in chlorinated water
Certain hair-care practices also contribute to dry hair. These include washing your hair too often, using harsh shampoos and conditioners, getting frequent chemical treatments, blow-drying your hair daily, and using electric curling irons or straighteners.
In some cases, dry hair is the result of a health problem that makes it difficult for your hair to retain moisture. The following health conditions can dry out your hair.
This is an eating disorder in which a person undergoes self-starvation. People who suffer from this condition are typically underweight and have an extreme fear of gaining weight. Anorexia nervosa can cause malnutrition. Dry, brittle hair is one of the many side effects of anorexia and malnutrition.
This condition causes the parathyroid gland in your neck to produce too little parathyroid hormone, which decreases the level of calcium in your blood. Calcium is a key nutrient for healthy bones, teeth, tissue, and hair.
If you have this condition, your thyroid glands do not produce enough thyroid hormones. Dry and brittle hair is an early symptom of hypothyroidism.
Menkes Kinky Hair Disease
People with this rare genetic condition have cells that are unable to absorb enough copper. Low copper absorption affects the health of their hair and can cause dryness.
Several at-home techniques can help improve your dry hair.
Heat and sun exposure are common causes of dry hair. If you live in a dry, humidity-free climate, always protect your hair before going outdoors. Wear a hat and avoid long-term exposure to dry or windy air. You can also protect your hair by wearing a cap when swimming in the pool or ocean, since salt water and chlorine can easily damage your hair.
If you suspect that your grooming habits are causing your dry hair, a few tips can help undo the damage and restore your hair’s moisture and luster. You should:
- avoid daily shampooing
- use a protein-enriched conditioner to repair hair damage
- blow-dry your hair less frequently
- avoid heated styling products, such as flat irons, curling irons, and electric rollers
- condition your hair every time you wash it
- use a shampoo and conditioner that are meant for your hair type; there are hair products specifically formulated for chemically treated hair
Daily shampooing can rob your hair of its protective oils and cause dryness. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, your scalp makes less oil as you age, so you do not need to wash your hair as frequently. Chemical hair treatments and dyeing can also dry out your hair, making less frequent washing a better choice. (AAD)
Try washing your hair once or twice a week to retain more moisture. You can also apply hair oils or leave-in conditioners to add luster and softness.
If a medical problem is causing your dry hair, your hair may improve once you treat the underlying condition. Work with your doctor to find the best course of treatment for you.
If your dry hair is severe and does not respond to home treatments, your family doctor or a dermatologist may be able to pinpoint the cause. A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in skin and hair conditions. He or she will exam your hair and ask questions to assess your hair habits.
During your appointment, your doctor or dermatologist may ask:
- How often do you wash your hair?
- What type of hair products do you use?
- What tools do you use to style your hair?
- How long have you had dry hair?
- Are you eating properly?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
If your doctor is unable to determine the cause, he or she may order a blood test to check for medical conditions such as hypothyroidism and hypoparathyroidism.
Dry hair is a sign of hair damage. If left untreated, your hair can become overly brittle and dry. This can trigger breakage, or the snapping of hair strands.
Most cases of dry hair can be effectively treated with simple lifestyle changes and moisturizing hair care products that are available in drugstores or salons.
- Tips for Healthy Hair. (n.d.). American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved July 14, 2012, from http://www.aad.org/skin-conditions/skin-health-tips/tips-for-healthy-hair/tips-for-healthy-hair
- Dry Hair. (2012). National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. Retrieved July 13, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003245.htm
- Taking Care of Your Hair. (n.d.). Nemours Kids Health. Retrieved July 13, 2012, from http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_body/take_care/hair_care.html
See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.
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