We can’t talk about hair growth without starting with the hair follicle. As the part of the hair’s anatomy that provides it with everything it needs for proper growth, the health of the hair follicle is crucial to consider for everyone looking to alleviate hair loss and thinning.
In this article, we’ll be diving deeper into the hair follicle, widely considered to be the most complicated structure within the skin.
We’ll find out what it is, what it does, how you can know when it’s a damaged hair follicle and how to begin its restoration.
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What are hair follicles?
As strange as it may sound, hair follicles are organs. They are small pockets made of connective tissue and cells, found in the dermal layer of the skin (a step deeper than the more superficial epidermis), and their role is to regulate hair growth.
This, however, is not a straightforward process. Hair growth is influenced by a myriad of factors, and hair follicles regulate it through a complex interaction between hormones, neuropeptides and immune cells.
Image: What does a hair follicle look like?
The hair root is essentially ‘plugged into’ the hair follicle, which helps attach the hair to the skin. As the hair follicles are also connected to blood vessels which deliver oxygen and nutrients crucial to maintain healthy hair, it becomes quite easy to understand why the hair follicle plays such an important role in hair growth.
As well as oxygen and nutrients, the blood vessels connected to hair follicles also deliver hormones which play a double role in hair growth:
- They regulate the hair growth cycle (which determines how long hair grows)
- They influence the structure and texture of hair (making it thin or thick, curly or straight, brassy or smooth, etc.)
What are the effects of damaged hair follicles?
When the hair follicles are damaged, all of the processes listed above can not happen as they normally would: oxygen and nutrients do not reach hair properly, the hair growth cycle is not properly regulated and hair texture and structure are affected.
Any damage incurred to the hair follicle will make it more difficult for hair to grow out properly, and can even lead to hair loss, and thinning. Other effects of damaged hair follicles are excessive scalp dryness, irritation, inflammation and dandruff. If you’re struggling with any of these, then it could be that your hair follicles are damaged.
What affects the health of your hair follicles?
The factors that affect your hair follicles vary widely, from salt water or excessive sun exposure, to more all other reasons why your hair won't grow such as infections, hormonal imbalance or even traction alopecia and folliculitis.
A natural thing that happens as we age, however, is that some hair follicles simply stop producing hair altogether. This is why with older age come hair thinning and hair loss, even baldness.
People are usually born with around 5 million hair follicles, and it is believed that no new ones are created after birth - and that’s why it’s so important to maintain the ones that we do have in good health!
Can you repair damaged hair follicles?
Ok, but what if your hair follicles have already been damaged? Is it too late for you to dream of having a beautiful head of hair, or is there still hope?
Good news - there are scientifically verified ways in which you can improve the condition of your hair follicles. This will result in healthier-looking hair, alleviated hair loss and hair thinning and overall improvements in the texture of your hair.
It is, however, important to note that some damaged hair follicles are beyond salvation. The longer the hair follicles have been damaged, the more difficult it is to repair them - that is why for most hair loss treatments, being applied as soon as thinning and hair loss starts to appear makes them much more effective.
If you’ve seen this decline happen over years and haven’t done anything to mitigate it, then sadly it might be too late for you. If, however, you’ve only recently started to notice the signs of your hair follicles being damaged, then you still have a good chance of bringing them back to life.
So, if you are still safe, check out these early signs of balding.
How to repair damaged hair follicles?
A lot of the time, people take a restorative approach to their health: they notice that something has gone wrong, and only then do they take action to improve the condition of whatever it is that’s malfunctioning.
With our tips, we will not only help you fix the damage that has already happened, but we will also give you some indications of how to target the issues that are causing your hair follicles to be damaged in the first place.
So, as you go through this list, be honest with yourself and take note of what it might be that’s affecting your hair growth, and target the cause as well as the symptom. In this way, you can be sure to prevent further damage while also repairing what is within your control.
1. Determine whether or not you have a medical condition
A lot can be done with the right shampoo and conditioner, and by taking the right steps each day in supporting your hair health. But, if you suspect that you may be dealing with a different level of gravity in the symptoms that you’re experiencing, then it might be best for you to see a dermatologist.
It could be the case that you are dealing with something that needs a doctor-approved course of action, and you may be doing more harm than good by postponing that doctor’s appointment.
Conditions like diabetes can really accelerate your hair loss.
2. Have a look at your lifestyle
This is the advice no-one wants to hear, but almost everyone needs to - especially when it comes to hair growth. It’s relatively easy to keep tweaking your hair routine and put your faith in the fact that finding the right products might have a miraculous effect on your hair.
What is really difficult is to be honest with yourself about what you are doing on a daily basis that is negatively impacting your hair, and to take action to stop doing it.
These are all questions that have a significant impact on your overall health, and implicitly your hair health. If you feel that your lifestyle is imbalanced, or that the answer to the questions above isn’t what you would want it to be, and you are ready to take your hair health seriously, then it’s time to make some changes.
You might want to check out: Top 20 Ways How To Regain Hair Loss From Stress
3. Assess and improve your diet
We discussed earlier that one of the main functions of hair follicles is to deliver essential nutrients to your hair. Of course, those nutrients reach your body through the right diet - and so you can begin to see how having a look at your diet will also help you improve the functioning of your hair follicles and fight against slow hair growth.
The best way in which to do this is to ensure that you have a balanced diet. You’ve heard this a million times, so you don’t need us to say it again - but when you are weighing up the right ratios of fats to proteins to carbs on your plate, some nutrients that are especially important for hair growth are: Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, Iron, Zinc and - surprise, surprise - more protein.
This can sound a bit abstract, so here is a list of the best foods that contain these nutrients that you can include in your diet to start seeing results over time: eggs, cinnamon, avocados, lean chicken, guava, berries, nuts, seeds, spinach, fish, sweet potatoes and even oysters.
And if you think using hair growth gummies jam-packed with vitamins are enough, think again. We teamed up with a doctor to answer that.
4. Give your scalp the support it needs
Your hair follicles are all in the dermis, which is one layer deeper than the epidermis (the most superficial layer of your skin). That is why it’s crucial for you to pay attention to your scalp just as much as you would to your face - while many people take the necessity of caring for their complexion as a given, very few people take into consideration the fact that the scalp needs just as much pampering.
There is an abundance of products on the market that can help you support your scalp health: from gentle exfoliants (yes, you heard right) to serums, you can find natural formulations that have the power of absolutely transforming your hair, and supercharging your hair follicles with all they need to do their job well.
Another hugely important thing you can do to support your hair follicles is to give yourself a scalp massage once in a while, ideally 3-4 times a week. This will increase blood flow to the scalp, which, if you think about it, is the point where gravity helps the least with circulation.
There are many different techniques for this, but we recommend gently massaging your scalp in a circular motion, while also being careful not to scrape it with your nails. A pro tip is to use a bit of argan oil while doing this, warmed up in-between your palms beforehand.
5. Perfect your hair care routine
This doesn’t need to be more complicated than simply using the right products for you, understanding the right techniques and ways of handling your hair, and committing to following your chosen course of action precisely.
Ingredients such as Biotin are a huge plus, but if you can’t afford to invest in higher end products, at least make sure your products are not overly-stripping or contain any harmful ingredients.
Invest in one good hair treatment, usually in the form of a leave-in serum, that will also support your hair and keep it moisturised as well as protected in-between washes.
Try to not style your hair with heat too frequently, and handle it gently when you do. Also, reducing the frequency of hair washing even slightly can help your scalp find a better rhythm of growth.
The health of your hair follicles is affected by your overall lifestyle, as well as your hair care routine. While it’s important to ensure that you are using the right products and physically taking care of your hair, it’s also crucial to make lifestyle changes that will help your damaged hair follicles come back to life.
If this latter aspect is neglected, then you will always be fighting an uphill battle by trying to solve a deeper health issue with topical products. The best thing to do is to take a long term approach to improving the health of your hair follicles, and ensure that you’re covering as many bases as possible.