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Part V: How Do I Know If It's Loss or Breakage?

Is there suddenly more hair than usual in your comb or on our pillowcase? Part five of the Grow, Baby, Grow healthy hair series examines the difference between hair loss and breakage. Find out how switching up your style game can help you keep your hair.

Most of us are very attuned to how much hair we have on our heads. So no matter what it may look like to others, we know if suddenly there’s more hair than usual in our combs or on our pillowcases.  We certainly notice if we’re seeing more scalp than usual. So how do you know if it’s breakage or hair loss from the scalp? Victoria Holloway Barbosa, a dermatologist at the Rush University Department of Dermatology in Chicago, says, “If the excess hair on your pillow or in your comb looks like the ends of your hair or some portion of the full length of a your hair, this is breakage. If the excess hairs are full-length strands, these hairs are coming from the scalp, which means hair loss. Note that it’s normal to lose about 100 hairs a day. And if you wear braids or styles that keep the hair tied up for weeks, you’ll see the accumulative loss when you release the hair, i.e. when you take those braids out, you may see hundreds of hairs fall to the grown, simply because they couldn’t shed naturally while the hair was braided.

As I’ve mentioned in previous “Grow, Baby, Grow” entries, many things can cause hair loss, from diabetes to anemia, to stress, to medication side effects, to genetics. Dr. Barbosa stresses that women who suffer from hair loss have a much better chance of keeping more hair if they get treated early. And what’s equally important is seeing an expert who is well versed in treating hair loss with African-American women. If you’re immediately told you’ve got scarring that’s irreversible, get another opinion. If your doctor doesn’t run tests to rule out internal causes for hair loss, get another opinion. For many of us, the causes could be a combination of internal and external stresses. Perhaps you’re anemic and you over-process your hair, or maybe you’re under a lot of stress and you’ve pulled your hairline too tight for too long. In addition to being properly diagnosed early and getting on the right medications, “we can cut out a great deal of breakage, and even hair loss, if we balance the care of our hair with our styling preferences,” says Barbosa.

Most of our breakage occurs at the hairline. Give your edges a break every now and then by wearing a style that doesn’t stress the hairline. Wear it curly, without any tension or pulling. We have to watch the over-processing as well. If you relax or color with permanent color too often, expect to see damage. Most African-American women do not need a super relaxer. Mild relaxers can be safe and effective in the right hands. And when you get your relaxers, your edges should be the last part of the hair to receive the chemical. It takes a good, conscientious stylist to know which parts of your hair need more or less of the relaxer. The hairline has to be taken into consideration with weaves, braids and lace fronts as well. For most of us, it takes very little to lose hair here. The tension on the hairline from braids, weaves or lace-fronts is real. Switch up your style game so you can keep your hair.

And don’t forget to eat right. Trichologist Linda Amerson of Arlington, Texas, and  hairandscalpessentials.com, believes a vitamin/mineral deficient diet is an enemy to healthy hair. Your hair is 97 percent protein. Getting adequate protein is necessary for healthy hair. Your hair is the last to benefit from the nutrients in your diet. Your vital organs get what they need first, the hair gets what’s leftover. Amerson has had many patients who have suffered from hair issues due to crash dieting and even gastric-bypass surgery. If you don’t get enough vitamins, minerals and nutrients, this can result in lifeless hair that breaks easily. “Usually I recommend a multivitamin to my clients. And B-12 or B complex is also a good idea, the B’s increase the blood supply to the hair and scalp. I recommend liquid form,” says Amerson. Ask your physician about which supplements are best for you. You may want him or her run blood tests in order to ensure you’re getting enough essential vitamins and minerals.