Reaching out to the world

Exclusive Interview with a Leading Hair Expert

As life gets busier by the day, levels of pollution rise, work hours get erratic and diet undergoes a metamorphosis into fast foods and packaged foods, almost everyone suffers from some or the other problem. But the most common one being, problems with the mane! And then to help cope with these, there at least a thousand odd shampoos, conditioners, serums and hair treatments that promise to bring back life to your hair. But just how does one sieve the grain from the chaff, and decide what is best for his/her hair?

In an insightful and informative interview Dr Akshay Batra, a well known Trichologist and Deputy MD of Dr Batras' Positive Health Clinic, clears the myths associated with hair care and explains the link between hair problems and underlying medical conditions, in a one-on-one chat with Pooja Biraia.

When does a person know that his/her hair is a problem and requires medical attention?
Basically, it is normal to lose about 100 strands of hair in a day and if you are losing about 50 to 60 strands a day; you are well within the normal limit. But if your hair is breaking and is unacceptably dry, if your scalp density has reduced, if you have excessive hair fall and dandruff, if there are some eruptions that you notice on the scalp, then it is advisable to see a doctor as there may be an underlying medical condition that causes these problems.

Which are the most common hair problems you have come across?
‘Pattern hair loss’ - Male pattern balding and the female pattern balding are the most common problems seen in India. With women, the problem is more of ‘Diffused hair loss’ and the most common cause for this is, low iron deficiency in the blood. Almost 60% of women in India suffer from hair loss due to low levels of iron in their diet. Other reasons for hair loss include a desire to maintain size zero and lose weight fast, and PCOD - Polycystic Ovarian syndrome. In women who suffer from PCOD, there is an excessive hair growth seen on their hands and chin, and hair loss on top of their scalp. This is a hormonal condition. Hence, it is important to diagnose the causative factor or the internal disease and then to treat that internal disease.

What are the other signs by which one knows about an underlying medical condition?
Abnormal hair loss, can be an indicator of a disease, almost always you will find an underlying cause. You will find some reason which accentuates or is the cause of the hair loss. If you think putting an application or going to the parlor when your hair is falling is going to improve it, it’s not so. Your hair is the first indicator of a disease. If your hair is brittle and extremely dry, it may be a sign of hypothyroid and if your hair becomes brittle, it may be a sign of anemia and so on.

How does stress at work contribute to hair loss?
Stress can be a potential cause of hair loss. There are about 30 to 40 different types of hair loss. Each type of hair loss has multiple reasons. Two or three types of hair loss are directly found to be linked with Alopecia Aereata – a condition in which you get round patches of hair loss and you can lose hair from the eyebrows, your entire scalp, your armpits, your face, and you are left with not a single hair in your body. This condition is clearly related to stress. Also, genes and heredity play a major role in hair loss, but hair loss due to heredity can be treated.

Is laser therapy effective for hair treatments?
There are two types of lasers. One type is that which boosts hair growth and the other that removes hair. Laser is a big industry for hair removal where unwanted hair is removed by killing the hair roots by burning them, but some people can experience problems as their skin can react and they can experience, itching, burning, pigmentation. So it is advisable to try a small patch before getting into it fully. As far as laser for hair growth is concerned, there are certain low level laser therapies which are FDA approved and believed to help in the growth of hair, it forms a part of a treatment.

How does one control the damage done by hair colours and dyes?
Hair colors and dyes are definitely bad for your hair, but what is most important is the necessity to do a patch test if you are coloring or dyeing your hair to see if your skin is not reacting adversely to it. If after the patch test, your skin does not react, then do it on the rest of the scalp.

Also, a better option is to use a dye with low ammonia content. Other options are, to use aloe vera based gels instead of the regular ones as it is a natural extract, not to straighten your hair frequently, having a nutritious diet, and reducing the mismanagement of hair by too much of coloring, dyeing, perming etc as these damage, both, the hair and the scalp.

Can options like curd and beer replace branded conditioners?
I don’t think these options mentioned are any more effective than branded conditioners. Curd does help in fighting dandruff to a certain extent but I do not recommend these alternatives to people, as problems like hair loss, dandruff etc. are all medical conditions so you need to treat them medically. Instead of applying curd and investing time into it, it is better to go the diet way. A better, natural and a healthier option in fighting dandruff is to increase the intake of flaxseeds in your diet. Flaxseeds have a natural ingredient that helps in killing dandruff. Applying beer is only going to help the companies selling it, and not your hair.

Role of oil in improving hair growth and as a conditioner.
Oil does only two things to your hair. Firstly, it conditions your hair. So if you have dry hair, applying oil is good because it will moisten the hair root and condition your hair. And second, oil is good for the scalp, but only if our scalp is dry, not otherwise. This is all that oiling does to your hair. It does not promote hair growth.

Henna is said to be a better option to dyes and colours, but doesn’t it dry the hair?
Henna is definitely better than a dye and there are scientific reasons that prove this. Basically, there are scales on a hair shaft and the chemical dyes go within the scales and into the hair. Whereas, Henna coats it from outside so that it does not go into the hair shaft to color the hair at all, it’s more of an external coat because the molecules of henna are too big to get into the hair shaft. And since Henna coats the hair from outside, rather than inside, it is much safer in comparison to colours and dyes. Yes, Henna does dry your hair, but you can condition with a mild shampoo. Also, Henna neither promotes hair growth nor does it increase dandruff.

Is it mandatory to use conditioners and serums after each hair wash?
The role of a conditioner is mainly to soften the hair. A conditioner is good once or twice a week, you don’t have to use them each time you shampoo your hair. You don’t need a conditioner unless you have very frizzy or dry hair. Serums are more of conditioners, but although there are no studies to prove their effects, I would recommend opting for natural products as far as possible.

Any particular hair regimen you suggest
Men must shampoo at least three times a week and women, as they have longer hair, twice a week. Washing your hair daily is not problematic at all. Don’t use soap on your hair. Oiling can be done every day. Warm coconut oil is beneficial for a gentle head massage. Care must be taken not to massage aggressively. I would recommend shampoos that have natural extracts in them to be used.

Essential tips for healthy, shiny, and beautiful hair
First, a balanced diet is very important, second don’t abuse your hair by expensive colour treatments, third, if you notice