You might not think a walk around your neighborhood, your hair gel, your supermarket choices, or your deodorant have anything to do with your hair growth. But your hair follicles are sensitive little things, and unfortunately they take all of these choices pretty personally.
Your daily environment has the potential to stress out your follicles, impairing their ability to build the hair of your dreams and potentially throwing them out of the growth phase entirely. Curious which environmental factors can damage your hair and impact growth? The main ones are:
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1. Your hair products
That extra strong hold from your conventional hair products might not be worth the internal price you’re paying. Ingredients frequently found in hairspray and other hair care products, such as phthalates and dioxane, are common culprits of endocrine disruption, which is a technical way of categorizing anything that messes with your hormones’ normal functioning. Because your hormones are the behind-the-scenes orchestrators of your hair growth, the ingredients in your hair products are something to pay attention to. On the far end of the scary ingredients list, some add-ins to hair relaxers and shampoos like formaldehyde are so damaging to our DNA that they’ve even been linked to cancer.
2. Your makeup and personal care products
Toxins can hide in your makeup and other everyday products by the boatload. Lipsticks are significant hideouts for toxic ingredients like arsenic and lead. Oxybenzone, an ingredient commonly found in sunscreen, has been linked to disrupting our all-important hormones in a big way. Some ingredients found in lipsticks and moisturizers have also been found to mess with hormones like your thyroid hormones, which are of particular importance in keeping your hair follicles functioning at their best. Parabens, used as a preservative in skin care products and beyond, have been shown to stress your thyroid hormones, increase oxidative stress, and damage your DNA.
3. Your air quality
You may not think about it much, but your air quality counts when it comes to your hair health. Your hair combats and canoodles with every particle in your day-to-day air supply, and the aerosols and particulates it contains may be taking a toll on your strands. Unfortunately, the more urban and industrial your environment, the worse the air quality and the greater an impact this can have on your health. Combustion hanging out in the air has been linked to respiratory issues and metabolic issues like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cognitive functioning, and neurodegenerative disease. These connections mean that pollution in your air has the potential to mess with your metabolic processes and normal DNA functioning. Couple that with air pollution’s ability to stimulate inflammatory responses and interfere with your microbiome, and it’s no stretch to see how this could throw a wrench in your sensitive hair growth cycle.
4. Your antiperspirant
If you use an antiperspirant, you know it can do a phenomenal job of stopping sweat in its tracks. That’s thanks to aluminum, which helps fill your pores and keeps them shut. The big issue with this is that your skin — especially the area of your armpits — is an effective absorber, which means that daily dose of antiperspirant you’re applying is potentially absorbing into your body. This is an important connection to make, as aluminum has been linked to serious impairments to the nervous system and to neurodegenerative diseases. Aluminum’s presence is likely throwing off your normal processes long before you realize it’s a problem, distracting your liver and other systems from the roles they play in your hair’s growth (like activating thyroid hormone). And when it comes to your hair cycle, no distraction is a good distraction.
5. Your lunch
Larger fish tend to accumulate mercury, a toxic metal that has been connected to a number of unpleasant health effects like disruption to your digestion, immune, and nervous systems. These imbalances throw off your hormone signaling, lead to inflammation, and stress out the inner workings of your body (including your hair). Another unfortunate secondary impact is that this inflammation can mess with your ability to digest the nutrients necessary for hair growth
6. Your plastic water bottles
Your everyday plastics may be exposing you to persistent organic pollutants (POPs). While the full list of POPs is long and growing by the day, these harmful compounds include bisphenols, phthalates, and dioxins. These POPs, which have the potential to leach into your food and water (especially when heated), can cause oxidative stress in your body and fire up inflammation — two things known to hit the “off” switch on your hair growth cycle.
Protecting your hair from environmental stressors
While it may feel like your everyday life is conspiring against you and your hair growth, there are definitely things you can do to protect yourself from these stressors and decrease their impact. It’s helpful to avoid hair products containing parabens and other problematic ingredients, and try to choose organic ingredients whenever possible. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database is a great resource for vetting your old hair products and cosmetics and researching new ones. Swapping out your antiperspirant for an aluminum-free deodorant is also a useful step, as well as switching your plastic water bottles and food containers for glass versions. Your favorite high mercury fish choices can also be switched out for safer options.