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Blue Cross Blue Shield
March-April 2012, Vol. XXVII, No. 2
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Getting enough sleep
Generic OTC drugs
Medicine cabinet 'must-haves'
How to dispose of medicines
Dealing with angina
'Sandwich generation' stress
Watch for eye diseases
Heart-healthy oils and spreads
Walk for exercise
Tips for healthy hair
Risks of raw milk
Coffee and depression
New drug for macular degeneration
FDA approves Juvisync
A 'model' hobby
Add joy to your life
New museum showcases Greek history
'Grannies on Safari'
Medicare Basics
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Your Health

Brushing up on hair's changing needs

Hair Needs

Many people get into a routine when it comes to caring for their hair and scalp. But hair changes over the years, and grooming routines should, too. With age, hair growth slows and fibers become thinner, making them more susceptible to damage. Realizing that hair quality depends not only on the type of products and grooming methods used but also on diet and changing body chemistry can help you plan how to keep hair healthy.

Because hair is made of dead cells filled with protein, consuming or avoiding foods that contain protein can affect the way hair looks and feels. In a sense, including protein-rich foods in your diet is a way of nourishing the hair itself. Since hair is nonliving, this may seem confusing. But hair can be compared to rope, with dead cells woven together to create the hair fibers. Those dead cells, though, are filled with protein, mostly keratins.

This means the more protein made available to the cells, the thicker and hardier those cells will be, which can have a direct impact on the quality and strength of hair fiber. Meat is an easy source of protein, but there are also many other protein sources such as milk, yogurt, cheeses, tofu, almonds, peanut butter, soymilk, oatmeal, and whole wheat bread.

Tips for healthy hair

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests these strategies for keeping hair healthy at any age:

  • Remember that it's not just about the hair. When you clean your hair, make sure to also wash the scalp.
  • The easiest route is sometimes the best. The AAD says a two-in-one shampoo and conditioner shouldn't be overlooked. These products can provide an excellent alternative for damaged or chemically treated hair by cutting down on the exposure to hair products.
  • Check out the latest products. Relatively new to the market are silicone-infused conditioners, shampoos and serums, which may help keep hair looking and feeling healthy by providing extra support. The added silicone is intended to help keep strands strong. Look for products that contain the ingredient dimethicone.
  • Find a happy medium. As a person ages, daily shampooing may not be necessary. Pay attention to how little or how much oil you produce naturally and adjust your routine accordingly. However, be aware that shampooing too infrequently can lead to scalp disease or dandruff.
  • Consider a little sun protection. The sun can damage hair by breaking down protein. To avoid this, look for hair sprays and conditioners that contain sunscreen. These products also can help prevent hair dye from fading.

Hair reflects life

For women especially, life experiences and choices can have an impact on hair. Stopping or starting birth control pills, for example, can affect estrogen production, which directly impacts hair growth and texture. And pregnant women may notice that their locks look healthier than usual because elevated hormone levels allow hair to remain in a growing phase. After giving birth, hormone levels and hair growth generally return to normal, which may lead to visible hair loss. This shouldn't be a source of worry, though, because most of this hair tends to re-grow after six months.

As women begin to approach menopause, estrogen production begins to fall, which slows hair growth and thins hair shafts. Because of this, hair fibers and shafts don't require as much grooming or exposure to products such as hair dyes. As women get older, the AAD recommends hair-care products such as protein-enhanced conditioners, which can help replace lost protein and strengthen strands. Women with questions or concerns about slowing hair growth or thinning hair may want to contact a dermatologist.

Color it healthy

If you use hair coloring, try to do so conservatively. Dye tends to strip away the lipid layer of the hair shaft. This pokes holes in the shaft, allowing it to absorb the dye. The AAD advises staying within three shades of your natural hair color—and suggests going darker rather than lighter. This is because lighter hair coloring requires the use of more peroxide, which can lead to a greater amount of hair damage.

Dealing with dandruff

Mild cases of dandruff can happen to anyone. Try these tips for dealing with a flaky scalp:

  • Brush hair with a natural-bristle brush to spread out natural oils along the strands.
  • Try an over-the-counter shampoo made to treat dandruff. Look for products with the ingredients salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, pyrithione zinc, sulfur, or coal-tar. Your doctor might also prescribe other shampoos or a scalp cream.

Talk with your doctor if the dandruff does not get better or becomes greasy and yellow. There may be a more serious condition at the root of the dandruff.

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