Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Scientifically tested, over-the-counter treatments for thinning hair

Please remember that this information can and should never replace the care and advice of a physician. If you experience hair thinning, seek consultation with a medical professional who listens and will physically examine your scalp. 

Be aware that scalps can be sensitive to any and all treatments and products, including natural ones. Scalps that are losing hair may be more sensitive than scalps in which hair density is stable.

This post has lots of links. Where I can link you to a full article, I did. Otherwise, I linked to abstracts, which contain a summary of the study's contents.

Androgenic alopecia is the clinical term of male and female pattern hair loss. It’s one of those diagnoses of exclusion. If you don’t have telogen effluvium (hair loss following an exposure to an allergen, due to physical or mental trauma), or alopecia areata (patches of hair loss), traction alopecia due to tension on your scalp, or hair loss due to thyroid disease, scalp disease or polycystic ovarian syndrome - then you likely have androgenic alopecia.©Science-y Hair Blog 2017

If you start to experience hair loss that is more than you are accustomed to, it’s ideal to have a doctor or dermatologist check for other causes of hair loss before concluding you have androgenic alopecia. Hair loss can be a sign that something else is wrong.

Female pattern hair loss and male pattern hair loss take on different patterns, which you can find men's here and women's  here. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2017

Androgens are hormones which are more abundant in men than women, specifically testosterone. Testosterone circulates in your blood and in the hair follicle, can be transformed into dihydrotestosterone (DHT) by the enzyme alpha-5 reductase in your hair follicles. This is thought to be damaging to hair follicles. The end result is that hair follicles begin to produce narrow, “vellus” hairs. Like the hairs on non-hairy parts of your body, they are very thin, narrow and difficult to see. As these replace normal-width hairs on your head, overall hair thickness decreases. 

Note that the "DHT-causes-hair-thinning" idea is not unequivocally proven. There are other variables at work on scalps with thinning hair like low-grade inflammation and atopy (allergy to airborne allergens, contact allergens, yeasts in normal scalp flora).©Science-y Hair Blog 2017

There are some proven treatments for Androgenic alopecia which work in a variety of ways. These are ones you can buy over the counter, they don't require a prescription. Some of them you can use together. If in doubt, ask a pharmacist, doctor or dermatologist.

1) Minoxidil.  For example: Rogaine. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2017

2) Topical caffeine. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2017
Yes, it has to go on your scalp, drinking caffeinated beverages doesn’t count. 

  • Caffeine is a quickly-absorbed vasodilator to increase blood flow in the scalp. Caffeine does not need to stay on the scalp until the next washing (that's why shampoos work), but it does need about 2 minutes to absorb into your skin before rinsing
  • In men especially, topical caffeine may decrease trans-epidermal water loss, which means skin stays hydrated
  • The concentration used in the studies linked here is 0.001% to 0.005% - very low for an active ingredient. 
  • Topical caffeine affects the whole body and too much on your skin is the same as too much when ingested. Larger concentrations can be dangerous. If you're caffeine-sensitive, yes - this might keep you awake if you use caffeine in products at night.
  • In lab tests on skin in culture which was treated with testosterone, hair growth was suppressed. When topical caffeine was added, it stimulated hair growth back to normal, so there may be an element of DHT and alpha-5 reductase
  • Caffeine stimulates hair growth and helps hair stay in anagen phase longer - the growing phase - than it otherwise might in people with androgenic alopecia. 
  • Caffeine can slow down excessive shedding and stimulate hair growth. 
  • Topical caffeine has been measured to stay active in hair follicles for up to 48 hours, so it needs to be used every 1-2 days to be most effective.©Science-y Hair Blog 2017

There are a number of products - shampoos, sprays, serums you can purchase which already contain caffeine. Some contain additional ingredients which may be beneficial. There is a do-it-yourself recipe following this list.

Caffeine-Containing Hair Products
  • Alpecin Caffeine shampoo (with ketoconazole)
  • Alpecin After Shampoo Liquid
  • Amplixin Intensive Hair Growth Serum
  • Dove Men + Care Fortifying 2 In 1 Shampoo, Complete 2-in-1 shampoo
  • Art Naturals Organic Argan Oil Hair Loss Shampoo
  • GrowMe Shampoo, Sulfate Free - Watermans  UK brand 
  • ConditionMe Hair Growth Conditioner - Watermans UK brand 
  • Hair Lab Hair Growth Serum
  • Hair Lab Regrowth & Thickening Shampoo
  • Man Cave Caffeine Shampoo  
  • OGX Fight Fallout Niacin & Caffeine Plus Shampoo 
  • OGX Fight Fallout Niacin & Caffeine Conditioner 
  • OGX Fight Fallout Root Stimulator
  • Pura D'Or Anti Hair Loss Argan Oil Shampoo (with pyrithione zinc) 
  • Revita Hair Stimulating Shampoo (with ketoconazole) (Sulfate free) (Not for vegetarians)
  • SebaMed Scalp Activating Shampoo for Thinning Hair
  • Thicker Fuller Hair Shampoo 
  • Thicker Fuller Hair Weightless Conditioner
  • Thicker Fuller Hair Instantly Thick Serum (this is a styling product, not a scalp product)
  • Ultrax Hair Surge Caffeine Hair Growth Stimulating Shampoo
  • Ultrax Hair Solace Conditioner
  • Ultrax Labs Hair Lush Thickening treatment serum
  • Wick and Strom Anti Hair Loss Shampoo (with ketoconazole)

DIY recipe: Mix the contents of one, 200 mg capsule of caffeine powder (such as this one with no fillers or additives) with 1 gallon (about 4 liters) distilled water. Use as a spray or put in a dropper bottle. Using too much can cause the same side effects as ingesting too much caffeine, or can cause scalp irritation. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2017
  • The end concentration is 0.005% with this mixture.
  • This recipe is cheap and it really works! I was experiencing extra hair loss and using this on my scalp every other day has reduced my shedding by about 60%.

Can brewed tea or coffee be used? Yes! But not decaffeinated tea or coffee. Tea and coffee can create cool tones in hair. The tea or coffee needs to contact your scalp and be left on for at least 2 minutes.

3) Ketoconazole shampoo
Ketoconazole is an anti-fungal medication that can help reduce hair loss - it’s sold for managing seborrheic dermatitis - dandruff. Higher concentrations are found in Nizoral shampoo, and Regenepure DR in the US. There are some shampoos with both caffeine and ketoconazole in the list above (Alpecin Caffeine shampoo, Revita Hair Stimulating Shampoo, Wick and Strom Anti Hair Loss Shampoo). Ketoconazole may help by ultimately reducing inflammation, or by interfering with the alpha-5 reductase enzyme. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2017
  • Ketoconazole shampoos are used every 2-3 days in studies that showed decreased hair loss by about 17%, a greater number of hairs in anagen phase (growing phase), greater hair density and width (compared to narrowing hairs with androgenic alopecia).
  • It may be especially helpful for thinning hair if you have ever had seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, rosacea, or itchy scalp or any sort of scalp flaking, including little powdery dry flakes.
  • Results are similar to 2% Minoxidil - which is response in approximately 40% to 50% of people using it.

4) Pyrithione zinc shampoo
This is another dandruff shampoo that can decrease inflammation in the scalp and slow hair shedding (by about 10%). It may or may not encourage more normal-width hairs to grow, depending on the study.  
It may be more helpful if you’ve ever had seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, rosacea, or itchy scalp.
Use a pyrithione zinc shampoo every 2-3 days.

5) Pumpkin seed oil (eating pumpkin seeds or supplemental oil, not topical, though it's a great oil in conditioners)
Pumpkin seed oil supplements in one, 6-month study which was double-blinded and placebo-controlled (the gold standard for studies such as this) had a positive effect on hair re-growth in men with mild to moderate androgenic alopecia. That translates into 40% increases in hair counts in men treated with pumpkin seed oil after 24 weeks versus only 10% increases in hair counts for men in the placebo group.
  • In animal studies, pumpkin seed oil alone has been demonstrated to block the action of alpha-5 reductase.
  • The dose was 400 mg of pumpkin seed oil in 4 capsules, 2 were taken with a morning meal and 2 with the evening meal, though the product used was not exclusively pumpkin seed oil. 
  • The specific supplement used in this study was “Octo-Sabal Plus” which is not available in the U.S., containing : Octacosanol, Pumpkin seed powder, Mixed vegetable powder, Evening prim rose powder, Corn silk extracted powder, Red clover powder, Tomato powder
  • Pumpkin seed oil may also support nitric oxide formation, an effect which may be supportive of healthy skin barrier function.
  • A tablespoon or about 15 ml of pumpkin seeds contains about 5 grams of fat (oils), which is 5000 mg - more than used in this study. If you regularly eat pumpkin seeds - it may be having a similar effect. And you get other nutrients too!

6) Protective foods and nutrients: One study of men with moderate to severe androgenic alopecia (including more of the scalp) found that regular consumption of soy beverages and higher vanadium intake appeared to be protective of hair thinning. Bear in mind, this was done by screening blood samples and having people fill out questionnaires about their eating habits. It is a study done in Taiwan, of men only, where dietary habits and favorite foods are different than in the U.S., where I am writing this.
  • Having an adequate intake of vanadium, which is especially high in shellfish, mushrooms, parsley and dill, is correlated with a lower likelihood of having moderate to severe androgenic alopecia, mild androgenic alopecia is still possible.
  • Regular consumption of soy drinks (1-3 days per week or more) correlates with a lower likelihood of having moderate to severe androgenic alopecia, mild androgenic alopecia is still possible.

7) Protective behaviors: Sleep
 Sleeping for fewer than 6 hours each night is correlated with more widespread hair thinning in men with androgenic alopecia (in the reference linked in #6). I know, you don’t need to hear that, all you busy people and night owls. 

8) Nigella sativa oil (topical), aka black cumin seed oil for telogen effluvium.
One double-blinded, placebo controlled study (pdf link) showed this oil, diluted and applied topically, can be helpful in re-growth of hair after telogen effluvium, which is significant hair loss following childbirth, serious illness, major surgery, exposure to severe allergens or irritants, severe emotional stress, significant weight loss. Acute telogen effluvium can persist up to 6 months after the initial provocation, but it lasts typically 3-6 months. Chronic telogen effluvium lasts longer than 6 months and can last for years. It is spread over the whole scalp, not in a pattern like androgenic alopecia although one may have thinning at both temples.
  • The “recipe” used in the study is 0.5% Nigella sativa oil, 3% glycerin, 0.4% lavender oil, and 60% alcohol, adding water to make up the balance of 100%. You should not put Nigella sativa oil on your scalp undiluted.
  • This was applied daily to the scalp for 6 months.
  • At 3 months, 9 of 10 patients receiving this treatment had increased hair counts, and half continued to have increased hair counts at 6 months.
  • Placebo-treated patients had improvement in 6 of 10 at 3 months and 6 months showed hair loss rather than increase.
  • Can you create this formula at home? Yes. You need a scale. This would usually be formulated with ethanol as the alcohol. the “60%” is a volume or weight, not a percentage alcohol or “proof.”
  • So if you were making 100g of this, you’d use 0.5g Nigella sativa oil, 0.4 g lavendar oil, 3 g glycerin, 60 g ethanol and just under 40g water.
  • There are some blackseed oil shampoos available as an easier way to use the oil, but they have not been studied in the same way.
9) Melatonin (topical)
One study of topical melatonin in androgenic alopecia found that both men and women, treated with a 0.0033% melatonin solution (with other ingredients) experiences a reduction in hair loss of up to 60%. Seborrheic dermatitis was also improved, when it was present. Melatonin may work through an anti-oxidant effect on a scalp experiencing oxidative stress. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2017
  • Melatonin is not soluble in water, you cannot crush the tablets or mix a capsule in water to make a DIY treatment.
  • Products for the scalp containing melatonin include Asatex
  • One "Full dropper" of this liquid melatonin product in 100 grams water will equal approximately the concentration used in the study linked above.
  • Melatonin products are applied to the scalp daily or taking 1 or 2 days off per week.
  • Because we have melatonin receptors in our skin, you may experience some sensations of sleepiness or dizziness after applying such a product, just like melatonin supplements. Use with caution! ©Science-y Hair Blog 2017

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Shampoos Which Remove: Product Build-Up

This is essentially a recycled and updated post from 2011. Recycling is good, right!?

Build-up from hair products is usually 2 things:

- Oily residues like actual oils and butters, creamy ingredients like Cetyl alcohol and other emollient ingredients
- Cationic ingredients that bond to the hair. When they're good, they're very good and when there is too much, you feel "build-up."

Here I’m referring to 2 classes of chemicals: Quaternary cationic surfactants and cationic polymers. First off, cationic means something has a net positive charge (+). Hair has a net negative charge at the pH environment in which it usually exists (somewhere between pH 4.5 and 5 is average). Opposites attract (positive and negative) when it comes to hair and conditioner. More-damaged hair (the ends, heat-styled, sun-damaged, chemically relaxed, permed, highlighted) has more negative bonds and will bond with or "adsorb" more cationic ingredients. But it also loses them more quickly.

Low porosity hair has fewer negative charges to adsorb conditioners and cationic ingredients. It is also more likely for the owner of low-porosity hair to notice / experience "product build-up."

Quaternary cationic surfactants (and cationic polymers) are the real “conditioners” in hair and skin products. They bond to hair (and skin). Cationic polymers in styling products (Polyquaternium-4, for example) also bond to hair to form a film that provides hold and humidity resistance.

Build-up tends to look like you'd rubbed your hair with a balloon (static-y, flyaway, self-repellant). Or it can look sticky and stringy. Or dull and matted. Wavy, curly or coily hair might not pull together in it's proper curl pattern when you have build-up. Straight hair might get stringy or increase in volume (not necessarily in a good way).

Quaternary Cationic Surfactants:©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

Quaternary cationic surfactants include ingredients such as:

Behentrimonium chloride, Behentrimonium methosulfate, Cetrimonium bromide, Cetrimonium chloride, Stearalkonium chloride, Dicetyldimonium chloride, Guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride.

Most of these are not water soluble, but water-solubility doesn’t much matter because they’re bonding to your hair. Imagine magnets – the positive end of the quaternary cationic surfactant bonds to the negative hair. The thing is, it’s a pretty tight grip. Think giant magnets. Electromagnets that are used in scrap metal yards. This is known as “substantivity” in cosmetics chemistry.©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

Having these ingredients on your hair is not a problem in itself. Not unless you experience symptoms of build-up. Shampooing is not always a solution because most shampoos are based on anionic (negatively charged) surfactants. And now you’re saying, wait, that should mean that it should remove the cationic stuff because it has a negative charge and opposites attract. Yes! But the hair holds the cationics too tightly. The shampoo (anionic) may not be a big enough “magnet” to remove the cationic (conditioner or polymer).©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

Cationic Polymers:

Cationic Polymers include polyquaterniums (Polyquaternium-4, Polyquaternium-10, Polyquaternium-11, for example). These ingredients are very often water-soluble, but that’s not terribly relevant because they also get a tight grip on hair and so they don’t rinse off. Polyquaterniums are used in shampoos and conditioners to provide lightweight conditioning and frizz-prevention and used in hair styling products because they form stiff films over the hair to provide firm hold. They can add body to fine hair because of their hold/fixative-providing and film-forming behavior.©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

Polyquaternium 4 gives strong hold and may be easier to remove than Polyquaternium 10 or 11, in other words, it is more possible to pry it off with water and a detergent. Certain proteins and quaternary cationic surfactants can bond more firmly with hair than does polyquat-4. There are many other Polyquaterniums (with other numbers following them -7, 37, 44, 67…), all of which will bond more or less tenaciously to hair. Polyquaternium 10 may also be easier to remove than some of the others, there is even a “low residue” version of this polymer available, although it is doubtful that this distinction would be revealed in an ingredient list.

Concentration is important. The more polymer there is, the more the possibility for build up. If you are looking at a product with 20 ingredients and a Polyquaternium is ingredient #15 or #30, there isn’t much in there. But if it is ingredient number 3 or 4, there is more present. And even that is misleading because the actual percentage could be pretty low. So it’s best to judge by whether or not you get consistently good results from a product.©Science-y Hair Blog 201

How to Deal With Build-Up

There are 2 ingredients to look for in a shampoo to remove cationic build up most effectively:

Alkyl sulfates or alkyl sulfonates are anionic, but are better at removing cationic soils than other “sulfate” detergents (this has been demonstrated through controlled testing).

Look for C14-16 olefin sulfonate. These are deep-cleaning detergents, but can be diluted with water for a milder product. However - this is not an especially mild detergent, it's a good de-greaser. Formulation matters!!! When there is more detergent (higher concentration), the product will be more "stripping." When there are fewer mildness-increasers like humectants, or ingredients to make the product look pearly and translucent, the formula will feel less pleasant to use.

Also look for Sodium polystyrene sulfonate. This ingredient helps remove 25% more cationic soil than rinsing alone or shampooing (even with a “sulfate” shampoo). It is not a detergent.

Shampoos with the ingredients mentioned:

Chi Infra Moisture Therapy Shampoo

Pure & Basic Clarifying Citrus Shampoo (C 14-16 olefin sulfonate and Sodium polystyrene sulfonate)
Nexxus Phyto Organics Kelate Purifying Shampoo (Sodium polystyrene sulfonate)

Pureology Safeguard Your Color Purify Shampoo (Sodium polystyrene sulfonate)

Pureology Pure Volume Shampoo (Sodium polystyrene sulfonate)

Ouidad Superfruit Renewal Clarifying Shampoo (C 14-16 olefin sulfonate and Sodium polystyrene sulfonate)
Warren Tricomi Style Smoothing Shampoo (Sodium polystyrene sulfonate)

Kinky Curly Come Clean (C 14-16 olefin sulfonate)

Kenra Volumizing Shampoo (C 14-16 olefin sulfonate)

Trader Joe's Refresh (Body Wash), (C 14-16 olefin sulfonate)

Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo (C 14-16 olefin sulfonate)


J. Soc.Cosmetic Chem.,43, 259-273 (September/Octobber 1992)

J. Soc.Cosmetic Cthem.,40, 205-214 (July/Augus 1989)

Removal of Cationic Buildup From Keratin Surfaces By Sodium Polystyrene Sulfonate

Presented at PCIA Shanghai - March 2002

Monday, May 30, 2016

Detergents Which Remove: Silicones

If you're not already aware of it, and I assume you are if you're reading this, some people avoid silicone-based ingredients in hair care products for various reasons. Some people get a slick, fake-hair feeling in their hair, or a heavy, limp feeling. Silicone build-up's feel (if your hair gets any at all) depends on which silicone you've been using. If you don't use shampoo - you wash your hair with conditioner for example - your hair is more likely to accumulate silicones because you are not washing them off with detergent between applications. If you used them very rarely though - would it matter?

Don't avoid silicones if they don't cause problems for you. For real. Silicones are reversible. They wash out. You'd think they were permanent, based on some of the bad press they get. They can even be removed with non-detergent ingredients if you dare not let a single bubble near your hair (blog post about that is coming up soon).

"Silicones" refers to a group of synthetic emollients that are used in products for their lubrication (in wet and dry hair), shine, and increased flexibility. Silicone ingredients do not soak in to the hair because they're too large, so they stay there on the surface, doing their job, adding shine and lubrication.

Lubrication prevents friction and tangles and help hairs line up neatly with their neighbors - an effect that also increases sheen (shine).

You can find a list of silicones in this post. Dimethicone is a common silicone in conditioners, anti-frizz serums and shampoos, for example.

If you're usually a silicone-avoider but want to use them occasionally, or you just love them, but your hair needs to start with a clean slate occasionally, this post is for you. As emollients (synthetic oils), silicones need a detergent to remove them, should you want or need to do that.

Some detergents are better at "de-greasing" than others, so they'll do a much better job at removing silicones. Anionic detergents typically are the better de-greasers. Anionic detergents make lots of foam. The polar end of the detergent is negatively charged, that's where the name "anionic" comes from.

Look for these detergents in a shampoo to remove silicone accumulation. Keep in mind that if you have some build-up in your hair that you attribute to "silicones" - it may be more complicated than you realize. You may have hard water residue in your hair. Or conditioner build up as well, or residue from a styling product. Stay tuned for a post about what to use to remove those as well!

Anionic detergents common in shampoos: These detergents remove silicones alone or (for the milder ones) in combination with others.
  • Sodium laureth sulfate (milder of the sulfates - milder than "lauryl sulfate")
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Ammonium laureth sulfate (milder of the sulfates - milder than "lauryl sulfate")
  • Ammonium lauryl sulfate
  • Sodium coco sulfate
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • C14-16 Olefin sulfonate or Sodium C14-16 Olefin sulfonate
  • Sodium carboxylate (soap)
  • Sodium cocoyl isethionate (mild)
  • Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate (mild)
  • Disodium laureth sulfosuccinate (mild)
  • Sodium methyl cocoyl taurate (mild)
  • Sodium lauroyl glutamate (mild)
  • Sodium cocoyl glutamate (mild)
  • Sodium lauroyl Sarcosinate
  • Sodium lauryl glucose carboxylate
  • Sodium methyl cocoyl taurate (mild)

Amphoteric detergents common in shampoos: These likely help remove silicones, especially in combination with anionic surfactants but may work alone or with non-ionic detergents also. These detergents tend to make a formula milder.
  • Cocamidopropyl betaine
  • Coco betaine
  • Cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine
  • Lauryl hydroxysultaine
  • Sodium cocoamphoacetate
  • Sodium Lauroamphoacetate

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Vegetarian-Friendly Protein Treatments for Hair

The only vegetarian protein recipe treatment I have listed on this blog is for beer, which you can find here along with an explanation of why it works. I like that treatment because it gives you a very noticeable result with one treatment, whether you leave it in or rinse it out - no conditioners. The products in the list below may or may not meet your preferences for natural or organic or any particular ingredients or manufacturing practices you wish to avoid, but the protein sources are plant-based.

How to make a protein-containing product (of any kind) MORE strong/intense:
1) Leave it on for more time (5, 15, or 30 minutes - if your hair really loves protein, maybe 60 minutes). More time allows small, penetrating-size proteins to soak in, medium-size proteins more time to bond with hair.
2) Use heat. Heat causes wet hair to swell slightly - creating more surface for proteins to bond with and allows more "soaking in" of small proteins

How to make a protein-containing product (of any kind) LESS strong/intense:
1) Leave it on for less time
2) Don't use heat

How do I know how strong these are?
  • Protein treatment: Product with a higher concentration of protein, will be more "strong" in any method of application.
  • Protein-containing conditioner: A conditioner which has protein added in a lower concentration than a protein treatment. Includes protein-containing deep conditioners which aren't labeled "protein treatments," "protein packs," or "intensive strengthening."
  • If protein is in the first 5 or 6 ingredients listed, it's a strong treatment.
  • Refer to this post to find out whether the protein is large or small - combinations of several large proteins can be more problematic than combinations of small and medium proteins. I don't have molecular weight for all the vegetable proteins. Corn and soy tend to be medium, hydrating and conditioning. Oat, wheat, and quinoa proteins tend to be large and supportive (there are some smaller wheat proteins out there) - good in styling products. Amino acids are small and hydrating. "Vegetable protein" - anybody's guess!
Now that's all out of the way, the list:

  • Nutress Hair Moisturizing Protein Pack - Vegetable protein (quaternized to make it extra conditioning)
  • Nutress Stop Break (spray) - Wheat or vegetable protein (ingredient lists are difficult to come by)
  • Garnier Fructis Damage Eraser Conditioner - Corn, soy and wheat proteins
  • Garnier Fructis Damage Eraser Shampoo - Corn, soy and wheat proteins
  • Garnier Fructis Damage Eraser Reconstructing Strength Butter - Corn, soy and wheat proteins
  • Hydratherma Naturals Amino Plus Protein Deep Conditioning Treatment - Soy, silk amino acids, rice, corn + 8 individual amino acids
  • Hydratherma Naturals Moisture Boosting Deep Conditioning Treatment - Wheat protein
  • Giovanni Smooth as Silk Xtreme Protein Hair Infusion - Soy protein
  • Giovanni Smooth as Silk Deeper Moisture Conditioner - Soy protein
  • Hugo Naturals Volumizing Shampoo and Conditioner, Vanilla and Sweet Orange - Rice protein
  • Mane N Tail Deep Moisturizing Conditioner  - Wheat protein
  • Mill Creek Fantastic Silver Conditioner - Soy protein
  • Nature's Gate Conditioners: 
    • Awapuhi - Soy, Vegetable proteins
    • Lemongrass and Clary Sage Volumizing - Wheat protein
    • Pomegranate Sunflower Hair Defense - Soy, Vegetable proteins
    • Chamomile Repleneshing Conditioner - Soy, Vegetable proteins
  • Nature's Gate Shampoos: 
    • Awapuhi Volumizing Shampoo Soy protein
    • Biotin Strengthening Shampoo - Soy, Vegetable proteins 
    • Lemongrass and Clary Sage Volumizing Shampoo - Wheat protein
  • Ouidad Botanical Boost spray  - Corn, wheat proteins
  • Shea Moisture Noni & Monoi Smoothing and Repair Masque - Vegetable protein

Monday, March 21, 2016

Hard Water and Your Hair

Do you have hard water? The best way to find out if you have municipal water is to check your annual water report, where hardness is frequently reported. Your water treatment facility may also have water quality data online. If you cannot find hardness, give them a call and ask - but not just about hardness - ask about the pH of the water also! Why? Read on.
©Science-y Hair Blog 2016
If you use well water, find your location and hardness on this map from the United States Geological Survey (or your state or country may have its own maps) or consult a "water hardness map" for your country or region. 

Calcium and magnesium ions (an ion is a mineral with an electric charge) are the most common minerals in water. It is minerals that give water its hardness. Those minerals come from aquifers - porous stones through which water flows - or are picked up in streams and rivers.

I did some digging into a 2011 article published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science1 to find this information for you - I hope you'll be able to put it to good use.©Science-y Hair Blog 2016

Quick summary: Hard water minerals bond to hair in the same way that conditioner does. It also finds its way beneath the surface layers. The more damaged the hair (heat, highlighting, permanent color, relaxer, permanent wave, mechanical damage in very long hair), the more minerals will bond to it, but minerals bond to little-damaged hair too. Hard water minerals can create stiffness, inflexibility, brittleness and breakage, dullness and friction in hair. For low-porosity hair, hard water can exacerbate the low porosity behavior and make hair even more intolerant of conditioners and oils.

How does hard water interact with hair?
The short story is that hard water ions have a positive charge - they are cations. Elsewhere in this blog, I refer to conditioners that bond to the hair as "cationic" because they, too have a positive charge. Hair tends to have a negative charge along cuticle edges and in damaged areas. Because positive and negative charges attract - those mineral cations from hard water can bind to your hair!

Is it damaging? Possibly. Minerals that make your hair feel more stiff might reduce elasticity or at least flexibility and increase friction in your hair. Less-flexible hair is a cosmetic problem and makes hair products behave unpredictably. But friction in hair is something that can increase porosity as hairs rub against each other, breaking off cuticles and creating tangles.

Where do the mineral ions go?
They are found on the cuticles (the outside) but also in the cortex (beneath the cuticles) and in the medulla (the inner portion of hair).©Science-y Hair Blog 2016

What does "hard water build-up" feel like or look like?
That depends upon a lot of things. The pH of your water, the width of your individual hairs, the products you use in your hair, and whether or not your hair is chemically-treated (highlighted, dyed, relaxed, permanent waved). Hard water build up tends to make hair feel dry, rough, stiff or less soft (more rigid). It may cause hair to look dull and frizzy. Some hair may get a brassy or reddish discoloration or grayish. If there is a substantial amount of iron in your water, orange shades tend to appear, especially in lighter-colored hair. Some people's hair will not grow past a certain length (i.e. shoulder-length) when their water is very hard because hair may become brittle with hard water accumulation.

Limitations of this study:
This study was done with "Caucasian" hair (non-Asian, non-African) hair. We also don't know the width of the individual hairs - probably between 80 and 90 microns.©Science-y Hair Blog 2016

What was done:
The hair was divided into study groups of un-treated (virgin) hair, lightly damaged hair (bleached a little), and heavily damaged hair (bleached a lot). The bleaching was done by the researchers to control the amount of damage. It was subjected to 6 washes in clarifying shampoo with water of different hardness (soft, moderately hard, hard and very hard) and varying pH. After that, they extracted the minerals from the hair to find out how much of the minerals from the water the hair had "taken up" during those treatments.©Science-y Hair Blog 2016

Results for hardness:

  • More-damaged hair binds up the most minerals, having lost it's water-and-cation-repelling 18-methyleicosanoic acid (18-MEA) layer, revealing an ideal surface full of negative charges to bond with the positively charged mineral cations. 
  • Lightly damaged and virgin (chemically untreated) hair also takes up mineral cations from hard water, but somewhat less than more-damaged hair.
  • The harder the water, the more minerals bonded with all hair - more damaged hair still takes up more mineral cations.

So the more damaged your hair (lightened, and by extension - permanent waves, chemically relaxed), the more minerals it will pick up from hard water. But even low porosity, virgin hair will bond with hard water minerals.©Science-y Hair Blog 2016

Hardness in relation to pH and your hair:

The higher the pH of your water, the more minerals will bind to your hair from the hard water. In pH 7 water (neutral) both bleached and unbleached hair took up lesser amounts of mineral cations than in pH 8 and pH 9 water. 

As the pH of your water goes up, so does the amount of minerals that will bind to or find their way into your hair. Damaged hair still takes up more minerals - but pH makes a significant difference. My tap water is a whopping pH 9.5, so my moderately hard water probably deposits minerals on my hair like very hard water - especially the sun-damaged parts of my hair.

If you want to know your water's pH, call the municipal treatment facility. If you have well water or want to test on your own, pH test strips can be notoriously inaccurate for tap water, even though they perform well for other applications. Get good-quality test strips or a pH meter for more accurate testing.

Manage hard water build-up:
To remove mineral build-up from your hair, you need an ingredient which can pull minerals away from their bond with your hair - a chelating ingredient. For commercial products, a chelating shampoo is what you want to look for. Most will be labeled as "hard water shampoo" or hard water treatment, or as chelating shampoos. They will contain Disodium EDTA (Ethylamine Diamine Tetraacetic Acid) or Tetrasodium EDTA at 0.5% to 1% - you'll find it around where preservatives are listed, near the end of the ingredient list. Just because a product contains EDTA doesn't mean it is a chelating product - better to choose from products made for hard water or that say "chelating" or "removes minerals" which contains EDTA.
Note: I've listed "Sulfate-free" products. Sulfate free does not mean the product is non-drying, read reviews online and buy samples whenever possible if you are concerned about over-drying your hair.

Examples are: 

DIY: Citric acid is also a chelating ingredient, but in most shampoos or conditioners, it is used to adjust pH and may have no impact on minerals on your hair. You can make a rinse with citric acid powder or crystals: 1/16 teaspoon (0.3 ml) citric acid in 1 cup (230 ml) distilled water if you know your hair is okay with acidic treatments - or 1/16th to 1/8 (0.3 to 0.6 ml) teaspoon per 1 1/2 to 2 cups (350 to 475 ml) if you're not sure. Leave it on your clean, wet hair for a few minutes with some heat, then rinse well and condition. The pH of this is quite low, so it is best to try it on a small test-strand before applying to all your hair to make sure this works with your hair.

Lemon juice can be mixed with distilled water, lemon juice contains citric acid. Start with 1 part lemon juice and 4 parts water and use it with heat as for the citric acid rinse. You might try mixing lemon juice with conditioner if you're a conditioner-only sort of person.

Diagnose hard water build-up:
If you have only slightly hard water with a pH around 7 and low porosity hair or only mildly damaged hair, you may not have issues with hard water. Try doing an entire wash with distilled water. There are no minerals in distilled water and the pH is around 6. If you find your hair shows little difference, you may not have a problem with hard water. If you notice that your hair is softer or more flexible after a distilled water wash, you may have problems with hard water.

Detergents: In really hard water, most detergents won't create foam. I say most detergents - anionic detergents in particular. The anionic (negatively charged) end of the detergent interacts with the positively charged minerals to prevent formation of foam. It also means that the combination of detergent + minerals may form "scum" on your shower - and your hair. Soap (real soap - fats reacted with a strong base like lye) is the worst offender because of the fats in the soap. But it's worth trying other shampoos to see if they alter your hair's mineral "load."
The non-ionic detergents and cationic (or amphoteric/zwitterionic) detergents are less affected by hard water. So if your shampoo contained only non-ionic surfactants like Decyl glucoside (and/or Lauryl glucoside), at least the shampoo would not be contributing to the accumulation of minerals nor be rendered less effective by them. Amphoteric/zwitterionic detergents like Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Disodium Lauroamphodiacetate, Sodium Cocoamphoacetate (a.k.a. Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate) won't interact with minerals in water either.

How often to use chelating treatments and other miscellany: 
Use a chelating treatment again when the effects of the last one have worn off. Some of the products recommend weekly use, but that may or may not be practical or necessary depending on how often you wash your hair.

Some fine-haired or thin-haired people don't mind a little bit of hard water build-up - it adds some volume and "grip" to hair.

If you use soap - real soap, (some ingredient lists try to pass soap off as sodium carboxylate, which is what it is, but doesn't let the customer know that soap scum may occur). You will accumulate hard water build up more readily due to interaction between minerals and the fats in the soap.

I have no information about chelating ingredients in conditioners. My thoughts are mixed, though I think it may work and I hope I'll bear from blog readers about their experiences with EDTA in conditioners - chelating conditioners. Or mixing lemon juice with conditioner.

Most filters you can put on your shower will NOT soften water, even if they try to indicate that they do. You cannot soften water without a resin chamber which needs regular recharge with salt. The only shower-based water softener I know of is "Showersticks" brand.

1A.O. Evans, J.M. March, R.R. Wickett, 2011. The Uptake of Water Hardness Metals By Human Hair. Journal of Cosmetics Science 62, p. 383-391

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Hair Loss Posts

I'm "herding" together some posts about various common causes of excess hair shedding because it had been on my mind (and my scalp) lately.

Firstly, I updated the "Friction and Shedding" post, which could also be titled, "Are your hair products ripping out your hair?" Too graphic?

Secondly, The post about iron, vitamin D and hair loss - these are common deficiencies and common causes of hair loss.

Thirdly, bringing back the post about seasonal shedding. Not everybody notices this. And if you have the other two causes of shedding (above) this one might be more noticeable.

This is not to leave out the other causes of hair loss that are significant (illness, medication, severe stress, scalp disease). But other sources have more information than I do on those things.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Ferritin (Iron), Vitamin D and Hair Shedding

I provide my sources via in-text citations and in the references at the end. This information does not replace medical consultation or blood tests. Consultation with a doctor or nurse practitioner or pharmacist should be sought for diagnosing and treating nutrient deficiencies. If you have no health insurance or your insurance does not cover diagnostic testing (which includes testing for nutrient deficiencies), ask at your local clinic or pharmacy about on-demand testing or independent lab testing, but please plan supplements with the guidance of a qualified physician or pharmacist.


In pre-menopausal women, low serum (blood) ferritin is one of the more common causes of hair thinning or pattern hair loss. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

When you get a typical blood test - the iron test is often for hemoglobin. That is the form of iron in your blood that can carry oxygen to your tissues. If it is low, you are anemic. If you are anemic - your hair may be thinning. But recently, researchers have questioned how low is truly a"low" level for ferritin in relation to syndromes like thinning hair and female pattern hair loss and restless legs syndrome. Ferritin is a form of iron that is stored in your liver - like a "bank" of iron from which your body makes withdrawals when it needs iron. We use iron for a lot of processes in our bodies. If you think of your body like a machine made from lots of different materials - including metals - then naturally there's going to be some iron here and there and in a lot of places, playing a lot of roles. Carrying oxygen is only one of iron's roles in your body.

If your ferritin is low, you don't have the back-up supply or iron you need. You can shuttle oxygen around, but other functions suffer. Like hair growth.

How much ferritin is enough? The level that will be flagged as low on a blood test is around 10 ug/l  (that's micrograms per liter). But studies of hair loss or thinning indicate that ferritin levels need to be above 40-50 ug/l (Rasheed et al.) or up to 70 ug/l (Rushton, Song et al.) to prevent iron-related hair loss. For women, ferritin levels up to 300 ug/l are still within the normal range, so 70 ug/l doesn't appear to be an excessive target.

What does that mean for you? If you see a doctor for hair loss, ask to have your ferritin tested as well. If it is lower than 40-70 ug/l, discuss a reasonable strategy for getting your ferritin level up above 40-70 ug/l. Closer to 70 seems to be indicated at the cut-off point above which hair loss can't be called iron-related (people without hair loss have levels that high or higher, but more women with hair loss have low ferritin levels).©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

Iron supplements are the usual treatment, but they can be dangerous, even deadly, so a blood test is necessary and so is follow-up re-testing to see how the supplement is working. Iron supplements can also be difficult to take, with common side effects being nausea, stomach pain, and constipation. To avoid nausea, take the supplement with food. To avoid constipation, magnesium citrate supplements or stool softeners are common remedies. Taking iron with vitamin C can increase your absorption of iron up to 100%. 250 mg of vitamin C provides the greatest boost in iron absorption (Cook and Reddy).©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

Coffee, high-calcium foods (dairy products) and foods high in phytate (beans, whole grains) all interfere with iron absorption - avoid eating/drinking those at the same time as you take an iron supplement if possible.©Science-y Hair Blog 2015


Low vitamin D levels have also recently been associated with thinning hair and female pattern hair loss. Low vitamin D is becoming more common as people spend less time outdoors, and wear sunscreen and protective clothing. A study by Rasheed et al found a vitamin D level below 30 nmol/liter (nanomoles per liter) which is the same as 12 ng/l (nanograms per liter) was associated with thinning hair or female pattern hair loss. This level is also considered a serious deficiency in vitamin D.

Vitamin D levels need to be above 67 nmol/l (27 ng/ml) to no longer be associated with thinning hair. The National Institute of Health (NIH) indicates that a level of 50 nmol/l or greater (20 ng/ml) is adequate for most healthy adults, so that seems a reasonable target for women with hair thinning or hair loss.©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

Vitamin D comes from the sun, getting enough sunlight on your face and arms or legs or back a few times per week can be all it takes to get enough - it takes only a few minutes. In many quite Northern (or Southern in the Southern Hemisphere) latitudes, you really don't get vitamin D from the sun in winter, even if you are a fan of bikini ice fishing (I sincerely hope that's not a real thing). If you can correlate your latitude in line with any of these cities, you can calculate your UV exposure to get enough vitamin D: http://zardoz.nilu.no/~olaeng/fastrt/VitD-ez_quartMED.html

There are many food sources of vitamin D also, see this page for sources - this is from the Skin Cancer Foundation, who don't want us over-exposed to the sun: http://www.skincancer.org/healthy-lifestyle/vitamin-d/make-vitamin-d-not-uv-a-priority

Vitamin D can also can and should be checked by a blood test, especially if you plan to take supplements because vitamin D supplements can also be toxic in too-large doses over time.  For people taking supplements, talk with a pharmacist  about a safe amount to supplement (stop in when they're not too busy - they're very knowledgeable). It is possible to over-supplement with natural vitamin D sources like cod liver oil, so it's best to plan supplementation carefully if you use natural sources also.©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

People over the age of 50 cannot synthesize vitamin D from the sun as well as before age 50 and may need supplements to stay in the "normal" zone - which is important in maintaining muscle and bone health and preventing falls.

Bottom line:
To prevent iron-related hair thinning, have blood ferritin levels tested and maintain a level around 70 ug/l, assuming you are healthy. This is higher than the level that a laboratory will label as a deficiency which is 10 ug/l or below.  The clinical "low" it too low for hair-maintaining purposes.©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

If you donate blood regularly- get your ferritin checked! You lose a lot of iron with every blood donation. Women also lose large amounts of iron during childbirth.

To prevent vitamin D deficiency-related hair thinning, keep vitamin D levels well in the normal range for healthy adults, 20-50 ng/ml (~50-70 nmol/l), though the study cited indicates that hair loss is less likely toward the higher end of that range.


Decreased Serum Ferritin and Alopecia in Women. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 2003
D Hugh Rushton

Effect of ascorbic acid intake on nonheme-iron absorption from a complete diet. American Society for Clinical Nutrition 2001, 93-98
Cook JD, Reddy MB

Iron Plays a Certain Role in Patterned Hair Loss. Journal of Korean Medical Science 2013, 934-938
Song Youn Park, Se Young Na,Jun Hwan Kim, Soyun Cho, Jong Hee Lee

Serum ferritin and vitamin d in female hair loss: do they play a role? Skin Pharmacology and Physiology 2013, 101-107
Rasheed H, Hahgoub D, Hegazy R., El-Komy M, Abdel Hay R, Hamid MA, Hamdy E.