13 Things Your Hair Is Trying to Tell You About Your Health

Sometimes a bad hair day is more than just a harmless inconvenience.

It almost sounds too shallow to admit, but if you're like most people, you're hair often has a direct influence on your self-image and how you think others perceive you. That's why the many issues hair can have—from split ends to hair loss—can be such regular sources of frustration in your life. But it's not only surface level messages your hair sends. More importantly, the condition of your hair, as well as the changes it goes through, are actually important indicators of your health—including signs of potential medical conditions you have and may not know about.

"Hair is an excellent barometer for general health because it is viewed by the body as a non-essential and dispensable tissue—it is not essential to survival," says trichologist Anabel Kingsley of Philip Kingsley Hair Care, which is based in London and New York City. "Your hair is therefore often the first part of you to suffer when something is not quite right health-wise." With that, here are 13 things your hair is trying to tell you about your health. And for more clues your body wants you to pick up on, check out What Your Tongue Could Tell You About Your Heart Health.

Split ends: You're dehydrated.

Woman with split ends

"Water makes up almost 25 percent of the weight of a single strand of hair," Jacynda Smith, a hairstylist and the founder of beauty company Tyme, told Bustle. With that in mind, Supercuts stylist and hair health expert Caitlyn Perkins says, "Think of your hair like a plant. If you give it all the right things, it will grow beautifully!"

If you find that the ends of your hair could use a little extra hydration, start from the the inside and work on getting the recommended eight eight-ounce cups of water each day.

Itchy scalp: You have a zinc deficiency.

Woman Giving Herself a Scalp Massage {Pressure Points}

"Hair needs a mixture of vitamins, minerals, and trace elements to grow. Zinc is one of these essential trace elements," according to the experts at Philip Kingsley. That's because "zinc helps our bodies to process carbohydrates, fats, and proteins–the building blocks of hair."

As a result, having low levels of zinc could cause an otherwise healthy scalp to become persistently itchy, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Investigative Dermatology. And for more on the important nutrient, check out The One Supplement That Could Save You From the Coronavirus.

Premature grays: You have a vitamin B12 deficiency.

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"Low vitamin B12 levels are notorious for causing loss of hair pigment," board-certified dermatologist Karthik Krishnamurthy, DO, told Good Housekeeping. To prevent your strands from sliding down the grayscale, eat more food that's high in vitamin B12—like tuna and salmon—or pop in a vitamin supplement.

Just a few grays: You are stressed out.

Woman going gray

According to a 2013 study published in the journal Nature Medicine, the hormones produced in response to stress can deplete melanocyte stem cells, which are the cells that determine hair color. That results in your hair turning gray or white. In other words, that age-old adage that someone who stresses you out can give you gray hair may actually be true. And for ways to calm down and fight stave off those grays, check out The 50 Easiest Ways to Beat Stress in 2020.

Dandruff: You're eating an unbalanced diet.

Young man in the bathroom looking in the mirror and fixing his hair with dandruff

Dandruff occurs when the microflora of your scalp becomes imbalanced, which can happen from eating certain foods. If you're noticing more dandruff lately, "reduce bad fats in your diet, particularly chocolate and dairy," certified trichologist Kevin Mancuso told Everyday Health. These foods can cause more oil production, exacerbating dandruff.

Yellow dandruff: You have seborrheic dermatitis.

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Though it mostly occurs in infants, seborrheic dermatitis—crusty, oily patches of yellow-white scales on the scalp—can afflict adults, too. "Like dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis is caused by a microbe that lives on our scalp," note the experts at Head and Shoulders. "It's called Malassezia globosa. About half the population is sensitive to a substance the microbe makes called oleic acid. Typically, this leads to dandruff—but among people who are very sensitive to oleic acid, it can trigger seborrheic dermatitis." The National Eczema Association also cites stress, hormonal changes, and harsh detergents as common triggers for sebhorreic dermatitis.

The good news? "This condition is very treatable," says Marguerite Germain, MD, of Germain Dermatology in Charleston, South Carolina. Medicated shampoos, creams, or lotions can loosen the scales and alleviate that pesky itch.

Fine, dry hair: You are experiencing hormonal changes.

woman getting hair trim, relationship white lies

"Hormonal imbalances can definitely be a contributing factor to a patient's hair health," says Robin Levin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New Jersey.

For example, a change in birth control may trigger a new level of hormones your body isn't quite used to—which can lead to changes in your hair texture as well. "We can tell when someone is on a new type of birth control because it can make their hair finer, drier, and less shiny," celebrity colorist Rita Hazan, owner of the Rita Hazan Salon in Manhattan, told Oprah.com.

Hair loss: You have an iron deficiency.

Man combing his hair in the mirror

Ferritin is a blood cell protein that contains iron, according to the Mayo Clinic. And optimal levels are needed to maximize your hair's "anagen," or "growing," phase, the experts at Philip Kinglsey note. When your body doesn't have enough of the stuff, you can become iron deficient anemic, which causes tiredness, weakness, and hair loss. So, if you're seeing more hair on your brush than usual, slate more iron-rich foods—like spinach and grass-fed beef—into your diet. And to separate fact from fiction when it comes to losing your hair, check out The 10 Biggest Myths About Hair Loss You Need to Stop Believing.

Or a thyroid condition.

Hair loss

The moment you start to notice thinning hair, along with brittleness, head to your doctor for a blood test to check out your thyroid levels. Hormones produced by the thyroid are essential for the development and maintenance of hair follicles. So if your locks are looking less luscious, that could be the result of any number of endocrine disorders, such as hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, or parathyroid disorder, according to a 2013 study in the International Journal of Trichology.

Or you're experiencing side effects of medication you are taking.

female hair loss hairbrush

As Lynne Goldberg, director of the Hair Clinic at Boston Medical Center, told The Boston Globe, there are several medications that may contribute to temporary hair loss as well, including antidepressants, anticoagulants (blood thinners), and certain steroids.

Though much of the reasoning is still unknown, these medications may interfere with the normal cycle of scalp hair growth, causing the follicles to go into their "telogen," or "resting," phase and fall out too early. The good news is that this particular form of hair loss is largely reversible. If you think one of your medications may be contributing to irregular hair loss, talk to your doctor. And for more helpful information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Pattern baldness: You're at risk of having hypertension.

Man looking at hair loss

Baldness is more than just an unfortunate part of the aging process. According to a 2007 study published in the European Journal of Dermatology, researchers found that hypertension was "strongly associated" with baldness. And though the exact reasoning behind the correlation is still unknown, the findings suggest that hair loss may indicate a higher risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. If such health issues run in your family, now you have even more of a reason to get checked out.

Bald patches: You have alopecia.

Man with alopecia

"Some hair loss is hereditary, like male or female pattern hair loss, but some hair loss can indicate a more complicated health problem," says Hannah Kopelman, DO, a dermatology fellow at Boston University Medical Center.

One common example is the autoimmune disease alopecia areata, a type of alopecia that causes hair to fall out in round patches. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, those with this condition have an "immune system [that] attacks the hair follicles, causing hair loss." If you're experiencing such symptoms, you may be able to stimulate hair regrowth with steroid injections or over-the-counter products like Hims.

Dull or weak hair: You've been exposed to too much sun or too many chemicals 

Studio shot of a handsome young man cutting his hair against a grey background

While most people are aware of the harmful effects of UV rays on the skin, many overlook the fact that the same goes for their hair. According to the Cleveland Clinic, if your hair has prolonged exposure to the sun, UVA and UVB rays can damage the cuticle, the outside cover of the hair strand. The result is lackluster, brittle, and dry hair.

"If you are someone with dry, brittle hair, you might have overexposed it to chlorine or sun," says Kopelman. The combination of chlorine and sun is especially potent: Chlorine opens up the cuticle, and UV rays can infiltrate more easily. Thankfully, protecting yourself isn't a tall order. Wear a hat in the sun and if you take a dip, rinse your hair out with fresh water after.

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