Is there a link between pollution and various hair-related problems such as thinning, hair loss and baldness?
More recent research suggests that there is. In other words, apologising in advance for the pun, yes, bad air days may contribute to bad hair!
It has long been known, going back to the Romans and the Greeks, that the air in heavily urbanised areas isn’t always healthy. That’s why our ancestors in say the 18th and 19th centuries, would leave the pollution of big cities to “take country air” for their health.
The reasons for that have also been well-known, even if not fully understood scientifically, for centuries. In times past, in city centres, even the products of a sneeze would show just some of the nastiness that was getting in the respiratory systems of people living and working there.
If you know the air is somehow ‘dirty’ and bad for you, it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to start wondering if those unhealthy effects might also be hitting your hair.
What’s causing the problems?
The air is full of particulates. They are the often-invisible things that are all around us at all times – including in the countryside. You can sometimes see them (or some of them) if you look sideways at a ray of light coming through a window.
Inevitably, some settles on our bodies and some may be inhaled or ingested.
In largely ‘natural’ and non-industrial environments, most of these may be harmless as nature has generally equipped the human body to cope with them. Of course, some pollens might trigger allergic reactions though, for most, these are relatively minor rather than health-threatening.
However, human development has changed the rules of the game as far as nature is concerned.
In the context of industry and large-scale urban occupation, the air around is now full of sometimes high concentrations of man-made particulates. They’re often the product of things such as fossil fuel burning, manufacturing processes and building works etc.
Even in the countryside, the development of intensive and industrialised farming may fill the air with higher concentrations of dust, fertilisers and other chemicals.
We now know our bodies struggle to cope with some of these particulates and certainly if they’re concentrated. They are known to be linked to a wide range of serious illnesses.
Why aren’t we always ill?
Some people may have more adaptive and resilient biologies than others, though nobody can cope with polluted air indefinitely without putting their health at risk.
In addition, the quality of air in a given location can be highly variable based on many factors, including the weather, weekdays or weekends, rush hours and so on. That’s why many urban areas around the world now broadcast bad air quality warnings on the worst days.
How does this affect hair?
For a long time, people used common sense and deduced that if poor air quality could negatively affect so much of our health then it must have a potentially similar effect on our hair. However, common sense isn’t the same thing as scientific proof.
Fortunately, in 2019 a Korean study led by Hyuk Chul Kwon showed that the inhalation of polluting particles, such as diesel, lowers the levels of proteins such as beta-catenin, cyclin D1, cyclin E, and CDK2. These are all known to be directly linked to the healthy growth and retention of hair.
What this means
Although a lot more scientific work is required, it’s clear that it would make sense to protect your hair from some of these effects.
Generally, on bad air days:
- think about wearing a scarf, hat or cap;
- if you’re walking, running or cycling nearby busy roads, use a filtering mask;
- use a barrier preparation on your hair.
If you’d like more advice on products that can help with protecting your hair from direct exposure to particulates, you should contact a hair care specialist.
Remember though that no preparation can protect you from particulates you might inhale or ingest – so the only real protection there is to avoid polluted air where possible.