What Your Hair Says About Your Health

Five things your hair is trying to tell you.

Medically reviewed in April 2020

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If you’re having more bad hair days than good days, your locks may be trying to tell you something; the state of your hair can be an important indicator of your health. Read on to learn about five medical conditions that may be more than just a bad hair day.

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Dry Hair

If your hair is…dry and brittle

It could be…Cushing's syndrome

Dry hair might just mean it’s time to switch shampoos or lay off on the heat styling, but if you’ve been taking medicine for asthma, rheumatoid arthritis or autoimmune disease for a while, glucocorticosteroids could be the culprit.  Glucocorticosteroids are anti-inflammatory drugs that are sometimes used to treat these conditions and mimic the hormone cortisol. Too much cortisol in the body can lead to the development of a disorder called Cushing’s syndrome, which can cause weight gain, bone pain and muscle weakness. Symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome vary, but dry, brittle hair is one possible sign.

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Thinning Hair

If your hair is…thinning

It could be…hypothyroidism

Forget the late-night infomercials promising miracle cures. If your hair is thinning, your first call should be to your healthcare provider. Thinning hair is a symptom of an underactive thyroid. Women are more likely than men to develop hypothyroidism, and people over 60 are especially at risk. Weight gain, fatigue and feeling cold are other symptoms of hypothyroidism, so if you’ve noticed any of these symptoms along with thinning hair, get your thyroid checked out. 

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If your hair is…falling out

It could be…iron deficiency

It’s normal to lose hair. In fact, the average person loses between 50 and 100 hairs per day. But if you’re shedding excessively, ask your healthcare provider to check your iron. Iron is a key component in oxygen-rich blood, which your hair needs to grow. When you don’t have enough iron, your hair can stop growing and fall out. The best source of iron is meat; beef contains the highest levels of iron, but poultry, pork, fish and shellfish are good sources, too. Vegetarians can meet their daily iron requirements by eating beans or spinach. Remember to talk to your healthcare provider before starting iron supplements.

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If you’re constantly dusting little white flakes off your shoulders, you might have seborrheic dermatitis, a common cause of dandruff. Researchers aren’t sure what causes dandruff, but believe it to be a combination of issues with hormones, the immune system, the nervous system and nutrition. To get rid of dandruff, wash your hair with a dandruff-fighting shampoo twice a week if you’re white or Asian, and once a week if you’re African-American.

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Itchy Scalp

If your hair is…itchy

It could be…scalp psoriasis

You may not be able to see scalp psoriasis, but you can certainly feel it. If you’re scratching your head often and with little relief, you may have scalp psoriasis. Psoriasis usually looks like scaly, silvery patches. About half of all people with psoriasis have it on their scalps, too. Tar shampoos, shampoos with menthol, steroid cream and oral antihistamines can all provide relief from the itching.

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Hair Care Tips

Here are seven tips to keep your hair healthy:

1. Wash oily hair once a day and wash dry hair less often

2. Shampoo your scalp, but only condition your tips

3. Wear a bathing cap in the pool to avoid chlorine damage

4. Skip the blow dryer and curling iron, and don’t brush your hair when it’s wet

5. Wear hair loose; don’t pull it back into a tight ponytail, bun or cornrows

6. In the winter try to stretch the time between coloring sessions

7. Ease up on brushing—you don’t need 100 strokes a day

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