Could pollution be wreaking havoc with your hair and scalp? Impacting their health in both the short and long-term, I found out how to reduce its damaging effects
Dry ends? Dullness? Itchy scalp? Increased exposure to air pollution could be a key contributor to all three of these common hair concerns.
Predominantly known for its damaging effects on our skin , the consequences of rising pollution levels could also be significantly impacting the short and long-term health of our hair and scalp. “Air pollution may have a two-fold effect on hair, externally and internally,” explains trichologist Iain Sallis . “Internally (in severe cases), your body may be inhaling some of the heavy metals found in severely polluted parts of the world (usually very industrialised cities), which can have a significant effect on general health and can have a significant effect on hair growth.” He highlights arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury as particularly harmful metallic elements to be wary of - even at low levels.
What can we do to reduce the effects?
While the current outlook might look pretty dismal, the good news is that there are steps that we can take to protect hair and reduce its impact. Both hair care and lifestyle modifications have their place.
1. Take cover
First step: look to minimise air pollution exposure when out and about. Taking quieter back streets and avoiding main roads can help if on foot. However, if this isn’t practical, always carry with you a hat or hairband. “If you really can’t help being in a really polluted area, keep your hair covered if you can, (or tie it back),” recommends Iain. “If you have to breath in a severely polluted environment (say, when cycling in central London for instance), wear a mask,” he adds. “This will help your health and therefore your hair.”
2. Wash your hair regularly
“Fortunately, these pollutants [highlighted above] sit on the outside of the cuticle and so can easily be washed off,” explains Iain, so in order to reduce the microbial content of the scalp and make it less itchy and prone to flaking, he recommends regular shampooing. What does ‘regular’ mean? It differs from person to person, but Iain suggests that the following as a useful guide for determining how long you should leave in between hair washes:
1) Shampoo your hair and condition it as usual;
2) Leave your hair for as many days it takes until your scalp becomes irritable;
3) Count the days between your last shampoo to when irritation or itching starts. This minus one day should be the absolute maximum that you leave your hair for. Any longer than that is down to personal preference.
What should you look for in your shampoos?
When it comes to buying a shampoo nowadays, the sheer volume of choice out there can make finding the right one impossible. Iain’s advice from a trichologist-perspective? A basic, budget-friendly shampoo is good enough to act as a first port of call. “I would avoid the very cheap stuff (less than £1 per bottle) and avoid the expensive stuff (over £20). This is likely to be a decent shampoo, but you will also be paying for the brand.”
Do you need to go SLS-free? Not necessarily, explains Iain. “Although I think the whole SLS thing has been wildly exaggerated, there are better detergents for your hair,” he says. “However, just because it has a ‘sulphate’ in it, does not make it a bad shampoo.” If you do want to go SLS-free, Klorane is one of my favourite brands in this regard. Its Shampoo with Flax Fibre for Fine Hair , £8, is a particularly gentle yet hard-working pick when it comes to cleansing and creating extra volume.
“For those who need a little more, use a shampoo designed for the swimming pool,” Iain recommends. “The same active ingredient which removes the copper and chlorine salts from your hair, will also bind to the pollutants on the hair to help remove them.” Clarifying shampoos can come in especially handy in this regard with Paul Mitchell’s Shampoo Three , £11.95, proving particularly effective when in need of a deeper clean.
Kerastase also has a great array of build-up reducing picks, with its Specifique Bain Divalent Shampoo , £18.60, leading the way and its Bain Apres-Soleil , £18.60, hot on its heels during the summer months.