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by Raychel Agramon, RN, MPM, September 23, 2020
Whenever you go outside, you expose your hair to the elements. Although your locks are made to withstand the sun and pollution, repeated exposure to such factors can harm your mane in the long run.
Why the Sun is Bad for Your Strands
Everybody needs a little dose of sunlight. This helps your body synthesize Vitamin D, a nutrient vital for immune, blood, and bone health.
But, as with other things, too much exposure can be bad for your general health. For one, spending long hours under the sun can increase your risk of developing skin discoloration, wrinkles, even cancer.
The same can be said with your hair. While your strands contain several dead cells, they are not immune to the harmful effects of the sun.
Those with fine, light-colored hair are more likely to yield signs of sun exposure. After all, these hairs are not dark or thick enough to defend themselves from UV exposure.
Although this is the case, African-Americans bear the same risk as well. This is largely due to the thin, flat, and coiled nature of their locks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the sun’s rays can damage your skin (and your hair too) in as short as 15 minutes.
UVA and UVB can affect the cuticle, the protective layer that shields the hair shaft from damage. Excessive sunlight also damages the keratin, a protein that makes your locks full and glossy. In the end, too much exposure can make your hair dry, brittle, broken, and frizzy.
Unfortunately, UV rays can cause hair discoloration as well. It affects the pigment (melanin) in the hair, triggering an irreversible reaction that affects hair color.
Apart from your innate hair quality, certain habits can make your hair more prone to sun damage. Doing any of these weakens the hair’s keratin, making your locks more vulnerable to the sun's effects:
While you can’t avoid the sun for good, there are things that you can do to minimize its damaging effects:
You need to protect your hair, just as you would your skin. If possible, avoid going out during the worst times for sun exposure, which is from 10 am to 4 pm.
Should you need to go out during the middle of the day, it pays to keep your hair protected. Wear a hat, making sure it’s made from tightly-woven fabric. Avoid straw hats or those with holes as they will just let the UV rays pass through.
Feel uncomfortable wearing a hat? You can use an umbrella instead.
While chlorinated water is bad for your skin, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t step foot on the pool again. When you do, make sure to rinse your hair after. This will help remove the salt and chlorine that make your locks vulnerable to sun damage.
Since there is no specialized sunscreen for the hair, you need to take care of it by using the right products. Choose a conditioner that suits the strands that you have – and the climate you are living in as well.
With that being said, make sure to avoid products made with harmful ingredients. These include ammonium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth/lauryl sulfate, parabens, polyethylene glycols, and alcohol, to name a few.
How Pollution Pesters Your Locks
Pollution is one of the skin’s worst enemies. After all, soot, traffic, and other harmful particulates can lead to age spots and wrinkles, among many other things. With the hair being an extension of your skin, it comes as no surprise that pollution affects it just as well.
Pollutants – be it solid, liquid, or gas – can settle on your scalp. Particles such as copper, iron, and/or aluminum can irritate and damage the area, making it itchy. This can manifest as dandruff or dermatitis.
The same particulates also end up affecting hair quality and texture. To make matters worse, these could affect the internal structure of the hair as well. As such, exposure to pollution can leave your locks dry and brittle, and subsequently, more prone to breakage.
Pollutants can also increase hair static and friction, which can make your mane frizzy and harder to style.
To make matters worse, pollution can end up triggering hair loss as well. After all, these particles (and many other pollutants) can strip the hair of 4 vital proteins, namely beta-catenin, cyclin D1, CDK2, and cyclin E. These substances are in charge of promoting hair growth and retention.
As hair loss is highly related to the level of exposure, it is postulated that those living in polluted areas are more likely to suffer from such effects. According to a study, bald individuals are known to have higher levels of cadmium, copper, and lead compared to the general population.
Unless you plan to move into a mountainous area with little pollution, your strands will always be exposed to harmful pollution. As such, you need to observe the following measures to help protect them from such particulates:
While using gels, mousses, and thickening creams help style your hair, they serve as eager magnets to pollutants. Unless you want to trap these harmful substances in your mane, you need to switch to natural and lightweight hair products.
Some items can help shield your hair from pollutants – while some can remove such substances. Choose a product that can neutralize the effects of free radicals, while being mindful of the 'harmful ingredients' list mentioned above.
As mentioned, pollution can make the hair dry. To prevent breakage, you need to moisturize your hair as often as possible.
You wouldn’t want to add insult to injury. As such, you need to treat your hair with utmost care. Comb your hair from the bottom up, as this will help prevent hair breakage. Likewise, minimize the use of dryers or flat irons as the heat can damage your strands even more.
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