Hair Conditions

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Hair is a sign of beauty, but also serves as an indicator of overall health. Yet millions of people suffer from a variety of hair conditions each year. This section looks at three of the most common hair conditions: dandruff, head lice, and hair loss.

Dandruff is a common condition marked by flaking of the skin on your scalp. Although dandruff isn't contagious and is rarely serious, it can be both unpleasant and embarrassing. The good news is that dandruff can almost always be controlled. Read the Dandruff page to find out how.

Head lice are tiny parasitic insects that live in human hair, and generally affect preschool and elementary school-aged children. In most cases, itching behind the ears or along the back of the neck is the main symptom of head lice.  For effective elimination of head lice, the infested individual, family members, and the home must all be treated.

Hair loss is a very common condition that may be experienced by men, women and children. It can affect just your scalp or your entire body. Baldness, however, typically refers to excessive hair loss from your scalp. The following pages contain more information about the causes and treatments of hair loss and baldness.

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Dandruff is a common condition marked by flaking of the skin on your scalp. It can also make the scalp feel itchy. According to the National Health Service , the most common cause of dandruff is simply dry skin. Although dandruff isn't contagious and is rarely serious, it can be both unpleasant and embarrassing.

The good news is that dandruff can almost always be controlled. Mild cases of dandruff may need nothing more than daily shampooing with a gentle cleanser. More stubborn cases of dandruff often respond to medicated shampoos.

Treating dandruff

If your symptoms of dandruff are mild then you can take steps to relieve them using self care techniques, such as:

  • Wash your hair daily with a mild shampoo until the dandruff clears – shampoos containing tea tree oil are particularly effective
  • Avoid using styling products such as hairspray and gel
  • Spend a short amount of time in the sun every day
  • Learn to manage stress, which may trigger dandruff or worsen existing symptoms
  • Eat a healthy diet that provides enough zinc, B vitamins and certain types of fats

If your dandruff is severe you will probably require treatment with an anti-dandruff shampoo. These are available over the counter from most supermarkets and pharmacies. Anti-dandruff shampoos aren't all alike, and you may need to experiment until you find one that works for you.

Try using the anti-dandruff shampoo daily or every other day until your dandruff is controlled; then cut back to two or three times a week, as needed. Gently massage the shampoo into your hair and then leave for at least five minutes to allow the ingredients time to take effect. If one type of shampoo works for a time and then seems to lose its effectiveness, try alternating between two types of dandruff shampoos.

If you've shampooed faithfully for several weeks and aren’t experiencing an improvement in symptoms, talk to your doctor or dermatologist. You may need a prescription-strength shampoo or treatment with a steroid lotion.

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Head lice are tiny parasitic insects that live in human hair. They live close to the scalp and feed on blood several times a day. Head lice are grey-brown in colour, the size of a pinhead when hatched and of a sesame seed when fully grown.

Head lice affect millions of people each year, particularly preschool and elementary school-aged children. A head lice infestation isn't a sign of poor personal hygiene or an unclean living environment. Head-to-head contact with an already infested person is the most common way to get head lice.

In most cases, itching behind the ears or along the back of the neck is the main symptom of head lice. It is not caused by the lice biting the scalp but by an allergic reaction to the saliva that lice inject during feeding. However, not everyone experiences itching.

Treating head lice

For effective elimination of head lice, the infested individual, family members, and the home must all be treated. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications are available for treatment.

Ensure you have enough lotion to treat everyone in your family who is affected. Follow the instructions on the bottle and use enough to coat the scalp and the length of the hair during each application. Depending on the product you are using, the length of time it will need to be left on the head may vary, from 10 minutes to 8 hours. Some medicated products also supply a specially designed comb to brush through and remove dead lice and eggs after treatment.

Usually, this treatment should be repeated again after seven days to eliminate all lice over the hatching period, as the lotions do not always kill eggs. If the lice appear unaffected by the product (some lice may develop resistance to particular insecticides), or if the problem persists, seek advice from your doctor or pharmacist.

To help avoid re–infestation by lice that have recently fallen off the hair or crawled onto clothing or furniture, it is also important to take steps at home. Machine wash and dry all clothing, bed linens, and other items that the infested person wore or used during the two days before treatment using the hot water (130°F) laundry cycle and the high heat drying cycle. Clothing and items that are not washable can be dry–cleaned.

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Hair loss, also called alopecia, is a very common condition that may be experienced by men, women and children. It can affect just your scalp or your entire body. Baldness typically refers to excessive hair loss from your scalp.

Hair loss and baldness can be the result of predetermined genetic factors, family history, and the overall aging process. Other times, severe stress, illness, nutritional changes, and hormonal changes like those in pregnancy, puberty, and menopause may cause reversible hair loss.

While some people are comfortable with their hair loss and leave it untreated and unhidden, others may cover it up with hairstyles, cosmetic enhancers such as coloured sprays, or hairpieces. There are also treatment options, such as medications or surgical procedures, that are available to both men and women. Before pursuing any treatment option, talk with your doctor about the cause of and best possible treatments for your particular type of hair loss.

Treating baldness and hair loss

Hair loss remedies include:

  • Medication: These are:
    • Minoxidil (Rogaine): Minoxidil is an over-the-counter liquid or foam that you rub into your scalp twice a day. Minoxidil seems to enlarge hair follicles to stimulate hair growth or prevent further loss. Results, however, may take three to four months to show. The only real side effect of minoxidil is scalp irritation such as itchiness, flaking, and redness.
    • Finasteride (Propecia): This prescription medication comes in pill form and is taken daily to treat male-pattern baldness. Most men who take finasteride experience a slowing of hair loss, and some may show some new hair growth. Rare side effects of finasteride include diminished sex drive and sexual function.
  • Surgery: Men tend to be better candidates for surgical hair-replacement techniques because their hair loss is often limited to one or two areas of the scalp. However, surgical procedures are expensive and can be painful. Possible risks include infection and scarring. Surgical options include:
    • Hair transplants: This type of procedure removes tiny plugs of skin, each containing a few hairs, from the back or sides of your scalp. The plugs are then transplanted into the balding areas of your scalp.
    • Scalp reduction: Scalp reduction surgically removes bald skin from the scalp so hair-covered scalp can be stretched to cover the bald areas.
  • Wigs and hairpieces: Wigs and hairpieces are a non-surgical means to restore hair by covering bald areas of the scalp. They can be used to cover either permanent or temporary hair loss. 
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