Our hair does more than take up 80% of our selfies. While we may treat it cosmetically, both happily obsessing over it and heavily investing in it, let’s not forget that our hair is part of our biology. Aside from the word keratin being thrown around, do you honestly know what your hair is made of or how it grows? Neither did we, so we tapped Dr. Richard Firshein, D.O. of the Firshein Center for Integrative Medicine to find out what our mane is made of.
What’s in Your Hair?
“The follicles are made out of a strong protein called keratin,” explains Dr. Firshein. This is why there are countless keratin products and the famed keratin treatment, which externally saturate strands with the protein that it is created from.
“The follicle itself starts in the strand bulb, which contains unique cells that create hair,” notes Dr. Firshein. “The bulb is nourished by blood vessels that bring nutrients and hormones to enhance and support growth.”
How Does Our Mane Grow?
While we’ve heard the buzz around stem cells and hair growth, the relationship between the two wasn’t quite clear, so Dr. Firshein helped clarify. “At the base of each hair follicle are stem cells that activate during new hair cycles but remain quiescent under normal conditions. If there are too few stem cells or they don’t ‘wake up,’ hair loss will occur,“ he explains. So if you can wake up these stem cells or transplant them, you’ve basically outsmarted baldness.
Hair follicles and hair growth is heavily supported by the rest of the body, with multiple systems involved. For instance, notes Dr. Firshein, “hormones such as thyroid, estrogen, and testosterone and cortisol (released during stress) play a strong role in male and female hair loss. Nutrients or deficiencies exact a toll as well,” he continues. “While genetics is the most recognized cause of hair loss many other factors both nutritional, hormonal, and toxic play a role. Conversely, healthy hair often is a sign of proper hormone balance and nutrient supply. Your mane can act as an early warning system alerting us that something is wrong in the body.” Because it takes so much to support growth, if your mane is excessively shedding or not growing in normally, it may be an indication that something else is up. Be sure to consult your doctor if that’s the case.
How to Support Your Strands
Vitamins help your strands grow and stay strong, but which vitamins, and why? “There are many supplements that provide support to hair follicles,” says Dr. Firshein. “My favorites are collagen, silica, and biotin. These nutrients not only create stronger hair but may support the growth of new strands,” he says, breaking down how these nutrients improve hair in general. “Silica increases the tensile strength of the follicle, which makes it feel stronger. Biotin helps with thickness and shine while collagen supports the protein matrix,” he explains. Although certain vitamins have general benefits, what works for one person may not act in the same way for everyone; it really depends on what your body needs specifically. “Most importantly, before recommending any treatment, I test and review nutritional deficiencies in the blood along with genetic predispositions. Each person requires a unique set of treatments and ingredients,” he says.
A Holistic Approach to Hair
Dr. Firshein takes a holistic approach to hair growth issues, focusing on nutritional deficiencies, which he supplements through direct injections into the scalp, as well as oral supplementation. To treat hair loss, he looks at any hormonal imbalances or medications, which might be a contributing factor. “PRP or platelet-rich plasma is another mainstay,” he adds on this Kardashian-approved hair growth treatment. “PRP contains crucial growth factors that not only reverse the damage but also recruit stem cells which restart the growth phase that may have been altered through damage or injury,” he notes. Additionally, he provides the right set of supplements to balance out any remaining issues. “Lastly, I consider medications, which can restore hair but only after laying the proper foundation.”