Hair Weathering as a Cause of Hair Loss

Hair weathering is a common hair problem, usually a minor cause of hair loss that is defined by severe damage in the hair. Like the skin, the term “weathering” may refer to the structural damage that affects the hair shaft but not the hair follicle (root). This damage may be local, focal or extensive. Structural breakdown may occur as part of the hair growth cycle.

This cycle involves periods of “growth and rest” where the hair continuously grows over a long period (about 2-7 years) then slows down to a period of transition before it comes to a full stop and sheds off the scalp. Over time, the structural proteins in the hair shaft become fragile and gradually break down.

Hair Weathering as a Cause of Hair Loss

In weathering, the cuticle or the outermost layer of the hair (appearing like fish-scales under the microscope) strips off usually from the middle of the fiber. Loss of the cuticle may significantly expose the cortex or the softer layers. As a result, the hair loses structure and elasticity, and becomes frizzier and hard to manage. Weathered hair is also usually less shiny, dry, rough and very brittle.

Causes of Hair Weathering

The breakdown of the hair shaft can be worsened by various environmental factors and cosmetic processes contributing to hair weathering. The deterioration occurs due to several causes, including:

Excessive Exposure to the Sun. When the hair is being exposed to ultraviolet rays, the hair become weak and brittle. It also causes the hair to become stiff and have decreased luster. The UVA and UVB rays damage the protein and lipids in the cuticle of the hair. It is therefore advised to wear a head covering of some sort when outdoors in the daytime for prolonged periods to avoid excessive ultraviolet exposure. There are also sunscreen products available for the hair especially for those who spend more time in the water than the usual.

Harsh Chemicals and Treatments. Any hair treatment involving heat products and strong chemicals may cause the weathering of the hair. The use of heated curlers, rollers and straightening irons can draw moisture out of the hair, thereby leaving it brittle. Long-term permanent hair treatments such as bleaching, dyeing, and using of improper hair products such as decreasing shampoos may also damage the hair shaft.

Water and Sunlight. Too much exposure to salt water and the sun may result in “surfer’s hair” that is characterized by bleached and frazzled hair. The loss of hair color, as a characteristic of “surfer’s hair,” is caused by the sun’s damage to the melanin granules. Also, it is important to note that water from swimming pools, due to its chemical content, can damage hair greatly.

Vigorous Brushing, Combing and Twisted Hair Styles. Hard combing and brushing of tangled hair may cause severe damage to the hair shaft. The friction of the comb or brush may cause the cuticle of the hair to tear and break down easily. Also, studies have shown that twisted hair styles such as braiding, corn-rowing, and dreadlocks aggravate hair damage.