Hair & Nail Health

BY Stephanie Miller

Mom knew best about hair when she told you to finish the food on your plate. A diet in which protein provides at least 10-15 percent of the calories and which includes a variety of fruits and vegetables is going to meet the need for healthy hair growth says nutritionist Heidi Kaufman. Oil in the form of Omega 3 and unsaturated fats will prevent the hair from getting dry and brittle. As with nails Biotin is a wonderful resource for hormonal-related hair loss says Dr. Rosalyn George of Wilmington Dermatology Center.

“When we see people losing their hair and its not related to hormones ” says nutritionist Heidi Kaufman “its generally because theyve decreased their calories so significantly that most of their protein is being used as energy or they have put themselves on a low protein diet.” Kaufman finds this sometimes with vegans who get enough calories but dont eat enough protein. Hair loss can also happen to people who lose a lot of weight very rapidly. People who choose gastric by-pass surgery are candidates for hair loss down the road usually in three to six months.

No matter how healthy a diet may be however hormones and heredity do play a large part in hair growth or hair loss.

“People are extraordinarily disturbed by hair loss ” says Dr. George. In most cases theres not much anyone can do about hair loss or going gray. When women reach menopause hair loss is more common and up to one-third of men have hereditary baldness. If used properly products like Rogaine are effective with hormonal hair loss says Dr. George. “But its like brushing your teeth; you have to do it every day.” For men the FDA has approved Propecia a pill developed to treat mild to moderate male pattern hair loss.

Hair shedding is a normal occurrence the average person loses about 100 hairs a day. Excessive hair shedding can be hereditary or it can be caused by cancer treatments medication changes diseases like thyroid disease stress ringworm or even hairstyles that pull on the scalp says Dr. Kimberly Edwards of Dermatology Associates. Hair that falls out in round patches is abnormal and needs to be looked at by a dermatologist along with any other unusual patterns. “Most people know what normal hair loss is and are good about seeking out help if it is not normal ” says Dr. George who makes it clear that hair loss has nothing to do with the number of times people wash their hair.

The opposite problem excessive hair hirsutism affects up to 15 percent of women in the United States. “It is a condition where hair grows in places where men would typically grow hair such as the face and chest ” says Dr. Edwards. Hirsutism can be triggered by hormones and may be linked with other symptoms such as irregular menstrual cycles deepening of the voice and other physical symptoms.

Hair color may also tell a story about overall health. For those whove heard horror stories about people going white overnight it cant happen. It is accepted science that hair turns gray because of a gradual decline in the production of melanin at the root. There is no biological event that can remove pigment directly from the hair shaft. Illness or stress may send hair into a resting phase then months later those strands may fall out leaving the white strands in place giving the impression that the hair has suddenly turned gray. In normal cases about half of all Caucasians will be gray by age 50 due to the decrease in melanin. When new hair grows it may come in with less or no pigment because of this decrease.

Hair loss or changes in hair color are two of the most common complaints. Another dandruff may be attributed to dryness though it can also occur because of a medical problem usually dermatitis psoriasis or eczema. Common treatments are tar shampoos Selsun Blue or Head and Shoulders says Dr. George.

Then there are the hair problems caused by our own hands chemical processing and pulling of the hair into tight braids or ponytails. Chemical processing especially some of the processing African Americans use on their hair may cause damage to the hair says Dr. George. She recommends people stop the processing coloring perming to heal the hair. Deep conditioning of the hair which some salons provide can help restore hair to a healthy condition.

Paradigm Salon uses Caviar Hair Masque one in a line of anti-aging products that uses caviar extract a source of Omega 3 fatty acids Vitamin C an anti-oxidant and cytokines to improve the quality of the hair. “Sometimes when we apply this to the roots of the hair it clears up the skin near the hair line ” says Paradigm owner Lori North.

Our hair and skin are the first things people notice about us. It takes some time and attention to keep them at their most vibrant and healthy. Change is bound to occur but we can look good at any age just by eating right and making healthy choices which may include a trip to the dermatologist podiatrist or nutritionist with any concerns. After that the salons can take it from there.

Tough as nails

It turns out your mother was right about nails too. Biting your fingernails is a bad thing and not just because its a bad habit.

Moms may know best but doctors know the health benefits of good nail care. For instance biting your nails can damage the skin around the nails and allow infection to enter says Dr. Edwards.

As for those trips to the manicurist Dr. Edwards recommends you ask the manicurist not to cut or push back your cuticles as this may encourage infection. Take your own instruments to the salon she adds. If youre a do-it-yourselfer trim your nails straight across and rounded slightly in the center. If an infection sets in redness swelling pain or if there are signs of an allergic reaction itching burning redness blisters a trip to the dermatologist is in order.

Fungal infections are the most common malady Dr. Rosalyn George sees in her Wrightsville Beach office though she also sees patients with nail discoloration thickening ridging lifting of the nail plate and other infections.

Dr. George typically treats fungal infections with Lamosil for about three months or with topicals like Formula 3 cream an antifungal cream. Patience is the key with fingernails which typically take six months to grow out (toenails take 12-18 months). Nails on the dominant hand grow quicker than the non-dominant hand and nails grow faster in the summer than in the winter.

Laser technology has recently entered the marketplace as an option for curing fungal infections. The procedure more expensive than other methods usually requires just one treatment to solve the problem although there is still the issue of the time required for the nail to grow out.

“Not all nail discoloration is caused by fungal disease ” says podiatrist Dr. Christopher Young. Sometimes trauma or friction can cause the nail especially the big toenail to change color. The doctors office can culture clippings of the nail to determine the health of the nail. And to keep your toenails healthy? “Throw out those old yard shoes to keep nail fungal infections at a minimum ” says Dr. Young.

Nail salons do their best to keep their facilities pristine. Salons like Ki Spa & Salon use copper basins which are easy to sanitize and keep clean says nail technician Heather Smith. Their nail polish is paraben free low odor and is used only on natural nails all that the salon handles.

Dr. George does see fungal infections with the use of fake nails on occasion. There can be damage to the nail bed and the nails are thinner when the nail is removed. “Its not doing anything harmful so if people do it for cosmetic reasons thats fine ” she says but the original nail does suffer.

A healthy diet can improve nail health. B vitamins are essential says nutritionist Heidi Kaufman. If the patient doesnt get enough B through food or is unable to absorb the B Kaufman recommends the supplement Biotin available at health food stores and some grocery stores. Kaufman suggests between 300 and 1000 micrograms daily (if necessary) and notes that the raw egg whites some people drink to build muscle will interfere with the absorption of Biotin.

Kaufman encourages a diet with a good amount of calcium to keep nails strong. Calcium is found in leafy greens (like broccoli) dairy products and canned fish with bones. Nails also need protein magnesium and zinc to maintain their strength.

Finally your nails can be a window into more serious illnesses in your body. One of the most dangerous of these diseases melanoma may show up as a dark or black streak in the nailplate. Dermatologists recommend a trip to the office if a patient sees something of concern.