Are your hair products making you go bald?
Published 29/04/2016 | 09:49
Hairstyles have been an important part of men's lives for decades.
From the smooth sheen of 1920s-launched Brylcreem to the tightly-curled and reagent-soaked perms of the 1980s, men have shaped, styled and sculpted their hair for generations. But that doesn't stop us worrying about it.
In a stunning display of putting style above safety, 22 per cent of men recently admitted that despite regularly using gels, sprays and waxes to mould their manes, they are worried that the products are causing them to go bald.
The research, conducted by consumer analysts Mintel, also revealed that 1 in 3 men now wear some sort of hair styling product in their hair every day – with the male market currently worth upwards of €109 million.
It's enough to make you ask: are our 'dos worth the danger? Could we truly be jeopardising the longevity of our locks? Or is the situation nowhere near as hairy as we think?
"The claim that hair products on the market can damage a man’s ability to grow hair is a myth," says Iain Sallis, a hair loss expert with 10 clinics throughout Britain. "Perpetuated for decades, the ‘blocking of hair follicles' by products has absolutely no scientific evidence behind it. Hair thinning is genetic, and products cannot speed this process up in men or women.
"That said, if a man has a sensitive scalp – flaking or itchy – I would suggest that he stay away from gels and hairsprays, as these contain high amounts of alcohol which can cause the scalp to dry out and exacerbate such conditions. That, in turn, can have an effect on hair loss."
So products can damage hair, but not your ability to grow hair?
"Hair is a dead material, so you can only damage it like you can damage an item of clothing," asserts Sallis. "If you over-bleach or over-perm hair it will damage the fibres, but if you simply leave conditioner, gel, or another everyday product on it, the hair would not be damaged detrimentally.
"I use a matte wax almost every day. These products simply coat your hair – and are then washed off on an evening, leaving your hair perfectly fine! The only patients I’ve ever come across who have ruined their hair with products are those who overuse bleaches and perm lotions – never everyday products."
Colin Sanders, a cosmetics tester and consultant with over 30 years' experience in the topical pharmaceutical industry, has come across many 'everyday' products during his career. But, even if the majority of haircare products are safe to use, is it possible that a harmful gel or wax could slip through the nets of the testers?
"It is very unlikely indeed," says Sanders. "There are only a handful of chemicals that are used in cosmetics that are even likely to penetrate the skin in the first place. Affecting hair growth positively or negatively is a tough challenge and even hard line pharmaceuticals like Minoxidil (an anti-hair loss drug) don't have dramatic effects.
"Since the early nineties, all cosmetic products have had to pass a written assessment by a suitably-qualified person - so it would be quite unlikely for something harmful to slip through.
"The only way a product available on the market could damage your hair is if you used a dye to continually recolour your hair. This may make you more likely to develop an allergic reaction to the chemicals used in them and damage your scalp.
"But, even then," Sanders stresses, "the risk would still be pretty low. I'm a chemist and I don't find chemicals particularly scary in general. Hair products represent a pretty low level of exposure to chemicals compared to other things that we eat and breathe."
Hair loss, then, appears to be determined by other factors - and whilst gels, waxes and hairsprays may not be helping the issue, they certainly aren't causing it. So what should men be concerned about if they want to hold onto a full head of hair?
"The male balding process is determined by factors such as genes, hormones, poor health and poor diets," explains Vanessa Bailey, consultant trichologist at The Hair Clinic in Westminster.
"However, there is a chance that dermatitis could develop if irritants are routinely massaged into the scalp - and this can be detrimental to hair growth. That is why it is always advised to just apply these products to the hair rather than the scalp.
"Gels and hairsprays are the worst offenders," Bailey continues, "but there is still no need to completely steer away from these products - simply look for lower-alcohol products and adhere to regular hair shampooing."
To completely avoid the very slim chance of balding, how often should a man wash the product out of his hair?
"Ideally, hair products should be washed out after twenty four hours," advises Bailey, "so shampooing daily is recommended. If these products are left in longer than that a build-up on the scalp is likely – which may cause an itchy, inflamed and scaly scalp.
"I once came across a patient who did ruin their hair with excessive use of hair gel. The product was applied in excess to the hair every day without the hair being shampooed for a period of three weeks. Even once the hair was shampooed and conditioned, the lengths of his hair were irreversibly damaged, split and had to be cut off.
"However, this was only cosmetic damage, of course – and didn’t mean he became more susceptible to baldness. Once the damaged ends were removed, a healthy head of hair remained."