The effects of environmental factors such as pollution, humidity, and UV radiation on scalp health, and ways to protect your scalp from these factors
In present-day life, like the rest of the skin, the scalp and hair are exposed to unhealthy environmental factors like pollution, humidity and UV radiation (UVR) on a daily basis. However, the effects of these factors on the condition of the scalp are beginning to be understood very recently.
This article outlines the effects of pollution, humidity and UV radiation on the scalp and hair and some of the treatment strategies to manage it.
Environmental Factors and Scalp Health: How to Protect Your Scalp from Pollution, Humidity and UV Radiation
Scalp and hair care go hand in hand. The damage caused by environmental stressors affects hair properties like protein content, melanin oxidation, surface quality and structural components. Air pollution, exposure to the sun and humidity are some environmental factors that can impact overall scalp and hair health.
Indoor and outdoor pollutants cause a lot of harm to the scalp and hair every day. External air pollution comes from automobile emissions, windblown dust, industry, the thick smog of cities etc. Indoor household pollution comes from sources like fuel-burning combustion appliances, central heating and cooling systems, humidification devices, products for household cleaning/maintenance etc. Both can have a detrimental effect on the health and comfort of our skin, including the skin on the scalp.
When the scalp is exposed to pollution, it experiences sensitivity, dryness or oiliness. The secretion of excess sebum from the scalp due to pollution can lead to greasy roots which clog pores and block the hair follicles. This weakens the hair root resulting in increased hair fall.
When exposed to air pollution, over a period of time, the hair fibre can also become dry and brittle. Factors such as gases, and dust particles come into contact with the hair fibre and penetrate the superficial cuticle in it. This damages the structure of the hair strands as they are continuously exposed to these environmental elements.
The effects of air pollution on the scalp may be visible in the form of:
• Sparse hair or thinning of hair over the entire scalp.
• Excessive sweating and sebum secretion around the roots of the hair.
• Severe dandruff, scalp irritation, pruritus (itching) or dry greasy flaking.
• Redness of the scalp, warm to the touch.
• Mature, dry hair with split ends.
Some tips are shared below to protect your hair from damage from pollutants:
Always cover your hair with the help of a scarf or hat to protect your hair from direct contact with air pollutants and dust. Tie your hair back with a hairband.
Wash your hair twice a week to keep your scalp free of itchiness and dandruff. Use shampoos and conditioners with hyaluronic acid and collagen. Focus shampoo on the scalp. Rinse and be sure to rehydrate from mid-lengths to ends with conditioner.
Besides washing, brushing is also very important. Gentle brushing aerates the hair and removes harmful pollution particles. It has only beneficial effects on hair health. Indeed, it is a regular (sometimes daily) gesture that is essential to the health of the hair. It acts as a make-up remover for the hair fibre and helps eliminate some of the accumulated toxins every day.
Hair which is exposed to high pollution is prone to damage, brittleness and split ends. Using hair styling tools such as straightener, curling tong or hairdryer can increase the damage to the hair. Hence it is advisable to stop or limit the use of hair styling tools.
Deep conditioning or regular spa treatment once a week will help in repairing the damage to the hair. It restores the hydration and moisture which have got depleted due to pollution. Regular spa treatments help to nourish your hair and to maintain the lost moisture and natural scalp oil.
Start using a hair serum on wet hair every day as it protects the surface and cuticle of the hair. Be careful not to apply an excessive amount of serum, it might make your hair oily and greasy.
Using a moisturizing hair mask can help to seal the cuticles, preventing dust and pollutants from damaging the hair shafts. A scalp cleaner works to remove the build-up of oil and pollutants in the hair.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle –
A balanced diet rich in antioxidants helps in getting rid of free radicals that cause hair fall, premature aging of hair and damage to the scalp skin. Your food intake should include Vitamins B, C and D as also minerals like iron, zinc and selenium which support scalp and hair health.
Follow a good workout regimen.
Inculcate stress management techniques in your daily routine.
Hair is hygroscopic in nature in that it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere.
High levels of humidity in the air result in clogging of the pores because of the accumulation of dirt, dust and grime, leading to various skin and scalp conditions. Excessive humidity can trigger off excessive sweating - this can lead to an oily scalp which traps dirt, leading to various scalp infections including dandruff. Again, a humid climate shrinks the pores of the cortex, reducing the hair's ability to retain moisture and nutrients. This leads to hair loss, hair breakage and split ends. It also makes your hair look dull, dry, and frizzy.
On the other hand, lower levels of humidity can cause extremely dry, itchy and inflamed skin.
To have a healthy and problem-free scalp, a perfect balance between humidity and dryness should be maintained.
While you cannot control humidity, following the aforementioned tips and tricks will most certainly help in maintaining the health of your skin, scalp and hair. Having a skin and hair care regimen in place will certainly help you to deal with the most extreme weather conditions, without causing any damage to your beauty assets.
Use oil-balancing haircare products. Ensure that you use clarifying shampoos containing oil-balancing ingredients such as salicylic acid or glycolic acid. Alternatively, try using apple cider vinegar on your scalp to maintain its pH balance.
Always rinse your hair with cold water as hot water can strip your hair of its natural moisture. Cold water keeps the cuticles of your hair closed, retaining moisture in your strands and making them shinier and frizz-free.
Keep a check on the use of styling tools and use a heat protectant to protect your hair from heat damage.
Apply a protective layer of hair serum to protect the outer layer of your hair from extreme climatic conditions such as humidity, dry wind and cold wind. Use minimum haircare products and avoid excessive use of waxes or gel. Use light argan-oil-based serums instead of heavy serums.
Adopt a hairstyle that keeps humidity out of your hair or keeps it from frizzing up and prevents breakage due to pulling and tugging at the roots.
Sunlight is vital to human health. It helps regulate your body’s internal clock, boosts vitamin D production (which is vital for bone health), and improves mood by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. However, overexposure to UV light from the sun can cause serious damage to your skin, including premature ageing and skin cancer.
UV rays from the sun can have a damaging effect on both, the skin on your scalp and your hair, as explained below:
Exposure to UVA (ultraviolet A) radiation results in colour changes in the hair. UVB (ultraviolet B) radiation weakens the hair’s protein structure, reduces its elasticity and strips it of any natural moisture.
While melanin pigments offer some protection, UV rays can break these down, too, reducing their protective function.
Sun exposure can be a major cause of thinning hair, as the damage occurs when ultraviolet (UV) rays reach your scalp and penetrate past the epidermis or the skin’s outermost layer. If not checked, UV radiation is responsible for quickening the ageing process of the skin on the scalp.
The UVA and UVB rays of the sun damage the outer part of your hair, called the cuticle. This cuticle is what protects the softer inner core from damage caused due to environmental factors. This damage shows up in the form of dry, brittle hair strands that break easily, becoming unmanageable after a time.
While all hair types and colours are affected by UV rays, fine and light-coloured hair is more prone to damage. Therefore, people who already have thinning, fine, or greying hair are at risk of suffering further damage to both their hair and scalp from sun exposure.
From the above, we understand sun exposure combined with thinning hair can lead to even more hair loss. It is a vicious cycle; the scalp becomes more exposed to UV rays as the protective layer of hair thins, and the sun has more impact on the finer, lighter hair remaining making it even lighter and more prone to breakage.
Following the tips given below will help in reducing the effects of UV rays, minimizing thinning of hair and improving scalp health:
Wear a wide-brimmed hat or wrap a scarf around your hair, or use an umbrella if you are spending time in the sun.
Plan your work schedule or outdoor activity so that you go out early or in the later part of the day, just as you would protect your skin.
Use sun protection products on the scalp and hair, such as sunscreen spray. Choose a sunscreen with at least SPF 30. Opt for a mineral-based sunscreen as it is comparatively lightweight and highly moisturizing.
Use a hair mask regularly that contains a mix of the right proteins and other nutrients to strengthen the hair.
Avoid heat-styling tools like curling wands, flat-iron and blow-dryers. The heat from these tools will damage the keratin sheath around the hair and leave it exposed to sun damage.
In conclusion, people all over the world are exposed to environmental conditions that challenge the quality of their hair and scalp daily. While we cannot completely avoid the damaging effects of our environment on a daily basis, we can take remedial steps to mitigate the effects of pollution, humidity and UV rays on our scalp and hair. The key to scalp and hair health is adopting protective scalp/hair care solutions that can create an eco-barrier on the scalp and hair surface to prevent penetration of pollutants and UV radiation and restore scalp health.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you treat environmentally damaged hair?
To treat environmentally damaged hair: deep condition regularly, trim split ends, limit heat styling, protect from the sun, avoid harsh chemicals, hydrate and moisturize, protect from chlorine and saltwater, and maintain a healthy diet.
What are environmental damages to skin?
Environmental damages to the skin include sun damage, air pollution-related issues (clogged pores, inflammation), and free radical damage that can cause wrinkles and sagging.
Can environment cause baldness?
While genetic factors play a primary role in baldness or hair loss, environmental factors can contribute to the condition. Environmental factors such as exposure to pollutants, stress, certain medications, and lifestyle choices may accelerate or worsen hair loss in individuals who are genetically predisposed to it. For example, exposure to air pollution and harmful chemicals can potentially cause inflammation and damage to the hair follicles, leading to hair loss. However, it's important to note that environmental factors alone typically do not cause baldness in individuals without a genetic predisposition to hair loss.