Hi I am 29 years old, male. Do flat irons cause permanent hair loss? My hair dresser started using a flat iron on my hair 3 years ago, since my hair was wavy, he showed me how I can make it straight. About 2 months after using it (usually once or twice a week) I noticed that my hair was drying out. I stopped, only to use it once in a while. Today I find that my hair is receding on the sides and my crown is thinning. Is this from the use of the flat iron? I’ve stopped using it for about 6 months now but I still find that my hair falls out everytime I wash and style it. I researching on the net about the side effects of flat irons but never found any concrete proof about the consequences of using them. I hope I didn’t ruin my hair for good! What can I do?

Let’s think logically about this. When hair has grown beyond the scalp, it is no longer a living tissue. Only the hair organ below the skin is living. Hair is made of compressed fibers and a shingle type of structure made up of shed skin cells called cutin. These shed skin cells are in effect the same ’stuff’ that produces the scales we see in dandruff and may reflect higher turnover of the skin on our scalps. As these shed cells are compressed above the fibers in the hair shaft, they form a layered array just like the shingles on a roof would form to keep out the water. But below the skin, the hair organ puts lipoproetin layers into these scales of cutin that give the hair the character that you have. The presence of fat on the outside of the hair shaft is what brings out ‘luster’ in the hair. Once the hair exits the skin as it grows , it enters the hostile environment of air, wind, weather, heat, etc… and it no longer is subject to what your body can do for it. As the hair exits the surface of the skin, the sebaceous glands secret a waxy sebum that may find its way onto the hair shaft, giving some people an oily hair.

When you iron your hair with heat, you do change the character of the hair and change the configuration of the varying layers of compacted cutin and the fibers that make up the structure of your hair. Heat takes away the luster (shine) from hair, burns away the waxy covering, may denature the lipoproteins on the surface of the hair shaft and it is this that protects the hair from the environment. Heat may damage the core of the fibers inside the hair as well. High heat applications can damage the hair so that it cracks, breaks, and even become fragile, producing broken ends from hair that breaks too easily. Take a look at this illustration of an enlarged hair shaft here (illustrated by Norm Nason). Note the layering of the cutin shingles. Look at the center of the shaft and see the fibers that form the backbone and the strength of the hair shaft. When these fibers are broken, or the shingled cutin is removed, damaged or burned, a pealing process may begin which would reflect the damage to the foundation of the hair shaft, and it can become permanent. When the hair is damaged, then gentle handling is critical to maintain and hold it on your head. You can, of course, cut it off and new hair coming from below the skin which should not grow out damaged, will eventually replace the weak hair. The hair exiting the skin is normal and undamaged so you can and should expect that once you cut off the damaged hair, the new hair will grow to whatever your normal should be. Good cosmetology can hydrate the hair and it might bring back some of its luster and strength. For those of you interested in high powered microscopic views of the hair system below the skin, see here.

So, if you have hair loss or thinning of new hair, it is possibly a new problem, and you need to have your hair analyzed by a doctor like me.

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