When it comes to your personal style, the manner in which you wear your hair is undoubtedly a form of self-expression. With so many hairstyle options to choose from, it’s really not surprising to see someone experiment with their look and try the ever-evolving styles of braids, weaves, wigs, and natural hair options out there.

Chances are that you’ve probably spent a good amount of money on hair products to manage your tresses. But before spending more of your hard earned money on hair, ask yourself these key questions: Is my hairstyle taking a toll on my hair health? Are the products I’m investing in potentially causing damage to my hair despite the “glamorous” or beautiful look I am able to achieve? Well, since maintaining healthy hair should be your ultimate goal, make it a priority to constantly evaluate your haircare regimen and identify any potentially harmful practices that may exist.

Here are some common styles and/or hair products you have likely tried in the past and some of the health risks associated with them:

Hair Relaxer
Hair is comprised of keratin protein fibers held strongly together by disulfide bonds. Those with naturally curly hair have more disulfide bonds in place than those with naturally occurring straight hair. The chemical products in your hair relaxer are potent enough to straighten and relax the natural tight curls and structure of your hair by breaking apart those disulfide bonds. These chemical hair straighteners come with some potential health risks though. Research has linked the use of hair relaxer with a heightened risk of uterine leiomyomata (fibroids) in black women and other studies have even found some associations between relaxer use and breast cancer.

A recent 2018 study in the journal Environmental Research additionally revealed that black women using certain hair care products (including hair relaxers) are overexposed to a host of dangerous chemicals some of which may not even be displayed on packaging labels. The hazardous substances in the hair products are referred to as “endocrine disrupting chemicals” that may potentially have an effect on the endocrine system such that it contributes to some hormone-mediated health problems.

Much more research still needs to be conducted on the long lasting effects of hair relaxers and other hair products on women’s health. But, if you do use a hair relaxer, do so with caution. The key is to try and limit the frequency in which the product is administered and also ensure that an experienced hair professional applies it for you to avoid chemical burns of the scalp and problems with scarring alopecia (permanent hair loss).

Hair extensions
There are many forms of hair extensions in the market, and those who wear braids, weaves, wigs, etc sometimes do so partly for the convenience of not having to style their own hair everyday, as well as for the diversity of styles the extensions may afford one. Major problems that one may experience though are both hair loss and damage. If these styles are excessively tight, then over time the constant tugging and pulling on the scalp may lead to hair loss along the hair line in the form of traction alopecia. One tell tale sign that you likely have some element of hair damage is constant pain due to your hairstyle. Remember, your hairstyle should never be pain-inducing!

Along with the scalp tension that may result from these hairstyles, some may also experience the problem of recurrent headaches. With tighter styles, problems such as scalp tenderness, soreness, and irritation may manifest. The takeaway here is that if you choose to wear hair extensions or traditionally tight hairdos, loosen up the tight style to avoid any potential problems. It is indeed possible to wear extensions without causing hair damage.

Excessive heat
Very high levels of heat can also break apart the disulfide bonds of your hair leaving it weak and leading to destruction of the hair shaft. Excessive heat exposure from your hair dryer, flat iron, and curling iron can undoubtedly contribute to hair damage and breakage. If you plan to apply any heat on your hair, then you must use a low heat temperature setting to reduce the likelihood of harm. Heat should never be applied to the hair daily and you should incorporate a heat protecting and moisturizing hair product to your haircare regimen to help combat thermal injury.

So does all this mean you should steer clear of your favourite braided styles or straightened hair looks and only opt for natural hairstyles? The choice is truly yours. But even if you are team natural, that still doesn’t exempt you from problems with damaged hair if you don’t know how to properly care for your natural tresses. The bottom line is that no matter your hairstyle of choice, always remain knowledgeable of the potential risks of the style and realize that the best style for you is the one that keeps your hair in the healthiest condition possible.

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