Really, it’s a wonder that we all manage Good Hair Days at all when you think of the number of factors that can affect hair health – from eating poorly, sleeping badly, and not drinking enough water (Beauty Bible’s eternal look-good mantra!), to hormonal imbalances. At this end of winter, too, hair can be parched and dried-out simply from having had the heating whacked up for what feels like way too many months now…
But the only option is not a paper bag: there’s an enormous amount that we can all do to boost hair health, year-round – and we’re not talking about wonder products you can apply: lifestyle and diet can have a much bigger impact than you’d imagine.
Of course by the time it becomes visible, hair’s actually ‘dead’. Which is why it’s so important to keep the scalp – where the hair is still alive and kicking, within the follicle – in good nick. So: what can we do to keep hair and scalp in peak condition? First of all, feed your follicles. Hair is made of a protein called keratin (the same as nails and skin), and protein – not surprisingly – needs to be nourished by a protein-rich diet, plus plenty of vitamins and minerals. That doesn’t mean a diet of huge steaks every day (though a little lean red meat, twice a week, is good for iron levels – which also help hair). But it does mean eating a good helping of protein daily.
Aim to eat plenty of the following foods, recommended by Kathryn Marsden, who has long been one of Beauty Bible’s go-to nutrition advice experts.
• Fresh oily fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, herrings, sardines, whitebait, pilchards, anchovies etc.); lots of organic vegetables (particularly dark green leaves); salads and fruit (especially figs and dates); pulses (peas, beans and lentils); natural live yoghurt; cold-pressed oils (olive, hemp and walnut); seeds (linseed, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame); wholegrains (brown rice and oats); sea vegetables (kelp, nori, wakame, etc. – find them in good health food stores and sprinkle over savoury dishes).
• Drink lots of still pure water – eight large glasses between meals (we’ve said it before, we’ll say it again…)
• Avoid too much cow’s milk or cheese (especially if you have dandruff), and also excessive sugar, salt, caffeine, saturated and hydrogenated fats (the last of these is a complete no-no), and processed foods.
• And please don’t smoke! Apart from the health risks, smoking actually dries out your hair.
De-stress your tresses. Massage your scalp, neck and shoulders regularly. Tightness in these areas can affect blood supply and thus the health of your scalp. Ideally, you want the skin on your scalp to be mobile, like that on your face – try it now: if you’re tense or stressed you won’t be able to move it at all. We are addicted to this – and it’s the quickest headache-buster and re-energiser ever. It also loosens dead skin cells and, according to some men, encourages growth even on bald/ing areas. (In India it’s been standard practice for millennia. And Sarah, when she worked on the men’s magazine Esquire, interviewed former Labour politician Bryan Gould, who swore that it worked – especially with his head turned upside down; the blood rushes to it that way, increasing the effect.
Manage stress and relax with a regular breathing exercise. We swear by exercise to calm us down and pep us up – walking, riding and yoga (Jo does yoga three mornings a week, at least, and swears that all the inversions, in which blood flows to the head, make her hair grow like grass. Not so different from Bryan Gould’s experience.) The common factor with all these forms of exercise is that you breathe well and live in the moment. If you can’t get out – and in fact, even if you can this is worth doing – try this breathing exercise, which integrated health expert Dr. Andrew Weil recommends everyone to do twice daily, all your life. As he explains, ‘Use it whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep…’, he suggests.
The following 4-7-8 Relaxing Breath Exercise is utterly simple, takes little time, needs no equipment and can be done anywhere. Although you can do the exercise in any position, it’s best to sit with your back straight while learning it.
The only slightly tricky bit is the position of your tongue. You need to put the tip against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there throughout the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue. This can feel strange at first but it soon comes naturally. Pursing your lips slightly might help.
• Exhale completely through your mouth, making a ‘whoosh’ sound.
• Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
• Hold your breath for a count of seven.
• Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound, to a count of eight.
• This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
The exact time you spend on each phase of this exercise is not important, but the ratio of 4:7:8 is. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed up the exercise but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for three phases. With practice, you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.
Trust us: it really, really works…!