6 facts you should know about your hair and nails

July 7, 2016 Providence Health Team

Most of us take our hair and nails for granted – until there’s an issue. Sure, there are plenty of tips in beauty magazines on how to resolve vexing hair and nail problems, but it can be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction.

We asked Providence dermatologist, Delphine J. Lee, M.D., Ph.D., in Santa Monica, Calif., to set the record straight on some of the most common and confusing hair and nail questions. Her answers might surprise you.

Q: If I pluck a gray hair, why does it grow back gray?

Hair comes from hair follicles, which contain a variety of cells—some make pigments that provide hair color, others make protein (keratin) that is the building block for hair. Cells die as part of the natural aging process. When that happens, they stop making pigment. Hair then loses its color and, as a result, turns gray or white. When a plucked hair grows back, it’s coming from the same follicle, which no longer has pigment-producing cells.

Q: Does trimming split ends help hair grow faster?

Cutting split ends is not likely to lead to improvements in hair growth. Hair doesn’t grow faster if you cut it. However, cutting split ends may improve the overall texture of hair, making it easier to style.

Q: Why do I get ingrown hairs?

Ingrown hairs are more likely to occur with curly hair. An ingrown hair results when the end of a strand turns and grows into the skin. As the hair continues to grow, it pushes back into skin and embeds itself. The outcome is a hair nestled inside an inflamed bump. One way you can prevent ingrown hairs is to shave only in one direction. Shave in the direction of hair growth.

Also, use an over-the-counter solution containing salicylic acid to help get rid of ingrown hairs. The top layer of skin is dead and may not slough off readily, which is why hair can get stuck under the skin. Salicylic acid helps break down the dead layer of skin.

When hair is course or sharp, it can more easily penetrate the skin and lead to ingrown hairs. Hair is sharper when it’s been freshly cut or shaved, but moisturizing can help, because it softens hair.

Q: Is baldness preventable?

No. But you can slow the rate of hair loss. Balding happens naturally in some people due to genetics. The process is a result of dying hair follicles. If hair follicles remain, you can encourage hair growth with a topical treatment. Once you stop taking the treatment, though, hair loss returns. There’s no cure for baldness but there are ways to manage it and help improve the condition. See a board-certified dermatologist to discuss your options.

Q: My toenail fell off months ago. Why is it taking so long to grow back?

It’s not uncommon for nails to fall off athletes, particularly runners or those who play sports that repeatedly traumatize toenails. A nail starts growing far beneath the cuticle. The body needs time to form nails that grow long enough to be visible beyond the cuticle. A typical time to grow a fingernail is four to six months. A toenail can take a year or more, depending on many factors, including health and age.

Q: Are my nails trying to tell me something about my health?

Stressful events, such as high fever, or nutritional deficiencies can affect the nail matrix, the formative layer of cells at the base of a fingernail or toenail, located deep below the cuticle. As a nail grows out, it can reveal interesting things. If your nails have any unusual features, show them to a board-certified dermatologist. Watch for unusual lines (vertical or horizontal), indentations, brittleness or abnormal colors.

If you have questions or concerns about the health of your hair or nails, talk to your dermatologist. You can find a Providence provider here.


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