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Dry hair develops when your hair doesn’t get or retain enough moisture. This reduces its sheen and can make it appear frizzy, lifeless, and dull. Dry hair can affect men and women of any age, but you’re more likely to develop it as you get older.
Your hair consists of three layers. If your hair is healthy, natural oils in the outer layer help protect the inner layers. They also reflect light, making your hair appear shiny. Sheen and luster are two important signs of healthy hair.
When your hair is dry, the outer layer breaks down, causing it to appear dull and unhealthy.
A variety of factors can lead to dry hair, including environmental conditions, hair care habits, and your physical health.
Some of the environmental conditions that can cause dry hair include:
Hair care practices that often contribute to dry hair include:
In some cases, dry hair is the result of an underlying health problem that that affects your hair’s ability to retain moisture. Examples include:
Anorexia nervosa: This eating disorder can lead to malnutrition. It can cause dry and brittle hair, along with more serious complications.
Hypoparathyroidism: This condition causes the parathyroid gland in your neck to produce too little parathyroid hormone, which decreases the level of calcium in your blood. Calcium is a key nutrient for healthy hair, as well as bones, teeth, and other tissue.
Hypothyroidism: If you have this condition, your thyroid glands don’t produce enough thyroid hormones. Dry and brittle hair is one of the early symptoms of this condition.
Menkes syndrome: In this rare genetic condition, your cells don’t absorb enough copper. Low copper absorption affects the health of your hair, causing dryness.
If you have severely dry hair and it doesn’t get better with changes to your hair care routine, make an appointment with your doctor. They may be able to pinpoint the underlying cause. They may also refer you to a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in skin and hair conditions.
During your appointment, your doctor or dermatologist may ask you questions about your symptoms, hair care routine, and lifestyle, such as:
They will likely examine your hair and scalp. In some cases, they may order one or more tests. For example, they may collect a sample of your blood or urine to check for signs of certain medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism or hypoparathyroidism.
In many cases, you can treat dry hair through simple lifestyle changes. For example, it may help to:
Daily shampooing can rob your hair of its protective oils and lead to dryness. Try washing your hair once or twice a week instead. You can also apply hair oils or leave-in conditioners to add luster and softness.
Protecting your hair from heat and sun exposure is also important. If you live in a dry climate, wear a hat when you go outdoors and avoid long-term exposure to dry or windy air. You should protect your hair from chlorine and salt water by wearing a bathing cap when swimming in a pool or ocean.
If an underlying medical problem is causing your dry hair, your doctor may recommend medications or other treatments to address it. Your hair may improve once you treat the underlying condition. Work with your doctor to find the best course of treatment for you.
Dry hair is a sign of hair damage. If left untreated, your hair can become brittle, causing it to break or fray easily.
Most cases of dry hair can be effectively treated with simple lifestyle changes. If your dry hair persists, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help you pinpoint the cause of your dry hair and recommend treatments.
Written by: Valencia Higuera
Medically reviewed on: Oct 25, 2016: Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA, COI
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