How to Protect Your Hair from Pollution

Friday, 4 March 2022

The impact on your hair from pollution is serious.

Especially if you are an urban dweller, environmental aggressors from traffic, air pollution, germs and cleaning agents can be dramatic, but even country dwellers can’t escape the damage wrought completely.

hair pollution image

Hair damaged by pollution is likely to be dry, prone to breakage, need more regular washing, look dull and research suggests, is more likely to fall out.

The effects of pollution on the skin have been known about for a while, in fact much of premature ageing is attributed to environmental damage.  However, the idea that the same can be said of hair is a newer concept.

The general idea though, is that if an environment is harmful for nature (think trees, plants and pollinating insects) it’s also unlikely to be good for us.  Hair is porous so it stands to reason that absorbing all that toxicity would have a negative impact.

What does science say?

In research published by Allure magazine, scientists exposed cells from hair follicles to different levels of dust and diesel pollutant material for 24 hours and then measured different protein levels in the cells.

The scientists found that air pollution of both kinds ‘zaps’ the protein that fuels hair growth from your follicles, which leads to hair loss.

"The research found that when the cells on the human scalp were exposed to common air pollutants created from burning fossil fuels, the proteins in the cells that are responsible for hair growth and hair retention were significantly reduced," study leader Hyuk Chul Kwon explained.

"The more pollutants that the cells were exposed to, the bigger this impact seemed to be."

The research looked at ‘particulate matter’ (pm) which consists of small solid particles and droplets in the air that we breathe. It’s what makes us the haze in the air on warm days, and is particularly damaging for hair.

Mark Leeson, Global Artistic Ambassador for Revlon Professional and Founder of Mark Leeson Salons explains: “If you’re walking anywhere where there are cars (so this isn’t just for city dwellers) your hair picks up metal deposits like copper and iron and other particulate matter. Pollutants make hair drier, duller and more difficult to manage. Particulate matter in the air actually damages hair cuticles and even the internal hair shaft.”

If you colour your hair with traditional box dyes, these PM molecules are especially damaging, as the hair dye changes the structure of the follicle, leaving it more open to damage and brittleness.

Key Pollutants for Hair:

PM2.5, a pollutant most prevalent in smog, causes major damage. Its molecules are too big to penetrate the skin, but do damage the hair’s protective outer layer and affect the scalp. 

A 2017 Mexican study showed that Vitamin E in the Sebum is seriously inhibited in polluted environments, affecting the hair’s ability to protect itself.  

By 2030 an estimated 92.2% of us will live in areas defined as urban. This means being regularly exposed to a cocktail of soot, acid and microparticles from the burning of fossil fuels to power cars and machinery.

Protecting your hair is more difficult when you realise that we also face pollution damage in our internal environments.

Cleaning products, candles, dust particles, smoke, paint, varnish, air fresheners – all these things create VOCs (volatile organic compounds).  Whilst the effects of these are most harmful to the skin, over time they do have a drying effect on the hair too.

How to Tackle Pollution Damage for Your Hair

Many of us assume that to remove the very sticky effects of pollution on our hair, we’ll need to resort to a powerful shampoo that contains sulphates like SLS. 

This isn’t true.

What IS important is paying extra attention to rinsing and making sure you choose products that protect as well as cleanse.

1.       Switch to natural shampoos, which are free from harsh detergents like sulphates, e.g. SleS. Natural shampoos cleanse perfectly well, but don’t strip the hair of natural oils, harm the scalp or cause irritation.  Whilst sulphate shampoos clean effectively, they rob the scalp and hair follicle of protection against external damage.

2.       Conditioners without Silicones are vital.  Silicones form an artificial barrier around your hair.  Not only do they weigh down the hair, but they also attract dirt and hold pollution on the hair shaft, increasing the damage.  The only true way to remove them is with harsh detergents, so they really don’t do any good at all.

3.       Use an ingredient like Bhringaraj, which has its roots in Ayurveda.  It’s renowned for stopping hair fall, is cleansing and works in harmony with your body’s biorhythms.

4.       Fall in love with a scarf and hats. Covering the hair and scalp is one of the best ways to prevent exposure, especially if you live in the city.  We’re huge fans of Tamga Designs, whose clothes are fairly traded and made from sustainable materials.

5.       Deep cleanse your hair with a mineral cleanser once a month to clear any stubborn hair residue

6.       Take it easy on the candles and cleaning products.  Air fresheners are nice, but unless they’re organic, they’re unlikely to be healthy.

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