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February 21, 2021 6 min read

Do you want to grow your most beautiful hair ever? Understanding the role that hair follicles play in hair growth and overall health will help you tackle this issue at the root. 

A healthy hair routine isn’t just about buying the right shampoo and conditioner or using the right drying method. Healthy hair starts from within. The food you eat and your lifestyle choices also play a role in whether your hair follicles are healthy and able to grow beautiful hair. 

What are hair follicles?

Hair follicles are tiny holes in your scalp from which your hair grows. They’re also found anywhere else on your body that hair is also present. Healthy hair follicles grow strong hair with a healthy texture. 

Your hair follicles are made up of 2 parts: the papilla and the bulb. 

  1. The papilla delivers the blood supply to the hair follicle.
  2. The bulb, located at the bottom of the hair strand, contains the cells that grow the hair. 

Out from the hair follicle grows the hair shaft. This is the part of the hair that is visible, what we know to be our roots. The hair shaft is made up of a protein called Keratin and an outer protective layer, the cuticle.  

Your hair follicles also determine the color, type, and thickness of your hair. 

If you’re having trouble with hair growth, your hair follicles may be damaged or just in need of some nourishment. This could be an indication of a nutritional deficiency, a symptom of an unrelated medical condition like stress, or you may just need to adjust your approach to hair care. 

How do hair follicles work?

Your hair strands are dead but your follicles are alive and they move through a cycle of 3 stages: anagen, catagen, and telogen. 

These stages are also known as growth, death, and rest.

  1. Anagen: Growth. Lasts 2-7 years. The hair grows anywhere from 18-30 inches, depending on your genetics, age, or other health factors. 
  2. Catagen: Death. Lasts 2-3 weeks. The strand detaches from the papilla but remains in the hair follicle.
  3. Telogen: Rest. Lasts 3 months on average. New hair begins to grow. At the end of this phase, the older strand is shed. 

It’s an interesting way to look at a life cycle. If allowed to rest after death, the hair cycle renews so that the hair follicle can grow new hair. If the hair follicle is damaged, it may not regrow hair. 

Hair thinning or balding is an indication of possible damage.

The average person has 100,000 hair follicles on their head, but our follicles don’t move through this life cycle in tandem. Instead, they stagger, with about 80-90% of follicles being in anagen - growth - at any given time. 

Healthy hair means remaining in the growth phase (anagen) for as long as possible, and allowing adequate rest (telogen) when it’s time. Diet, hydration, organic products, and scalp massage all play a role in supporting healthy hair follicles. 

How do hair follicles get damaged?

Hair follicles are pretty tough but they can get damaged. Medical conditions, lifestyle choices, or toxic ingredients found in hair products can all damage them. 

Here are some of the most common causes of hair follicle damage:

  • Alopecia Areata - an autoimmune disorder that usually results in unpredictable, patchy hair loss affecting over 7 million people
  • Scalp infection or Folliculitis (inflammation) - common skin condition in which hair follicles become inflamed, usually caused by a bacterial or fungal infection
  • Smoking - nicotine can damage hair follicles during smoking, which not only affects the circulation of blood and hormones in the scalp, but also increases the secretion of androgen, which leads to hair loss
  • Excessive alcohol consumption - heavy drinking may lead to situations, like nutritional deficiencies or hormonal issues, that can thin out your locks
  • Lack of exercise - regular exercise increases general health and improved blood circulation in the body, and increased circulation stimulates growth in hair follicles
  • Product build-up on the scalp - scalp buildup, if left untreated, can clog hair follicles and cause hair loss

How can I have healthy hair follicles?

There are plenty of things you can do to stimulate your hair follicles. 

  • Stimulate blood flow to your follicles with a scalp massage, hair brushing, and exercise
  • Eat well
  • Shampoo right

Stimulate blood flow to your follicles.  

One of the most enjoyable ways of increasing blood flow to your follicles is a scalp massage. Scalp massages increase oxygen to the hair follicles which help the hair to grow. And it’s also relaxing. If you suspect that stress is contributing to your hair loss, then a scalp massage will provide more than one benefit. 

Here’s how to do it: Using the pads of your fingers (not the nails), gently massage your scalp in small circles. Do one round at the front and top parts of your head, and then move your hands to the back of your head and repeat. 

If you want to add even more benefits to the scalp massage, put a drop of oil on your fingers. There are so many affordable, accessible oils out there that deliver nutrients to your hair follicles. Some of them are:

  • Jojoba seed oil
  • Grape seed oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Grapefruit essential oil
  • Rosemary essential oil
  • Sandalwood essential oil 

Brushing your hair is another way to massage and exfoliate your scalp. Be careful though, there are wrong ways to do it that end up undermining the work your hair follicles are doing.

When you brush your hair, be sure to work out the knots starting at the end of your hair, and eventually making your way up to the root. Starting at the root and running the brush all the way to the ends could interrupt the cycle of your hair follicles by pulling strands out. And sometimes the force of the pull can damage the follicle itself. 

Brushing your hair when it’s wet is another way to pull out hair and damage the follicle. Your strands are heavy and prone to snapping when it’s wet. So be sure to brush when your hair is relatively dry and start at the ends.

Exercise also increases circulation.  A brisk walk will do the trick to get blood flowing through-out your body.  Don’t forget to take deep, full breaths to make sure you are getting lots of fresh oxygen.

Eat well.

Like they say, what you eat grows out of your head. Drink plenty of water to give your follicles their best shot. And eat a nutrient rich diet. Put good foods in your body and your hair follicles will receive them and deliver them to your hair

Foods rich in vitamins A, B, C, D, E, iron, protein and zinc will feed your follicles. Eating these foods will keep you stocked with hair-healthy vitamins:

  • Eggs
  • Orange and yellow veggies and fruits
  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Whole grains
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Citrus fruits
  • Broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower
  • Fish oil
  • Beans and lentils
  • Lean meat and poultry

If you don’t want to get too technical with your diet, just remember to be moderate in all things, and stay plant-focused. Avoid too much sugar, alcohol, and fried food. 

Shampoo right.

Last, shampoo properly by choosing a gentle cleanser.  You’re not degreasing your kitchen pipes here, so avoid harmful ingredients like sulfates, parabens, or phthalates. Embrace plant-based products that are rich in nutrients meant to soothe your skin, fortify your hair follicles, and encourage growth. 

The way you shampoo matters, too.  Make sure your hair is saturated with water. This will allow the shampoo to lather and spread more evenly.  Start at your scalp and focus on your roots.  If you are using a gentle sulfate free shampoo like ANTIDOTE, you can let your shampoo sit on your scalp for one minute before rinsing.

Now you know what hair follicles are, what they’re up to, and what you can do to support their work. 

Remember, beautiful hair starts with a healthy scalp. Our hair tells the story of what’s happening underneath the surface of our skin.

Now we’d like to hear from you! 

Did you learn something new? What health follicle tip will you start incorporating into your routine?

Leave us a comment below.

Abigail + David

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