WE SPEND hundreds of pounds trying to make it look right, we see it every day in the mirror yet few of us understand what our hair says about our health.
And while there are hundreds of hair salons in South Yorkshire, hardly any realise that the state of our barnet may point to more than just a bad hair day.
But Sheffield-based trichologist Iain Sallis – an expert in the scalp and hair – says that hair, while cosmetic, can tell us much more than we think about our physical health.
He said: “Many women will notice that their hair is getting thinner but they will either be too embarrassed to bring it up or, when they do, their friends or hairdresser will say ‘you’re being daft’.”
Quite often these observations – however ‘daft’ – can be strong indicators of an underlying medical problem. Thinning hair, for example, or hair breaking off at the scalp, can be symptomatic of a condition called ‘telogen effluvium’, which as many as one in three women suffers from.
“Often, it is related to an underlying medical problem such as a deficit in iron or protein,” said Iain. “But it is rectifiable in the long term.”
Telogen effluvium falls into two categories and both can be caused by a number of problems.
Acute telogen hair loss may be caused by medication, pregnancy, emotional or a physical shock to the system, such as an illness.
Chronic telogen hair loss is caused by an ongoing, underlying medical complaint.
Sufferers of both types notice a thinning of hair on the scalp, plus little ‘broken’ hairs around the fringe and poking out around the parting.
Yet, while as many as one third of women suffer from the condition, few are even aware that it exists.
And it’s for this reason that Iain is working with Habia, the government-approved standards-setting for hairdressing training. Iain is training Habia professionals, who will then instruct college staff on how to identify basic hair and scalp problems, and refer customers to a specialist.
The project will be in operation by January which means that, potentially, this time next year salons across Sheffield with have staff who are able to identify key trichological issues in customers.
Iain said: “I used to work as a hairdresser and I noticed that clients were asking questions like ‘why is my hair curly’, ‘why is my hair thinning’ – things like that – but I noticed that each hairdresser was giving a different answer.”
This set him on a quest to become a trichlogist. “I joined the Institute of Trichology and did my training and I’m the only qualified trichologist to work in the private health sector.”
But while Iain works with referrals from GPs, he says those referrals are few and far between.
“No-one has died from hair loss, so it’s pretty low down on a GP’s list of priorities.”
Yet, hair loss can point to a plethora of health issues such as an overactive thyroid.
“I’m like a last chance saloon,” he said. “It is very rewarding but sometimes people come to you and expect instant results, though there are times where even I am flummoxed but on the whole, I’d give myself a 85/90 per cent success rate.”