Our hair can act as a predictor of our moods: A good-hair morning can set the stage for a wonderful day, while a bout with frizz or unruliness can keep us out of sorts for hours. What we may not realize, as we fuss with product, brushes, dryers, and scrunchies, is that our hair's condition isn't entirely under our control. The appearance and texture of our hair is largely based on our hormones.
Our bodies produce a mass of chemicals that work in various balanced combinations to keep us alive, healthy, and growing. Among them are hormones, which act as messengers throughout the body to control everything from our metabolism and heart rate to our sex drive, menstrual cycle, and ability to reproduce, according to the Endocrine Society. Hormones regulate the growth cycle of our body hair, allowing it to grow, shed, and renew at a fairly even rate. They also regulate other areas of the body that affect our hair follicles' oil production, thickness, and shape (straight follicles produce straight hair; curved follicles give us curls).
When normally healthy hair becomes dry and lifeless, or when thinning patches start to show through once-thick locks, they can be signs of a hormone imbalance that should be brought to your doctor's attention. Other hormonal hair changes are simply a factor of an age-related milestone. Here are some of the ways hormones can affect your hair, for better or worse.
Puberty Triggered Some Dormant Genes
As you no doubt recall, you experienced a lot of sudden (and often awkward) changes in your body when you hit the tween or early teen years. During puberty, we experience an increase in the production of certain sex-based hormones. Among them is the male hormone androgen, which affects the length and appearance of hair on the head and body, affirmed the medical journal Dermatologic Therapy. Hormones may even trigger the activation of dormant genes that can change the texture of one's hair from straight to curly, according to doctors who spoke to NPR. (I'm living proof that a straight-haired 11-year-old can transform into a frizzy-coiffed teen. Whee.)
It's That Time Of The Month
Does your hair become greasier than a fast-food fryer on the first few days of your period? Hormones could be to blame. According to dermatologists interviewed by Self, androgen production goes up in the days just before menstruation, as estrogen levels drop. This causes your body's oil glands to work overtime, and the oil is most noticeable in your hair and on your face. Women who already have naturally higher levels of androgen are most apt to discover that grease is the word.
Many moms-to-be are delighted to find that they have more good-hair days than usual (which helps balance out the fatigue and aches, at least a little). That's because the increased estrogen production that occurs during pregnancy prolongs the growth cycle of the hair follicles, explained Women's Health. The result: full, glossy, gorgeous locks. Women taking the pill, which is also rich in estrogen, often see the same results, dermatologist Janice Lima-Maribona told Daily Beauty.
After delivery, new moms may notice some hair loss as the growth cycle returns to normal, but it all evens out eventually.
Your Thyroid Is Out Of Whack
If you've been noticing that your hair has become patchy and coarse, along with other symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, and a sensitivity to cold temps, you might want to see your doctor. These are all classic signs of hypothyroidism, a common condition in which the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough hormones, explained Healthline. Treatment can be as simple as taking a daily dose of artificial thyroid hormones, which put your metabolism back on track and get your hair looking its best again.
You May Have Insulin Resistance
A Scandinavian study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that middle-aged women with thinning hair were also likely to have the classic symptoms of insulin resistance: weight gain around the middle. Insulin resistance, in which the body's insulin levels are higher than normal, can lead to a slew of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and liver disorders according to Medicine Net. If you suspect you may have this condition, talk to your doctor about getting a blood glucose and insulin test, recommended board-certified OB-GYN physician Dr. Christiane Northrup on her site.
You're Going Through Menopause
Along with puberty and pregnancy, menopause is one of the points in a woman's life in which the body's hormone levels do a major shift, according to the Mayo Clinic. As the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone start to dip, you may start to notice body changes such as mood swings, hot flashes, and thinning hair. Because testosterone levels also rise during menopause, some women may even experience hair loss at the front or sides of their head, similar to the way in which men go bald.
You're Totally Stressed Out
The stress hormone cortisol is vital to survival; it prepares your body for danger by raising heart rate and increasing energy levels. When the trouble has passed, the body returns to normal. However, when work, family matters, and other pressures make you feel like you're always under stress, your body doesn't have a chance to rest and reboot. This can lead to a host of health issues, including heart disease, depression, weight gain, and anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic. Researchers have also found that excess cortisol is linked to hair growth disorders, such as hair thinning and shedding. If your hair is telling you that you're under too much pressure, look into ways to add more relaxation into your day.