Tiffany, do certain products or techniques result in excess shedding? I’ve heard that conditioner applied directly to the scalp may cause hair fall.

Tiffany says:
Yes, there are definitely products or techniques that can cause excess loss of hair or breakage.

Sulfate-based shampoos, especially those with sodium laurel sulfate, can be responsible for hair loss. The primary issue with sulfates is that it is very, very difficult to rinse your hair and scalp completely clean of them, leaving behind a heavy detergent deposit–one that continues to build up over time–that can damage your hair follicles. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Toxicology (Volume 2, Number 7, pp. 127-181, 1983) cited that hair loss, comedone (blackhead) formation and irritancy can often result from the residue left behind by sulfates.

Products that are often highly alkaline, such as Pantene or Prell, can be quite damaging to the hair and cause hair loss and breakage as well. If you look on the labels of some of these products, you’ll notice “sodium hydroxide” on the list–yes, that stuff also known as lye which is used in relaxers and extra-strength perms. I could literally give you a perm with some of these products if I wrap you in perm rods, apply the product over your head, then process and neutralize you as with a regular perm.

Also, some of these products are commonly full of wax as well, which coat the hair shaft and can cause damage and breakage. Take a hair strand from anyone who uses one of these products on a regular basis and run the blade of a scissors up the shaft–you’ll see a white, waxy film that peels off. (As far as the “suffocation” argument of wax-based products, incidentally–they can’t truly suffocate the hair strand since hair is technically not a living thing, but a wax build-up sure has the potential to suffocate those living follicles in your scalp!).

Conditioner in and of itself, when applied directly to the scalp, will not cause hair fall unless it contains a product ingredient that is harmful to the scalp or hair. Any product–shampoo, conditioner or styling aid–that is too alkaline can disturb the acid mantle, however. The acid mantle is the very fine, slightly acidic film on the scalp that acts as a barrier to keep bacteria, viruses and other contaminants or chemicals from penetrating the scalp. As an example: one of the reasons that you are instructed to color your hair when it is “dirty” instead of freshly washed is not because the color will take better on the hair shaft –it is so your acid mantle is intact and will prevent the chemical color from penetrating your scalp.

So, if you are applying products that are too alkaline to your scalp on a too-frequent basis, you are interfering with the natural acid mantle function and leaving a very vulnerable part of yourself exposed. Your acid mantle is there for a reason and it needs to remain undisturbed as much as possible so it can do its job to keep you and your hair healthy.

As far as techniques, scalp massage helps to keep your hair healthy and can also promote hair growth by stimulating the blood flow to the hair follicles, but make sure you are only using the pads of your fingers to stimulate your scalp; using your fingernails can damage your scalp, which could lead to hair breakage and loss. And if you use a brush in your hair care routine, it is important to use one with naturally rounded tips that won’t tear the scalp, and to avoid yanking the brush through any tangles.