My 500 days without hair dyes
On learning to love my natural hair colour
I am 40 years old. My dark brown hair is rapidly turning gray. I have to admit, I never liked my hair color. I wanted a warmer tone to frame my pale face and I choose it to be red. I was one or the other shade of red for about 20 years. It’s been so long that I forgot the natural color of my own hair.
I used my hair to express my moods and my convictions: I had it long, short, shaved parts of my head or the whole, had a mohawk, had it straight or curled, wore it Ramones style, wore it like Dame Judi Dench (Bond, not the Chocolat style). I think I did everything I wanted to do with my hair. And it stood there for me, letting me express myself.
Seven or so years ago, I noticed I am losing a tremendous amount of hair. It happened so suddenly. I blamed it on many things: water quality, shampoo, stress, seasons and not enough sun (there I might have hit the spot with low vitamin D). I refused to accept it might have to do with my hair coloring routine, which I did in regular 3-month rhythm. As I was not yet diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, I did not even consider my thyroid as a possible cause.
Then a couple of years later, diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, I started reading all the science has published on Hashimoto’s, thyroid and autoimmune conditions. This lead to me changing many of my routines: diet, exercise and I also reduced my hair coloring to once every six months. I still thought it is nice to be a redhead and wasn’t just ready to fully give up on it.
In October 2015 I had a pleasure of listening to a keynote delivered by Prof. Linda C Giudice, MD, PhD at the world congress of female health. Prof. Giudice talked about environmental toxins, including what do hair dies, brown, black and red, do to our thyroid. It was enough to make me stop being a redhead.
Last May, 500 days ago…I did my last hair colouring, it was highlights only. I felt I needed to make my transition from red to my natural brown smoother. I told myself as I was going into the hairdressing salon, “this is the last time”. Well…perhaps not the last time in my life, but in a very long time. I am still not sure how will I react to me being fully gray.
You can read below a bit about science of hair color and the thyroid, as well as how I managed to reverse my hair loss.
How hair dies affect the thyroid?
Pigmented hair dyes, whether permanent or temporary, have many toxic components which heavily impact thyroid function. Here are a couple of toxic components of hair dyes:
Lead || Mercury || Arsenic
These three chemicals tamper with the thyroid function in more than one way: they can mess up with production of T4 in the thyroid, as well as in the liver, where T3 is made out of T4 (1). Exposure to any of three have negative and lasting effects on the thyroid gland, causing a decrease in TSH, T4, T3 and an increase in thyroid antibodies (2–10). In addition, arsenic exposure has been shown to increase the frequency of thyroid cancer in lab rats (11).
One of the first signs of a malfunctioning thyroid is hair loss. For a healthy hair, and a healthy hair follicle, you absolutely need a good level of thyroid hormones and a well balanced immune system.
What did I do to reverse my massive hair loss?
My hair loss today is at most times minimal to normal, meaning within the scientifically measured and acceptable daily range. I don’t think I managed to reverse my hair loss by adding or removing one thing in particular. This is not how our biology works. I figured out what works for me through a combination of symptom awareness and improvng my lifestyle over a very long period of time. I had to accept my approach might be new, and specific to me, knowing that other people’s formulas may not work on me. This helped me to avoid being frustrated.
My “hair-rejuvenating” formula maintains health of both my thyroid and my hair follicles (12–14):
No hair dies
Vitamins B3 and D3
On days I notice more hair loss, I am usually able to pinpoint the trigger(s). One of the most common triggers is straying off from my healthy lifestyle: not following my diet, slacking with exercise or having a stressful day(s). My approach might help more people than me, but I am sure it may not work for all. Each of us should have a good way to log and overview how our lifestyle impacts many health and pain points connected to our thyroid health. Change in hair health is merely one of many thyroid-related symptoms.
I started appreciating my brown hair, and I want to enjoy my natural pigment for a few years more I have left with it. Also, gray hair does not bother me anymore, it is there, and it is a part of me, and I love each of these gray hairs, because they signify things I experienced and learned in life.
How can you measure or assess your hair health?
It is important to observe your hair health over a longer period of time, weeks or months, to get a proper feeling of how it changes, and how does the environment, including seasonal changes, impact it.
We have recently added hair loss tracking in BOOST, and if you tap on the little “i” button next to it, you can read more about hair health. You can get the exact number of how much lost hairs per day make up a significant loss. Also you will get a scientific tip on how to measure hair loss. It is not an easy task, but for some of us it is worth doing it.
1. Miller MD, et al. Thyroid-disrupting chemicals: interpreting upstream biomarkers of adverse outcomes, 2009
2. Dundar B, et al. The effect of long-term low-dose lead exposure on thyroid function in adolescents, 2006
3. Lamb MR, et al. Environmental lead exposure, maternal thyroid function, and childhood growth, 2008
4. Pearce EN, et al. Environmental pollutants and the thyroid, 2009
5. Schell LM, et al. Relationship of thyroid hormone levels to levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, lead, p,p’-DDE, and other toxicants in Akwesasne Mohawk youth, 2008
6. López CM, et al. Thyroid hormone changes in males exposed to lead in the Buenos Aires area (Argentina), 2000
7. Singh B, et al. Impact of lead exposure on pituitary–thyroid axis in humans, 2000
8. Soldin OP, et al. Thyroid hormones and methylmercury toxicity, 2008
9. Gallagher CM, et al. Mercury and thyroid autoantibodies in U.S. women, NHANES 2007–2008, 2012
10. Jain RB. Association between arsenic exposure and thyroid function: data from NHANES 2007–2010, 2016
11. Yamamoto S, et al. Cancer induction by an organic arsenic compound, dimethylarsinic acid (cacodylic acid), in F344/DuCrj rats after pretreatment with five carcinogens, 1995
12. Plonka PM et al. Zinc as an ambivalent but potent modulator of murine hair growth in vivo-preliminary observations, 2005
13. Amor KT et al. Does D matter? The role of vitamin D in hair disorders and hair follicle cycling, 2010
14. Finner AM. Nutrition and hair: deficiencies and supplements, 2013