Lupus and Dry, Brittle Hair – “Lupus Hair”

Lupus, and all that comes with it, can have a serious effect on your hair.  Dry, brittle hair that easily breaks off is one aspect that can really be alarming.  However, there are simple things you can do to lessen the damage.  Continue reading to find out why ”lupus hair” happens, and what can you do about it!

Introduction to Lupus Hair

Lupus can really affect the condition of your hair in many ways, and giving you very dry or brittle hair is one of its most common.  Dry hair loses its elasticity, and if you curl, straighten, process or color your hair, it gets even dryer. It actually breaks off when styled and, if it is super dry, just sleeping with your head on a pillow can cause your hair to break.  Along with dryness, brittle hair can be dull, showing spit ends and frizzing.  Short, broken and brittle hair around the edges of the scalp are common signs of lupus hair.

It is important to note that brittle hair is not the same as having true hair loss – a condition called alopecia. Alopecia from lupus develops when the immune system attacks the roots or hair follicles, resulting in hair loss.  It is a serious problem and can be hard to cure, especially if you have cutaneous involvement.  The brittle condition of lupus hair has quite different causes and treatment options. It does not fall out from the root – it breaks off at any point along the shaft.

A Brief Anatomy of Hair and Hair Types

The cuticle is the outermost layer of the hair shaft, and is made up of layers of protective, dead cells – called scales.  When the hair becomes dry, the scales of the cuticle are damaged, and this releases the hair’s natural moisture, causing the shaft to become brittle and break. This can happen from over styling, health conditions, medications, and/or poor nutrition. Some hair types are also more prone to breakage than others

If you are ethnically African American or Oceanic, Southeast Asian and/or have afro-textured hair – especially if you also have lupus – you may know all too well what it is like to try and cope with dry, brittle hair. On one hand, afro-textured hair has the strongest tensile strength of all hair types. On the other, it is also the hair type most prone to becoming dry, brittle and break.  The kinks, coils, and curls of natural afro-textured hair are beautiful, but are natural points of breakage and can physically prevent moisture from traveling adequately down the hair shaft.  Chemical straighteners and relaxers may exacerbate the problem, and some braids, and hair weaves may put even more pressure on the hair shafts.

Those with fine or straight hair know that, though their hair is often smooth and responds to heat styling easily, it can easily break and it may take a great deal of work to add volume.  Fine hair curls that last only a couple of hours, may cause you to frequently put out the curling iron and force the issue – or add curling spray to your daily routine.  Just remember, fine hair needs less product,  less time with the iron, and less time combing and drying.  Each of these can stress hair that may already be  liable for breakage.

Here is the good news; once it is diagnosed, dry, brittle lupus hair can be addressed and treated!

How Can Lupus Affect Hair?

While lupus itself may not directly cause your dry, brittle hair, medications and other associated health issues can also weaken the hair shaft. These include:

  • Anemia: With an iron deficiency, red blood cells may not have enough hemoglobulin to properly move oxygen throughout the body.  This, in turn, can weaken the hair shaft as it becomes malnourished.
  • Stress: Stress can have a powerful affect on hair from hormones and as different functions of the body are induced to shut down to reserve energy and nutrition for more vital processes.  Stress caused by lupus can also cause sleeping disorders that can have a terrible affect on your hair.
  • Lack of proper nutrition: The symptoms of lupus can affect your eating habits.  Hair is mostly protein, especially proteins that include the amino acid, cysteine.  So you should eat a diet that includes enough of those raw materials.  Also a diet lacking in vitamin D, folate, biotin and B12 can cause hair to become malnourished and prone to breakage.  If you have chronic brittle “lupus” hair, keep track of these nutrients in your blood tests.
  • Hypothyroidism: According to the Johns Hopkins Lupus Center, approximately 6% of those with lupus have some form of hypothyroidism.  Without enough thyroid hormone being produced, hair can become brittle and dry. Actually, it is one of the first symptoms of a thyroid deficiency.

Medications that can cause brittle hair include:

  • chemotherapy and immunosuppressive drugs, like azathioprine and cyclophosphamide;
  • blood pressure medications;
  • hormonal therapy;
  • antidepressants;
  • antibiotics and antifungals.

While some side effects may not be avoidable, your practitioner can talk with you about ways to manage them.

What can be done to prevent and manage lupus brittle hair?

There are many effective methods and treatments targeted towards dry, brittle hair that may work for many hair types. Whether you have tight curls prone to breakage, or straight and fine hair that is dull and dry, here are several things to keep in mind when treating your hair:

Choose the right products. Use shampoos, conditioners, and treatments that hydrate, don’t contain alcohol, and don’t contain sulfates or detergents that can strip hair of moisture. Brandelyn Green, in her article on how to deal with brittle hair for black women, gives several suggestions that are particularly helpful for any afro-textured hair, such as using shampoos for both deep cleaning (clarifying shampoo) as well as for moisture (hydrating shampoo).  She also recommends using the LCO method (lotion/leave-in treatment, conditioner, oil) to layer products and drench hair in moisture after washing.  Just remember, once you put oil on hair, that prevents any additional water-based moisture from getting into the cuticle.

Drink plenty of water and eat a healthy diet.  Dehydration forces your body to save water for vital organs and by limiting it to less vital parts of the body, like the skin and hair.  Also, remember to take supplements as recommended by your provider as many can help to maintain healthy hair and scalp.  Remember that hair is almost entirely protein – specifically keratin – so make sure you eat plenty of protein.  Additionally, though there is very little research evidence to support it, biotin (vitamin B7) is widely recognized as important for your body’s ability to produce keratin.  So, if you find that you are low in biotin, you may want to add it as a supplement.

Limit the use of heat styling tools and chemical processes. Try to avoid these potentially damaging practices as much as possible or be sure to choose products that protect heat and chemically-treated hair. Natural hair, for example, can build a foundation for healthy hair. Chemical relaxers, color, and perms can wreak havoc on hair.

Be careful with wet hair.  Avoid brushing wet hair vigorously to detangle. Use a wide-tooth comb or pick to gently loosen tangles.  Even use your fingers to brush out wet hair, especially if you have fine hair, and leave the round brush for the very end.  If using detangling sprays allows you to comb wet hair with less force – that’s a good thing.

Trim split ends. Trimming hair can make it feel healthier and fuller. It can also prevent further damage.

Protect your hair from the environment.  As someone with lupus, you may already be very cautious to protect your skin from direct sunlight.  The same can be true for your hair.  Also, it helps to guard against damage from wind and chemicals that you may come into contact, such as pool chlorine.

Change up your style.  If you use hair extensions or have ponytails or braids that put tension on your hair, it may be a good time to change your hairstyle to one that  makes it easier to maintain your hairs health and length.

 


In Conclusion

As frustrating as it may be, it’s really important to remember that this condition is reversible and is probably one of the easier symptoms of lupus to manage and control.  By taking the proper measures to prevent, protect, and treat dry hair, you can help grow and maintain beautiful locks.

 

 

References

Chang-Miller, A. (2020, November 24). Lupus:  Can it cause hair loss? Mayo Clinic.  https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lupus/expert-answers/lupus/faq-20058400

Cox, A. (2018). Brittle hair, scalp care, & treatments when battling lupus. Lupus Corner. https://lupuscorner.com/brittle-hair-lupus/

Green, B. (2020). 5 secrets to moisturizing dry, brittle hair for black women. Voice of Hair. https://voiceofhair.com/5-secrets-to-moisturizing-dry-brittle-hair-for-black-women/

Paknikar, S. (2015, January 3). Brittle and dry hair – symptom evaluation. Med India. https://www.medindia.net/symptoms/brittle-and-dry-hair.htm

Why is my hair so dry? Dry hair causes and remedies. (2020). Luxy Hair. https://www.luxyhair.com/blogs/hair-blog/dry-hair-causes-and-remedies

 

Author: Liz Heintz

Liz Heintz is a medical research writer who received her BA in Communications, Advocacy, and Relational Communications from Marylhurst University in Lake Oswego, Oregon. She most recently worked for several years in the healthcare industry. A native of San Francisco, California, Liz now calls the beautiful Pacific Northwest home.

All images unless otherwise noted are property of and were created by Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus. To use one of these images, please contact us at [email protected] for written permission; image credit and link-back must be given to Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus.

All resources provided by us are for informational purposes only and should be used as a guide or for supplemental information, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. The personal views expressed here do not necessarily encompass the views of the organization, but the information has been vetted as a relevant resource. We encourage you to be your strongest advocate and always contact your healthcare practitioner with any specific questions or concerns.