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Bald patches are the curse of middle age. At least that is what Aditi Aryan, in her 30s, used to think. Till she discovered that her nine year old, Ansh, was steadily shedding hair. "It was on the pillowcase, on his school uniform, the bathroom floor..." Her first reaction was panic. "I thought this was a symptom of some other serious ailment, " says Aditi.
The paediatrician, however, ascribed the hair loss to lack of hydration. Ansh was prescribed a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, milk and milk product and plenty of water. He has started to show some improvement.
Like Aditi, there are hundreds of urban mothers trying to come to terms with their children losing hair at very young ages. Doctors attribute this to a host of factors. "Hair fall during puberty is common as the body undergoes a number of hormonal changes. But these days children even post-puberty are experiencing hair-related problems because they ignore their diet, " says Dr Navin Taneja, a dermatologist based in Delhi. He cites the example of a teen who has just cleared his Class 10 exams. "He was completely focussed on his school studies. He would miss meals and make up by eating heavy stuff like burgers or parathas as and when he got time. After he was through with his school examination, he got busy preparing for the entrance exam to a medical coaching institute and continued messing up his diet. The stress and unhealthy eating lead to hair fall. He was bought to me at a stage where he was shedding around 200 strands a day whereas the healthy upper limit is 50 or so. "
Children lose hair for the same reasons that affect adults - stress, bad eating and sleep deprivation. "Children are constantly under pressure to perform well in academics. How are teenagers going to cope with such ridiculously high merit criterion? They don't always verbalise their stress. And this has a host of physiological manifestations, hair loss being one, " says Dr Samir Parikh, director mental health, Fortis Healthcare, Delhi.
Among teens, peer pressure is not limited to school scores - you have to chase the perfect body too. Dr Sveta Agarwal a paediatrician based in Bangalore, says a lot of teenaged girls go on crash diets to lose weight "In the process, they ended up harming their hair, " she points out.
Healthy hair requires a host of nutrients - amino acids from proteins, good fats from nuts and certain kinds of fish, vitamin D from the sun and zinc. But when the body is exposed to a crash diet it starts using the existing reserve of nutrients for the main bodily functions, leaving little for the hair, skin and nails. Nutritional deficiency can be corrected by following a regulated balanced diet and taking vitamin supplements. It takes up to nine months or so for the hair to regain its original health.
Lack of sleep is one more reason why teens are losing hair prematurely. Teenaged bodies grow while they are asleep so eight to ten hours of sleep a night is a must. "But there are many children who are making do with much less. They are either studying till late or they are online or talking to friends on the phone till late at night, " says Dr Shekhar Vashist, paediatrician with Moolchand Hospital, Delhi.
Experts also warn against exposing young hair to chemical or thermal treatment. Stylist Vidya Tikari is horrified at how often she sees pre-teen girls with damaged hair. Many of them come into the salon looking for procedures like back-combing, straightening and streaking. "Children usually have virgin hair which is glossy and shining with health. But what I see these days are children with split ends, dry and damaged hair. At such a young age hair follicles are very delicate. So any kind of stress leads to breakage, " says Tikari.
Use a leave-in serum or conditioner. It safeguards hair cuticles Use a leave-in conditioner with SPF before you go for a swim. You can also use special shampoos meant for swimmers Drink plenty of water Get at least eight hours of sleep Ensure a balanced diet
Spending hours in the swimming pool is one of the nicer things about summer. It's also great exercise. However, the chlorinated water in the pool can cause damage to hair. Take the case of 14-year-old Abhijeet Varma from Delhi who had to consult a dermatologist last year for rapid hair loss caused by swimming. "My hair had become dry and started to fall. It became embarrassing. My friends started teasing me at school. " Although the doctor advised him to take a break from the pool, Abhijeet didn't have the heart to. But he did start wearing a cap while swimming and using a mild shampoo daily. His hair is still far from being healthy. Chlorine can also wreak havoc with skin tone and moisture so most regulars suggest regular application of lotion.
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