The modern world is, quite literally, making our hair fall out – and the beauty industry is responding
Our hair holds a lot of weighty emotions and living, as we do, in a culture where thick, long, silky hair is the ultimate sign of beauty, hair loss can be emotionally crushing. If you are experiencing hair thinning or loss you may have noticed that the market has recently been flooded with products promising growth.
Augustinus Bader’s new haircare line encourages hair growth and, according to the brand, helps with hair loss. The Ordinary recently launched a hair range which includes a scalp serum designed to make hair look fuller, while Ouai and The Nue Co both offer hair growth supplements and serums. Dr Barbara Sturm has an anti-hair loss range and Oribe’s new collection is all about targeting breakage and fallout.
“There has been a surge of interest in hair thinning and breakage in the past couple of years,” confirms Lisa Payne, head of beauty at trends intelligence company Stylus. Google searches for ‘hair loss’ and ‘hair growth’ jumped to their highest rates during COVID-19 and have remained there since, with searches for ‘how to grow hair’ almost doubling in 2020. Meanwhile, the hair loss prevention market is set to grow by half, to $31,000 million, in the next four years.
On Tiktok, it’s the same story – the #hairgrowth tag has been viewed by three billion users looking for haircare advice. “I have noticed an increase in people talking about hair loss and seeking hair growth remedies,” says hairtokker Bel, whose haircare videos have garnered 2.8 million likes. Dutch hairfluencer Duygu agrees: “There is a noticeable increase! Every day I receive tons of messages from people across the world seeking help due to hair loss.”
So what’s going on, and why now? Well, we’ve partly got the pandemic to thank. Hair loss was one of the less spoken about symptoms of COVID-19, with one study finding that 65 per cent of survivors reported hair loss due to TE (telegon effluvium), a bodily stress response that sees thousands of hairs prematurely switch from their growing phase to their shedding phase.
But it’s not just COVID-19 that can cause TE. According to The Nue Co. founder Jules Miller, one in four women experience hair loss before the age of 40 and that number is increasing. Payne explains this is due, more broadly, to “pandemic stress and new causes of stress such as political unrest or inflation”. It makes sense: we’re more stressed than ever. The happiness of young people in the UK has hit a 13-year low and the same is true in the US. Meanwhile, in China, a dramatic rise in hair loss is being put down to increasingly demanding lifestyles. The modern world is, quite literally, making our hair fall out.
Even for those without hair loss, our understanding of hair health is changing and we are beginning to pay the same amount of attention and care to our hair as we do to our skin. It’s the ‘skinification’ of haircare, explains Dr Sharon Wong, one of a handful of people combining medical trichology with dermatology who specialises in hair loss. “The scalp skin is an extension of the facial skin and is subject to the same insults such as UV damage, oxidative stress and environmental pollution. The inclusion of skincare actives into scalp and haircare was therefore a logical transition.”
Many of these haircare products make use of plant extracts that contain biologically active compounds, like ginkgolide from the ginkgo tree, which has been proven to stimulate hair growth, or caffeine, which Dr Wong says “has been shown in a few studies to potentially have a beneficial effect on hair growth”. Nutrients like biotin and peptides are other common ingredients that, whilst they don’t actually grow thicker hair from the root, “may help with the physical properties of your hair aesthetically, for example making the hair feel thicker and adding volume.”
This health-first approach to haircare comes as part of a wider embracing of holistic health, as the rise of wellness has seen us turn our focus to everything from our guts to our mental wellbeing. “During the pandemic, consumers were spending less time and money on make-up, but more on caring products for their skin, body and hair,” says Payne. Since the pandemic, 65 per cent of people are more likely to consider their health when it comes to day-to-day decisions. We want beauty that works from the inside out, and the same goes for our hair.
“We often forget that the body is an ecosystem. Simply because something is on the ‘outside’ doesn’t mean it works in any other way to other bodily functions,” says Miller. Hair supplements like The Nue Co.’s use a host of nutrients that support hair production and counteract stress, pollution and hormone imbalance – key factors that impact hair growth. The same holistic approach goes for scalp health. “Scalp health is so important to the overall health of your hair,” says Jen Atkin, celebrity hair guru and founder of OUAI. “Think of your scalp as the soil in a garden — you need to tend to the soil for everything to grow.”
Social media is also playing a part in driving our attention to our hair – both helping and hindering our relationships with it. As we all know, the internet promotes increasingly impossible to achieve beauty standards and long, glossy hair is one of the many aesthetic ideals to add to the checklist. “More and more people are trying to become a better version of themselves, so naturally there’s a big audience for hair care content,” says Jolene Horn, who regularly receives millions of views for videos explaining how she maintains her knee-length mane.
But it’s not all bad. Platforms like TikTok and Reddit are giving users access to a wealth of useful information about their hair, including tips on the importance of a healthy diet. The increase in discourse is helping those who previously would have suffered in silence. “Every time a video of mine goes viral, our comments are flooded with thousands of people who have experienced hair loss,” says hairfluencer Tina. Like many of her influencer peers, Tina’s aim is “to continue to build a community where we have open dialogue about hair loss, without shame or embarrassment.”