It’s a simple enough question, a colleague asked on twitter (Daniel Whitby, an excellent cosmetic chemist). So many of the answers that came back through the ether were cosmetically sound and correct.

Many correct answers abounded, one twitter follower chirped The common consumer perception of frizz is that it’s the misalignment of hair fibres, whether it’s due to environment (which impacts H2O uptake) or natural morphology of the fibre.” Sounds perfectly correct!

Another saidI’d say frizz is when your hair is not smooth, whatever the reason. However, it usually implies volume caused by messy-looking waves and curls”.

Again…true, but then as the word ‘Frizz’ itself is ambiguous, it means different things to different people, and so you’ll get many ‘right’ answers, and they are from a personal or scientific correct point of view.

However, as a clinician dealing with hair loss and hair thinning disorders, my take on frizz is probably a little more sinister, so my concern is when people suffering from ‘frizz’ are treating it as a cosmetic issue when really it’s a symptom of an underlying hair problem. 

Many of my patients who come to see me are confused as to what is happening with their hair, they have no patches of hair loss, their hair is still growing, but their hair density has diminished, their hair has ‘changed’, not to an extreme amount, but enough to warrant concern, make them worry if this general thinning will ever stop and their minds race to where will it end?

This form of hair density diminishment is incredibly common, up to 1:3 women will suffer from this form of hair thinning, and it may not even be visible to anyone else, their hair may still ‘look’ normal but feel thinner.

This type of thinning is caused by a disruption of the growing phase to the hair cycle; the hair is still growing, but not as well or for as long as it did. There are usually two sure-fire signs that this is occurring;

  • The person’s ponytail diameter is reduced (they can wrap the bobble around the hair more times than they usually can.
  • The hair is frizzier than before.

It’s this second symptom. I want to concentrate on; This problem is mostly a ‘cosmetic’ one, there are no aches, pains, inflammation, or external symptoms whatsoever, and so the terms people use to describe what is occurring are mostly ‘cosmetic’.

“My hair has become, fine, flyaway, frizzy, lacking in volume over the past 6/12/24 months”; The first step for the patient was to reach for ‘anti-frizz’ product, now these can work in some cases where ‘frizz’ is occurring due to the hair becoming dehydrated, or the hair being naturally frizzy.

It can smooth cuticles, prevent water from entering the hair (partially) so preventing hydrogen bonds form re-aligning after you have spent the best part of an hour misaligning them an keeping them in place through dehydration (or as its commonly called blow-drying and straightening your hair).

The difference is long term changes, has your hair changed in density, generally feels thinner and become frizzy or has it merely always been frizzy because its curly, unruly etc…

Hair is 4D, what you see is a hair that has length, breadth, width and time, the length of the hair and the time it has grown for are inextricably linked, if one shortens, the other will too.

Fig 1. Shows the change in hair density due to a disruption of the hair cycle

The normal hair cycle shows hair growing for approx. 3 years, then naturally dying, falling out and starting again as a new hair.

This means your hair naturally is not all one density through its length, and you will always have more hair near the scalp than you will find halfway down the hair length and defiantly more than the ends of the hair, this is called the ‘taper’ of the hair which should usually be around 30%.

You should lose about 30% of the density naturally between the scalp and the ends of the hair if your hair grows for approx. 3 years. (40cm of hair growth).

However, with a disrupted cycle the hair may not grow for that maximum length of time, or only a small percentage may grow for this long, the rest may cycle through in much shorter time-space, 2 years, 18 months, even 6 months.

The hair usually cycles back through and starts again (as a small hair), so in a real hair cycle disruption, there is no loss of hair follicles, just density… it is just that the hair is not growing all together for the same amount of time.

By looking at the diagram above, you can see where the ‘frizz’ element comes in, a person with a cycle disruption will automatically suffer from ‘frizzy’ hair and no matter what conditioning agent, serum, anti-frizz blow-dry product you use…it will make no difference as this problem is not due to the ‘hair’ but the hair cycle!

If you feel like I’ve just described your hair and you want to do something about it, book in, this can be helped and, in many cases, corrected.