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So, ‘period hair’ is a thing, and it could be why your hair gets greasy during your cycle

Our periods are already a blip on the horizon every month without adding ‘period hair’ to an already long list of less-than-stellar side effects that include painful cramps.

While we mostly think of skin as being reactive to hormonal fluctuations (hello breakouts), our menstrual cycle can affect the scalp and hair, too. So if you find that your scalp is as irritable as your mood and your strands never feel so clean they squeak after a good lather, ‘period hair’ could be to blame.

As ever, once you understand why your beauty routine has gone into free fall, the easier it is to find a solution. So consider this your comprehensive guide to avoiding hair that looks like a monthly oil-slick once and for all.

What causes your hair to become greasy on your period?

The same oil-producing glands that trigger acne in your face, are also present on the scalp and manifest as greasy roots. “The skin on our scalp and face both have sebaceous glands,” says Helen Reavey, trichologist and founder of Act+ Acre. “Fluctuating hormones can cause an imbalance of oil on the scalp,” which then travels down the length of the hair strand.

In particular, a week before your period there is a decrease in oestrogen and an increase in progesterone. “This hormonal change can stimulate the sebaceous glands in the skin to produce more oil," she adds. "Mixed with product buildup, sweat, and dirt, this can contribute to greasy hair.”

Depending on your hormonal makeup, some people will be more prone to stringy strands than others. “Some birth control pills contain progestin, a synthetic form of progesterone, which can increase oil levels," Helen explains.

"Those with polycystic ovary syndrome may see an increase in androgen hormones and an imbalanced estrogen level, which can affect the lipids on the scalp, leading to conditions such as dandruff, excessive oil and irritation. It truly varies from person to person, so it's always best to consult with a medical professional first.”

However, this point in your cycle – a rare silver lining – is the ideal time to dye your hair. “These natural oils will help to protect against the harsh chemicals of the hair dye,” notes Dr Tetiana Mamontova, an aesthetic doctor and hair transplant surgeon.

How can you prevent greasy hair on your period?

Incorporate a scalp treatment into your hair care routine: “Opt for a gentle chemical exfoliant such as salicylic acid to balance sebum and oil levels, while calming any irritation, inflammation, or itchiness,” says Helen.

Double cleanse your hair: “It's a myth that you can train your hair to produce less oil with less washes, as so many factors contribute to oil production, which can lead to an itchy scalp and other conditions,” Helen explains. If you’re experiencing oily roots and hair, make sure to wash your hair daily, or every other day to ensure you are cleansing the scalp of excess oil and buildup. “I always recommend double cleansing, since the first cleanse removes product buildup, while the second wash actually cleanses the scalp,” she continues. “Make sure to emulsify the product and focus the product on your scalp and the back of your head.”

Use a gentle sulfate-free shampoo and silicone-free conditioner: Sulfates can strip the hair of all moisture causing increased irritation while silicones, says Helen, "can build up on the hair and weigh it down. When combined with excess oil, they can make the hair look and feel even more greasy."

It's also worth noting that at the end of your period, right before ovulation, when your estrogen levels begin to increase, your hair and scalp will be drier.

“Oestrogen plays a vital role in maintaining the hydration and elasticity of the skin,” says Dr Mamontova. “Similarly, the decrease in testosterone can also contribute to a dry, itchy scalp, as testosterone can stimulate the production of sebum. So it's important to use hydrating products such as hair masks to help replenish and retain moisture in the scalp.”

Does your hair fall out more on your period?

Yes, during menstruation, the sudden drop in oestrogen can cause the hair to enter the shedding phase too quickly.

“Hair follicles go through different phases, including the anagen (growth) phase, catagen (transition) phase, and telogen (resting) phase," says Helen. "Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can cause a larger number of hair follicles to enter the telogen phase, resulting in an increase in shedding during this time.”

The hair does, however, grow back so try not to worry too much.

How to prevent hair loss during your period

While it may not be possible to completely prevent hair loss during your period, there are a few things you can do to minimise shedding and ensure the hair stays healthy:

Incorporate supplements into your weekly routine: “These should be high in vitamin C, biotin, and amino acids to maintain follicle health and promote stronger strands, making you less prone to hair loss,” says Helen.

Stay hydrated: “Drinking water ensures that your body can efficiently transport oxygen and nutrients to your scalp, which is necessary for healthy hair growth,” she adds.

Avoid the use of harsh chemicals on the scalp or pulling your hair into a tight ponytail: "High levels of pro-inflammatory molecules like prostaglandins are present during your period," Dr Mamontova explains. “These increase inflammation in the body, including the scalp, which can affect the growth phase of the hair follicles, leading to thinning hair.” Take a softly, softly approach instead to avoid stressed out hair.

This article was originally published on Glamour UK.

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