THE BLOG

Chinese 'Hair Addict' Is an Extreme Example of a Worrying Trend

03/03/2013 16:00 GMT | Updated 05/05/2013 10:12 BST

This week, Cen Yingyuan, a woman from China, made the headlines with her lackadaisical approach to hair trims. Whilst many of us hear the call of the hair salon after just a few months, or even weeks, Cen, who is 5ft tall, hasn't cut her locks for more than 11 years.

Measuring an impressive six foot seven inches long, Cen has to wear her tresses tied up to prevent them from trailing along the floor behind her. Speaking to a British newspaper, she confessed to being "quite addicted" to her long locks, and even collects her shed hairs!

Along with the hour and a half it takes Cen to wash and dry her remaining hair, it's fair to say that she has certainly put the work in to maintain her long hair. And what secret tip enables her to keep the strands so shiny? How does she prevent excess hair loss? Bottled beer, apparently, though I for one will be taking her word for it rather than trying it out myself...

The reason I bring up Cen and her remarkable hair is that it is an extreme of the quest to obtain long, healthy locks that many women who eventually end up requiring hair loss treatment desire. However, Cen is unusual in that her hair is all natural, whereas far more often, women use extensions and weaves to mimic a longer hair look, and this is where the problems start.

What many women don't realise is that artificial hair pieces that are attached to your existing hair can cause so much tension on the hair shafts that they become weaker, and this strain can damage the follicle itself. If the follicle is affected, weaker, short and frizzy or wispsy hairs may grow in place of your usual strands, and eventually, if the pressure is sustained over a long period of time, the follicles can become scarred, at which point hair cannot be regrown.

The ignorance about how damaging these hair styles are is widespread, you only need to look at celebs such as Naomi Campbell, who is reportedly experiencing traction alopecia from wearing her hair in tight braids or weaves for so long, and Britney Spears, who has been frequently papped with her extensions betraying her to show the straggly hair underneath.

At the same time, I do understand how it's hard for women to change year-old habits of styling, especially when their natural hair is hard to manage: it's not surprising that so many feel that weaves and extensions are a necessary part of everyday life.

When I see women at the clinic who are worried about their receding hair as a result of putting too much pressure on hair follicles, the first thing I do is try to persuade them to give up the offending articles. This should give the scalp chance to rest, and hair may begin to grow back by itself. However, if this doesn't happen, there is the option to use the only clinically proven hair loss medication available to women: minoxidil.

As the damage to follicles can often be quite profound, it often transpires that a high strength minoxidil cream provides the best approach to treating the hair loss. That is, of course, providing the follicles are yet to scar, but fortunately it often takes many years of constant pressure for this to occur. So, if you don't have the luck of Cen Yingyuan when it comes to naturally long locks, try embracing a short 'do: your hair will thank you for it!