balding and exercise

The Athlete's Guide to Hair Loss

Five ways gym-goers can stop the shedding

While male and female pattern baldness is largely genetic, hair loss could also happen regardless of your genes. “It’s a problem for everyone,” says Thomas Rohrer, M.D., a dermatologic surgeon in Boston, Massachusetts. The American Hair Loss Association estimates two-thirds of men will experience some kind of alopecia by age 35. Forty percent of sufferers are women, too.

And for athletes, who may or may not experiment with creative hairstyles or debate whether or not to forgo shampoo, forms of shedding can be common—and to some extent, avoidable. So in order to keep a full head of hair no matter how you sweat, style, or wash, follow these do's and don't's from top dermatologists:

Don't: Skip the shower
Keeping in shape (and keeping your circulation optimized) is probably helpful for hair—but research doesn’t quite link more training with more tresses, says Rohrer. What experts do know: In excess, sweat can actually plug up hair follicles, setting up an inflammatory response that could lead to hair loss, says Neil Sadick, M.D., a clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. You don’t need to stop sweating, just use a shampoo with cleansing properties, like zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid, and sulfur post-workout, he suggests. This will keep the hair follicle cleansed and healthy.

Do: Curb chlorine damage
Swimmers, take note. “Chlorine can be very damaging to hair,” says Lynne Goldberg, M.D., director of the Hair Clinic at Boston Medical Center. This is true even if you wear a swim cap. The chemical can change your hair’s physical properties, she says, removing natural oils and making hair more susceptible to breaking away from the scalp. To fight back, leave conditioner in under your cap. “It’ll act as a shield,” she says.

Post-swim, seek fragrance-free, gentle, and color-safe shampoo. Chemicals such as polyethylene glycol and sodium laurel sulfate can break hair, says Marie Jhin, M.D., a San Francisco-based board certified dermatologist. Fragrances and other artificial colors can also irritate your scalp and cause hair loss, she adds.

Do: Find a calming practice
Your hair isn't immune to the physical side effects of anxiety. “Stress is major factor in hair loss,” says Ricardo Mejia, M.D. a board-certified dermatologist at Jupiter Dermatology & Hair Restoration in Jupiter, FL.

This kind of hair loss is called telogen effluvium—and you might notice it three months after a massive stressor like a death in the family, or a divorce. It can also happen after a crash diet or rigorous, extreme training over a period of time, says Mejia. The response has to do with the disruption of your hair’s normal phases. The cycle gets shifted from a normal growth phase to a phase where hair falls out, he says. An easy fix is to amp up your meditation or yoga practices, which will help combat the stress that leads to hair loss.

Do: Fuel your locks
When docs size up patients with hair loss, they always check iron levels, says Goldberg. “Iron is very important for hair growth. It’s possible that low levels predispose someone to hair loss,” she says. This proves particularly important to the fit: Studies suggest athletes—particularly women—tend to be at an increased risk for deficiencies. Packing seafood, beans, and dark, leafy vegetables into your diet will help with your iron levels.

Vitamin D also proves important for hair growth, says Goldberg. While a supplement is by no means a cure for dropping strands, some research in animals links the vitamin to the creation of new hair follicles. Another popular supplement: The B vitamin Biotin, shown to help nails grow, could also be helpful in maintaining hair health, Goldberg notes.

Don't: Go with a tight hair tie
Helmets, swim caps, and baseball hats likely won’t hurt your hair, says Goldberg. But regularly pulling it back into a too-tight bun or pony tail could be harmful. IThis type of hair loss is called traction alopecia and it’s caused by prolonged tension, she explains. Your best bet is to loosen your bun. Swap damaging rubber for ties with softer fabrics, too, like those from Emi-Jay.