Hair is weird. Everyone seems to want more of it—longer, thicker, shinier—from the hair on top of your head to the strands that form your eyebrows and eyelashes. Yet there really isn’t a clear-cut formula to achieving healthy, lustrous locks. In fact, there is a whole lot of noise: hair vitamins in the form of shocking neon blue gummy bears, stimulating oils steeped in ancient beliefs, handheld light-therapy devices that stimulate growth—the list is probably longer than the number of hairs you have on your head (which is around 100,000 on average).
If you thought you were obsessed with hair, meet a man whose entire job is to understand and study hair follicles: Dr. Dominic Burg, hair biologist and chief scientist of évolis Professional. Dr. Burg has been on a mission to make hair growth simple and easy, and he’s got a few thoughts on how to actually make hair grow. The Australian-based scientist has spent the last decade studying hair loss, growth, and accessible and effective solutions to both issues. Ahead, he dispels the myths that might be standing between you and a good hair day.
Myth 1: Hair Supplements Are a Cure-All
Sorry, but there is no magical pill that will transform your locks into luscious, thick Rapunzel-esque strands overnight. Nor are those supplements geared toward hair really doing much, unless you are really nutrient-deficient or stressed. “If you have a balanced diet with plenty of iron, B vitamins, protein, and zinc, then it is unlikely supplements will help,” says Dr. Burg.
But if you live a high-stress lifestyle (oh, yep, hi) or are on specific medications, supplements actually might provide nutritional support for hair. Look at it scientifically, though. “Your body knows that your hair is not essential for maintaining your life, unlike your heart, lungs, and brain,” he says. “When your body is under stress, or you don’t have enough nutrients, then it will shuttle those nutrients and energy to essential organs and away from the hair.” This cruel shuffle can result in hair follicles that prematurely enter a resting phase, thus slowing growth. That’s because growing hair is actually a super energy-intensive process, where a lot of vitamins, proteins, iron, and amino acids work together to build keratin. Honestly, your body’s working overtime to give you a great head of hair. But as long as your diet is balanced and stress is mostly on the minimal, you shouldn’t need any supplements dedicated to growth. “For most people, taking special supplements will result in them simply being filtered out of the body without providing any real benefit,” says Dr. Burg.
Myth 2: Regular Haircuts Help Growth
Be kind to your hair because it’s actually dead. “The hair that is on your head is actually a dead fiber made from proteins called keratins,” says Dr. Burg. If that didn’t scare you enough, know that what is actually alive is your hair follicles, and they are “little organs” located in the scalp entirely dedicated to growth. In terms of hair health, it’s your follicles that should be getting all the TLC, rather than the hair fibers.
So you know that saying about haircuts help your hair grow longer over time? Smoke and mirrors. Remember hair fibers are dead, so we’re probably just paying closer attention to the hair after it’s cut, so it’s likely just an illusion. “When your hair shaft first emerges from the scalp, that’s the best it can be,” he says. “Most things we do to it from the point of growth only damage the fiber.”
Minimize that damage with weekly hair treatments and try out évolis Professional Weekly Treatment Mask to either promote, reverse or prevent damage based on what your hair growth patterns need.
Myth 3: Stress Doesn’t Affect Your Hair
On a genetic level, there are around 150 genes associated with hair loss. Emerging science suggests that the contributing genetic factors for loss differs from person to person, and there are no true patterns. Mainly because it’s also a reflection of your life: diet, stress, illness, medications, pregnancies—they all can have a profound effect on hair after genes. Also, for women, hormones are often what cause the growth rate to slow, but in some cases, they can actually increase growth rate. “A good example is the hormonal change associated with pregnancy, which can often cause can often cause hair to grow faster.”
That being said, both the way hair grows and the ways it goes is actually quite similar from person to person, regardless of the contributing cause. The key culprit is a protein called FGF5, which shortens the growth phase cycle. “You can think of this as the stop signal in your hair cycle, causing hair to stop growing and start resting and falling,” says Dr. Burg. This level of analysis is what he’s been studying, in hopes of reversing or stalling this frustrating protein. By blocking FGF5, he has found he can extend the growth phase of hair and counteract hair loss, thinning hair, and changes in hair quality.
Myth 4: Your Scalp Takes Care of Itself
We’ve said this before, but it is very much worth repeating again and again: Scalp care is haircare. Most specifically, follicle care from an early age is the key to preventing future hair challenges, says Dr. Burg. The key word in that sentence was “early age” because the really scary statistic is that by the time many women notice they have lost their hair, 50 percent of the follicles may have already been lost. So it’s important to care for your follicles throughout your life.
Dr. Burg believes we should treat hair and follicles that same way that we care for skin health. “As the follicles are the organs that are growing your hair, it is important to keep them happy and healthy, which maintains their ability to keep growing hair and regenerating through their hair cycles,” he says. “If you think about it, the hair that is at your ends now was probably grown about five years ago, so if you want to maintain great hair, root to tip, three, five, even seven or eight years from now, you need to ensure your follicles are at their best.”
Focus on calmly but effectively rejuvenate follicles. Try out Christophe Robin’s Cleansing Volumizing Paste or Sea Salt Scrub, both of which are fantastic for scalps. Another brand worthy of your cash is Olaplex, which has some powerful products built around repairing the proteins in your hair. When in doubt, look for brands and ingredients that have scalp care proudly printed on the box. Also, stay away from silicones, sulfates, parabens, and phosphates, which can suffocate your precious follicles.
Myth 5: Hair-Growth Treatments Are Helping
In recent years, eyelash and eyebrow growth have rapidly caught up with the level of obsession that was once reserved for just your head of hair. Dr. Burg wouldn’t recommend them though.
He says the only effective treatment on the market for lashes is bimatoprost—aka Latisse, which was initially a glaucoma treatment that caught a second life with its dramatic side effect of promoting eyelash growth. Use with caution though, as it can have eye irritations, skin discoloration, and inflammation, and in some cases, it can even change the color of the iris.
The other emerging treatment is products with minoxidil for eyebrow growth. The huge, unspoken problem with both minoxidil and bimatoprost is when you stop using them, your hairs or lashes or brows will very quickly go back to the way they were, and in some cases, they will revert to a stage worse than they were before. “Use these treatments with caution,” says Dr. Burg.
Remember that protein FGF5? Well, researchers at Columbia University found that people naturally deficient in FGF5 had extremely long eyelashes and concluded that blocking FGF5 could be an effective method of growing longer eyelashes. There are no products currently on market directed to FGF5 unfortunately, but Burg’s évolis’ is working on a safe but effective eyelash-enhancing, FGF5-blocking product now.
Not buying that FGF5 hype? In a recent study, those treated with FGF5-blocking ingredients grew hair 20 percent faster than the placebo group.