Hair is one of those universally sensitive subjects. It does not discriminate by gender or even age. Tom Brady reportedly made a recent visit to a hair transplant specialist and is being strong-armed by his supermodel wife to keep growing out his shaggy mop all because of a rumored bald spot. Guess there can only be one genetically perfect person per power couple. Closer to home, my family friend was so panicked his hair was receding (at the ripe old age of 25) that he has been plunking down a fortune on scalp injections. Though it seems to affect men more acutely (probably because there’s less of it on their head), hair loss happens to us all.

I was blessed with what I perceive as good hair - thick, manageable, and a nice shade of blond. Apart from regular “sun kissed” touch-ups, my hair has never required much work beyond my Aveda wooden paddle brush (no other hair brush even comes close). After a shower I usually secure my wet hair in a tight bun with an elastic band and put it up in a ponytail if it gets in the way during the day. Though I can look sufficiently presentable leaving my hair to dry au naturel, blow drying is necessary for a more polished look. Throughout college and the years following, my hair repeatedly submitted to the clutches of a flat iron in pursuit of an even more perfect polish. It is now the day of reckoning.

As it turns out, my seemingly innocent, low-maintenance hair routine over the years has been concealing hair care sins. If Santa were more concerned about appearances, he might even put me on the Naughty List. The consequences of my hair care crimes are materializing in the form of brittle split ends, a slowly retreating hairline, and thinning all over. The closer I get to the next decade, the more hair I surrender. What, you might wonder, have I done to deserve this?

For my entire life pre-TIA, I abused my hair with dirt-cheap drugstore shampoos and conditioners. I’m talking about the kind that costs $.99 (not on sale) and permeates the shower with a cloying artificial perfume. Also the kind that pollutes the environment with parabens and strips the hair shaft and scalp with harsh sulfates. I remember my hair rebelling a few times by flattening to my head and forming a crown of grease (as happened with my Rejuve3 experiment). Outside the shower, I would occasionally rub a styling cream (loaded with some of the worst synthetic ingredients) throughout my hair to tame frizzies, which certainly didn’t do it any long-term favors.

Then, there was the damage I inflicted with styling treatments and tools. Though I have tried to spread out my highlight appointments (every 3 to 4 months), there is no escaping the harm each treatment has done to the health of my hair - a fact of life for any chemical service. Similarly, the consistent blow drying and hair straightening on the highest heat setting has made my hair more vulnerable to breakage. If I had instead kept the blow dryer on a cool setting, my hair would have been spared a daily shock of heat all those years.

Compounding the problems of heat, chemicals, and processing, which weaken the hair shaft, I have further traumatized my hair with my choice of hair accessories. By pulling my hair up in ponytails and tight buns every day, I have potentially wreaked follicular damage. Putting so much stress on the hair can uplift the cuticle scales and even remove an entire cuticle layer, resulting in hair that is weak, porous, and dry. Hair professionals advise against wearing rubber bands in general because they can break hair repeatedly at the same distance from the scalp and cause it to stop growing completely.

Like a textile, hair degrades with age and use. The less that is done to the hair, the healthier it will be. I have turned over a new leaf to reverse the downward trend of my hair’s health. Crappy shampoos and conditioners not even worthy of my dog are long gone. I have moved on to anti-aging products free of harmful sulfates and parabens, such as Cutler Specialist and the Finesse ReVitality lines, which prove that it doesn’t need to be super high-end to be beneficial. Next, I want to give the shampoos and conditioners by Lather and Collective Wellbeing a try. In addition, I am now on the lookout for new products containing amino acids and copper peptides, key actives for growing hair back.

I won’t give up my highlights, but I will dry my hair on the neutral or cool setting, even when I’m desperate for heat during these winter months. I’ll try to repair the damage done by coloring and drying with a weekly deep conditioning treatment, and I might borrow some of Junko’s DIY tips to whip up my own restorative oil concoction. Thanks to the graveyard of stumps around my hairline, I am hyper-aware of the tautness of my elastic bands. Now I only pull back my hair tightly when necessary, such as during a workout. Lounging around home, instead of rubber bands, I use dorky fabric scrunchies and loose-fitting clips, which are less likely to put stress on my hair. It’s a new year, and a chance for new hair.