Okay, okay. So, you’re probably not going bald, but when I first came to Korea, I lost a lot of hair. I thought it was just me at first but turns out, hair loss is a pretty common problem among expats who just move to Korea. I wanted to pull my hair from the stress of losing my hair! Fortunately, my hair eventually grew back within a year after I threw (almost) everything but the kitchen sink at it. Here are some common causes of hair loss in Korea, and how to tackle it.
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Head to the Doctor for Hair Loss Treatment
You may want to see if there are any underlying conditions that are causing your hair loss. Besides the dermatologist, you may also want to check your thyroid to see if it could be related. Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease are both thyroid conditions that can result in hair loss. You never know until you check!
For women, polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS can also cause hair loss due to an increase in the male hormone, androgen, in the body.
Go to a local Internal Medicine (내과) clinic or dermatologist near you in Korea if you’re losing an excessive amount of hair and your hair loss persists. They may suggest a blood test to check your hormone levels and iron levels (anemia), or at the dermatologist, check your scalp for any skin conditions.
By visiting a specialist, they may be able to prescribe medication like minoxidil (the active ingredient in Rogaine) to help your hair loss get under control before finding the root of the problem.
Hair Loss Clinics in Korea
There are special hair clinics in South Korea that are dedicated to treating hair loss. One of the most popular among expats is in Seoul, called Hair Food Story. I haven’t been personally, but the place markets itself as a natural beauty clinic that treats hair loss. You can also go to Chaum Life Center in Gangnam.
Eating Worse than Back Home
Poor nutrition, a vegetarian diet, low protein diets, and rapid weight loss can all contribute to hair loss.
I’ve always considered myself a healthy eater, gnawing on plenty of salads in the United States with its bounty of fresh vegetables at every supermarket. Unfortunately, I find it very hard to stick to the same diet in Seoul, South Korea due to the lack of a cheap variety of vegetables I was used to eating back home. Though I don’t eat junk food every day — some do — my diet is still not that great.
Make it a point to pay a little extra to get some fresh greens in your weekly rotation. Most of the fruit and vegetables in Korea are seasonal, so learn to stick with the seasons. You can also find cheaper groceries at small neighborhood markets. Frozen veggie packs are also an affordable way to get more vegetables in your diet year-round and available at most supermarkets.
Take Vitamins Every Day
Just to be on the safe side, it doesn’t hurt to supplement your diet with a multivitamin and some extra vitamin D.
Deficiency in many vitamins — including Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and vitamin B7 (biotin) — can also cause hair thinning and hair loss.
We’re also in the northern hemisphere which means you’re probably Vitamin D deficient. Air pollution contributes to less vitamin D absorption from the sun. Studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to hair loss. You’re not getting enough Vitamin D from the sun and it’s extremely hard to fix with diet alone, so pop those pills.
These strawberry-flavored gummies from Nature’s Bounty are a popular dietary supplement for hair & skin. You can purchase these gummies and other food and healthcare products — like multivitamins or tea — from Iherb.com. Bonus: they ship to Korea!
Hair Loss Is a Part of Getting Older
Age is a huge factor in hair loss. I moved to South Korea at 30 years old, and it makes sense that I’d experience the natural thinning of the hair due to aging. I also suddenly have way more grey hair now — probably both stress-related and age-related.
You’re Probably Stressed
Called telogen effluvium, significant stress can push a large number of hair follicles into a resting phase. You may not notice it immediately, but within a few months, you might start noticing more and more hair fallout in the shower or when brushing.
Another medical term, alopecia areata, is when the body’s immune system attacks the hair follicles and is caused by severe stress.
Moving to a new country might be more stressful than you realize. Take a look at any recent stressful events in your life that may have just occurred, and try to tackle the root of the problem. Breathe, relax, and try to make a plan to conquer your stress.
There Might Be Something Wrong with the Water
Trust me on this. You need a water filter. If there was one thing I would recommend people to do when moving into their first apartment in Korea, it would be to get a water filter.
When I first arrived in Korea, I noticed something peculiar about the water. My freshly cleaned clothes were always crispy, and after every shower, my skin was dry and itchy. My dandruff was worse, and my scalp was itchy all the time now.
Basically, the water was hard and full of minerals. Those minerals dried out my skin like salt on a slug.
Why does that matter so much? If you have eczema or psoriasis, you may end up scratching your itchy scalp a lot and damage the hair follicles. This may sound counterintuitive but washing your hair more frequently helps remove the dead skin cells for a healthier scalp. Balance it out with a deep conditioner to replenish lost moisture to your scalp and hair.
After purchasing a water filter, it completely grosses me out to see how much rust and residue the filter collects after just a few months. Sure, you can wash your hair with bottled water, but that’s probably not the most economical option.
And after seeing the news recently about the little squirmy worms they found in the tap water in Incheon, I’m never not repurchasing water filters for my apartment. I’m sure those bugs are full of protein, but I’d take a hard pass on that any day.
You can easily purchase a water filter for your sink or your shower at Jaju, E-mart, Coupang, or Gmarket.
The BODYLUV Puresome shower filter uses easily replaceable cartridges. It removes heavy metals, rusts, impurities, and odor in water. Pure Filter is internationally certified by the NSF, and it also passed the strict ROHS international standard.
Air Pollution in Korea is Terrible
If you’ve ever experienced yellow dust season, monitored the air pollution index, or even walked outside in Seoul, you’d know how bad the air pollution can get. During particularly bad days, I can feel a thin layer of dust on my skin. Well, guess what? That pollution ends up in your hair, too, and that’s probably not a good thing.
You’ll want to shower frequently with gentle products to relieve the build-up of pollution on your skin and hair. Don’t forget to reapply any moisturizer and conditioner to replace your skin’s natural protective oils.
Take a Look at Your Hair Products
Avoid sulfite-rich shampoos and conditioners and opt for natural hair products without sulfites that can irritate your scalp and over-strip your hair of its natural oils. There are also popular shampoos and conditioners you can purchase that are tailor-made for hair loss prevention.
Many Korean hair products were formulated for thick Korean hair and did a number on my scalp. Watch out for hair dye or bleaching products that damage your scalp and your hair. Styling your hair often can also cause a lot of hair breakage.
The Alpecin HYBRID Coffein shampoo for sensitive scalps moisturizes and soothes the scalp. The caffeine supposedly helps prevent hair loss and stimulate hair growth.
The #1 Herbal Shampoo in Korea, Ryo Hair Loss Care Shampoo, is made with whole ginseng extract and other herbs rooted in traditional Asian medicine. It also includes salicylic acid (to shed dead skin cells), dexpanthenol (vitamin B5 to promote hair growth), and zinc pyrithione (to target flakiness).
Rosemary compounds promote blood circulation in your scalp while Cedarwood keeps your scalp clean. Rosemary and Cedarwood essential oils also revitalize your scalp. Biotin, enriched in vitamin B7, and Pro-vitamin B5 provide essential nutrients and moisture
to maintain a healthy, hydrated scalp and hair.
Daily Vitamin B-based shampoo to prevent hair loss, thicken hair, and revitalize scalp and hair. Silicon-free, paraben-free, and sulfate-free. Key ingredients include biotin, niacinamide, dexpanthenol, and zinc pyrithione.
Dry Skin Can Mean Dry Scalp
When I switched to natural or familiar Western brands, my scalp was much happier. I also deep-conditioned once a week to counteract any dryness that I experienced from the pollution in Korea and the very dry winter.
Ondol heating — where the water heats up the room from the floor — also dried out my skin, so I invested in a humidifier over the winter to bring some moisture back into my skin and hair. You can purchase a cheap humidifier from Daiso, Art Box, Coupang, or Gmarket.
Cover Those Bald Patches
Natalie Portman can pull off the shaved head look, but I knew that if I ever tried, I’d look more like Britney’s call for help in 2007.
Instead, I purchased makeup to cover up some bald areas on my scalp. When my hair loss was particularly bad, I used a brown-colored compact from Olive Young to powder in some thinning areas. Since my hair grew back, I haven’t needed to use it, but it helped my self-esteem tremendously.
Worst case scenario, I figured if my hair never grew back, I could also turn to microblading in the bald spots around my hairline. Fortunately, I wasn’t looking at hair transplants just yet, but since the Gangnam area of Seoul is pretty much the plastic surgery capital of the world, you can find plenty of clinics to do the job like hair transplant treatment centers. Two well-known hair transplant clinics in Seoul are Maxwell Medical Center or Mojelim Plastic Surgery Clinic, but you can find more on Expat Guide Korea.
Hair shadow that cleans up uneven hairlines just by tapping (the sound expressed as “pang pang” in Korean) for a more youthful look.