Samantha Stewart MIT on the science of hair health

Spell meets experienced trichologist and CURLiD co-founder Samantha Stewart MIT to talk hair and scalp health.

Samantha Stewart MIT

With over 30 years’ experience in trichology at the renowned South Kensington-based Spencer Clinic, Samantha Stewart MIT is a master of hair and scalp health. As an active consultant, she uses her wealth of knowledge to solve hair issues and educate the public on the importance of haircare, not only through her work at the clinic, but also as a co-founder of online trichology platform CURLiD, which makes trichology support accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Here, Samantha tells us about her career journey, the fantastic work of CURLiD, and why she doesn’t like the term ‘protective hairstyles’.

What is a trichologist?

A trichologist specialises in the treatment and diagnosis of hair and scalp disorders and disease. We approach it from a holistic point of view. Disorders of the hair and scalp can be a barometer of systemic health. We have to look at the root cause of the hair and scalp disorder, and not just the signs and symptoms that present. We work very closely with GPs and dermatologists as we often need to refer patients for further tests.

You’re a Member of the Institute of Trichologists. Can you tell us about your journey to become a qualified trichologist?

I originally wanted to be a freelance hairdresser and work at the BBC, so I joined the London College of Fashion to train as a hairdresser. I was very fortunate to be taught the science element by a trichologist. I found this so fascinating, and in truth, I hadn’t heard about trichology at this point.

Science has always been one of my favourite subjects and I suddenly realised that I could merge the two together and become a trichologist. Luck would have it that there was a job at the Spencer Clinic as an assistant trichologist. I trained to become a consultant trichologist at the prestigious Institute of Trichologists (IOT). It is a two-and-a-half-year distance learning course, with clinical training. I passed with distinction and was awarded The John Firmage award for distinction. You firstly become an AIT (Associate member of the Institute of Trichologists) of the IOT. The next stage is a two-year mentorship program which you have to take part in to become an MIT (member of the Institute of Trichologists). We also have to attend a certain number of CPD (Continual Professional Development) events to ensure that we are kept up to date with all of the developments within our field.

You founded CurliD along with two other members. What made you come up with the concept?

My co-founder Rachel [Marcelin] called the clinic one day and asked me a question, which was “Can I tell the hair type and curl patten just from a sample of hair?”. I initially said no to this question because there would need to be a lot more information to do this. I was very intrigued as to how we could do this, and we set up a meeting. Over the next few months, we devised a way that would recreate what I see in clinic. I needed a more powerful microscope to allow me to see the hair strands in detail. Every conversation we had yielded more amazing ideas that we put into developing the hair analysis kit. We trialled it on nine participants and Jasmine was one of them. She found the whole concept amazing and joined me and Rachel as a co-founder. Since then, the company has gone from strength to strength.

The CurliD Hair Analysis Kit is a quick and easy way to get a diagnostic on your hair health. Would you recommend this even if you’re not suffering from hair loss?

The idea behind the kit is to give our customers a bespoke hair management programme. This is not a tool that is used to diagnose hair loss conditions. The diagnosis of a chronic hair loss or scalp disorder can only be done in person in a clinical setting. The information gained from the hair analysis kit allows me to see the health of the hair and put together a comprehensive report. The consultation element of the hair analysis kit gives us information on the customers current hair management regime, whether any element of this is suitable for their hair, it allows me to choose products that are best suited to their hair and scalp needs. We give information from washing hair right the way through to how often hair should be trimmed.

CURLiD Hair Analysis Kit, £299.99

What are the most common hair complaints you receive from curly hair clients?

The most common complaint is about product choice being confusing and not to mention expensive. Customers walk into hair shops and are confronted with shelves stacked to the brim with products. They all profess to giving you the hair of your dreams, but sadly this is not always the case. This is why CurliD was born. We do the research so our customers don’t have to. We match them to products that suit their hair type, hair condition and lifestyle. We also manage our customers’ expectations. Many factors can affect hair day to day, such as weather, activity level, product application et. All of these factors aesthetically affect the hair, and once you realise this, it become easier to change a bad hair day to a better hair day.

“I am not a fan of the term protective hairstyles. I feel it can suggest that this practise can cause no harm.”

Protective styling (storing the hair away for several days or weeks in a style i.e. braids), is believed to help the hair grow. Are you a fan of protective styles?

I am not a fan of the term protective hairstyles. I feel it can suggest that this practise can cause no harm. This is sadly not the case. I understand the principle behind it, it can stop over manipulation and damage that can be caused by grooming. But the simple fact is not all these styles are created equally. Damage can be caused to the follicle from styling that is too tight and left in for too long.

My advice is to be vigilant when adopting this form of styling, any damage caused is reversible if caught early but if left too long can lead to permanent hair loss. There should be no pain involved when wearing this type of styling, and if you are experiencing pain this is an indication that the style is too tight and there is a potential to cause damage. Also, adopting this hairstyle will not increase the hairs growth rate. We all have a genetic pre-determined growth rate, which is known as the Anagen phase. This ranges from two to seven years. Many systemic factors can alter the growth phase and reduce it, but we cannot make our individual genetic rate increase. Cutting the hair and breakage does not decrease our genetic growth rate, they just affect the length that we see, our hair is still growing out of our scalp as normal.

For those reluctant to trim their hair regularly, what words of wisdom do you have?

Cutting or not cutting the hair doesn’t affect hair growth but what it can effect is length retention. Any damage to the hair strands that leads to breakage will continue to break unless the broken end is removed. My advice is to regularly trim the ends as this will help hair reach its full-length potential.

“When you factor in the hair’s health too, just saying someone is, say, 4B, doesn’t work. We are all individual and so is our hair.”

The hair typing system (Type 1-4) is followed by the natural hair community and hair brands. Do you follow this system? (if not, why?)

We found the current number and alphabetical system too rigid. Many people have lots of different hair types and curl pattens on their head. When you factor in the hair’s health too, just saying someone is, say, 4B, doesn’t work. We are all individual and so is our hair. We have devised our own system that considers all the factors necessary to manage hair, including curl patterns, hair diameter – natural and acquired – hair condition and porosity.

This year rosemary oil is touted as the hero ingredient for hair oil. What are the benefits to using oils on curly hair?

The rosemary oil trend is misleading. It is being touted as a cure for all hair loss disorders and this simply is not the case. Good quality rosemary essential oil has lots of great properties that include increasing blood flow to the follicle which can aid healthy hair growth, but it will not cure hair loss disorders such as female pattern hair loss.

Rosemary pure essential oil must always be diluted with a good quality carrier oil. Undiluted rosemary oil can cause scalp irritation or even chemical burns. Also, there is a lot of confusion when it comes to carrier oils and what they do for hair. Oil helps to seal in hydration and aid moisture retention. On their own they can create a barrier on the hair shaft and in time can prevent the absorption of moisture in between shampooing.

There’s so much hair advice available online from experts and non-experts. What advice would you give to someone trying to embark on a healthy hair journey using platforms like YouTube and TikTok?

Make sure the person giving advice has a background in hair health. A lot of the information that is shared on social media is very misleading and can in fact be dangerous. There is a reason trichologist train for as long as we do. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is! And lastly, do your own research. Most claims should be backed up by legitimate studies.

Follow Samantha on Instagram at @samstewart18x

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