Most of the time, hair loss occurs slowly. You may notice your hairline begin to recede or the part of your hair widening. Hair loss can happen for many reasons and, in some cases, you can take steps to help regrow your hair or stop hair loss.
Hair Loss in Men and Women
When most people consider hair loss, they probably think about men with bald spots, bald heads, or bad combovers to hide their bald areas. However, it isn’t a problem that just affects men. Many women battle hair loss as well.
Men’s Hair Loss
Approximately 65% of men will experience hair loss by the age of 60, but younger men can lose their hair as well. In fact, about 40% of men will have noticeable hair loss by the time they are 35 years of age. The main cause of men’s hair loss is male pattern baldness, which is also referred to as androgenetic alopecia or genetic hair loss.
This condition is a by-product of testosterone called Dihydrotestosterone, abbreviated as DHT. This by-product attaches itself to hair follicles and causes them to shrink gradually. As it progresses, the hair becomes thinner with some men going bald at the top or back of their heads.
Women’s Hair Loss
The most common occurrence of hair loss in women is also androgenetic alopecia or female pattern baldness. This type of hair loss often begins around the age of 30, if not earlier, and becomes noticeable around the age of 40. By the time women turn 50, about 50% will experience some sort of hair thinning or loss.
Another problem that occurs more frequently for women, but can also occur in men, is called diffuse hair loss or chronic telogen effluvium. This condition can be temporary, resulting from extreme stress, or it can be chronic. The causes of chronic telogen effluvium can be:
Genetic Hair Loss
A combination of genes, hormones, and aging lead to genetic hair loss or male or female pattern baldness. It usually begins in a person's 20s or 30s, but many women notice it more after menopause.
As previously mentioned, DHT attaches to hair follicles and causes them to shrink. When this happens, normal hair growth changes and men’s and women’s hair becomes shorter and thinner. It will eventually stop growing, which causes the pattern baldness to emerge.
Genes from both parents contribute to androgenetic alopecia, so even if your father has a head full of thick hair, you may still have pattern baldness if it runs on your mother’s side of the family. If a parent or grandparent has thinning hair or a bald spot, then you can develop genetic hair loss as well.
Hair Loss Symptoms
If you have genetic hair loss, it starts with your hair becoming thinner. It can eventually lead to total hair loss on the scalp. Most people who are not balding lose about 100 hairs a day. They can lose more if they are going through a stressful time, such as childbirth or dealing with an illness.
Other symptoms of genetic hair loss include:
However, these symptoms may appear with other types of hair loss from illnesses, medications, or stress.
When men lose hair, it usually starts at the temple or crown, making an "M" shaped pattern. This pattern is known as a receding hairline. Eventually, the only hair remaining on a man's head could be at the sides and around the back of it. Some men shave their remaining hair off and embrace their baldness.
As women lose hair, it is usually all over their head and easier to hide. The temples and the hair along the forehead aren't normally affected on women, but rather the top of the head down the middle. This pattern is known as a "Christmas tree."
A woman rarely loses all her hair in one area on the scalp. If she does, then the hair loss may be the result of an autoimmune disorder called alopecia areata, a skin condition, or fungal infection on the head.
Unfortunately, hair loss due to genetics is permanent. Once it happens, the only solution may be hair replacement surgery. However, people may be able to slow hair loss if they notice the symptoms in time to help preserve their hair.
Slowing Hair Loss
While you won't prevent losing hair, you may be able to slow it down by using one of two drugs, minoxidil, commercially known as Rogaine, or finasteride commercially sold as Propecia. Minoxidil can be applied by both men and women, but finasteride is only for men’s hair loss.
Minoxidil is available over the counter, usually in 2% and 5% strengths. The 5% strength usually works better for men and women can use both with good outcomes. It should be applied on the scalp twice a day to help slow hair loss.
Finasteride is a prescription medication that comes in a pill form. It works by blocking the testosterone that affects hair growth. Studies on the use of this prescription show that 99% of the men who take it can prevent genetic hair loss, and some may experience some hair regrowth.
Women should not take this pill as it won’t help with their hair loss. It can also cause birth defects if they are pregnant. However, some hormonal treatments could help women prevent hair loss, such as taking certain birth control pills.
An autoimmune disorder results in the immune system attacking the body. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that results in the immune system attacking hair follicles, resulting in hair falling out in round patches. There are three types of hair loss it can cause:
- Alopecia Areata in which hair falls out in patches.
- Alopecia totalis, which is total hair loss on the scalp.
- Alopecia Universalis in which hair loss occurs all over the body.
Fortunately, with alopecia areata, only about 5% of the people who experience it will lose all the hair on their scalp or body. The hair that falls out may grow back, but it can also fall out again. Since it is an autoimmune disease, people of any age can have alopecia areata, including children.
Symptoms of Alopecia Areata
The signs that indicate that someone may have alopecia areata include:
- Patchy hair loss
- Exclamation mark hairs
- Widespread hair loss
- Nail issues
Patchy hair loss is one of the first signs of alopecia areata. Hair loss can occur on the scalp or any hair-bearing site, such as the beard, the chest, or eyebrows. The patches often appear as round, smooth, bare areas that are the size of a coin where there was once hair.
The hair around the edges of a bald patch often appear thicker on top then they do at the bottom. Their appearance resembles an exclamation mark, which is how the hair got its name. Although it isn’t common, some people will experience widespread hair loss, losing every hair on top of their heads and other parts of their bodies.
This autoimmune disorder can also affect your finger and toenails. They can appear to have small dents in them that look like pinpoints, which is called pitting. They may also develop white spots or lines, lose their luster, feel rough on top, become thin or split. In some rare cases, the nails may change shape and fall off.
Treatments for Alopecia Areata
A dermatologist can diagnose this disorder by either examining the area of the hair loss. They may remove some hairs around the area of a bald patch and examine them under a microscope, or they may perform a skin biopsy to diagnose it.
A skin biopsy involves removing a small patch of skin and examining it under a microscope. The doctor may also do a blood test if he or she has a reason to believe that the patient may have another type of autoimmune disease along with alopecia areata.
Although there isn't a cure for this disease and hair can grow back on its own, and the dermatologist may prescribe or recommend some medications to help hair grow in quickly.
A dermatologist may inject corticosteroids into the places where hair is missing to suppress the immune system. In adults, this is usually the first treatment that a doctor recommends. The shots are given every three to six weeks. Hair may start growing in about four weeks after the shots have stopped or it could take a little longer.
The corticosteroids can also be applied topically, but they are not as effective as the shots. The topical usually comes in the form of a lotion, cream, or an ointment. It is applied to the areas where hair has fallen out.
This medication can also be taken in pill form, but they can have severe side effects, so most dermatologists are reluctant to prescribe them. However, they may prescribe them for people who have several bald spots due to this condition.
Minoxidil 5% may be able to help regrow hair for some adults and children afflicted by alopecia areata. Users should apply it twice a day on affected areas, and new hair may begin to grow in about three months, although it may take a little longer for some people. Some patients may use it with other treatments.
Using this medication is a form of short-contact therapy. When the medication is applied to the skin, it helps alter the skin’s immunity. It comes in the form of a tar-like substance that stays on the skin for 20 to 60 minutes. It is then washed off to prevent skin irritation.
When this medication is applied to the skin, it causes a mild irritation that can cause redness, swelling, and itching. This test is done to trigger the skin's immune system, which generates white blood cells at the surface of the scalp to fight inflammation. It prevents the hair from going dormant and falling out. With DPCP, hair regrowth can take about three months.
Sometimes dermatologists will recommend using more than one treatment at a time to spur hair re-growth. For many people, after it has been successfully treated, the disease may not return. However, it can come back or last for several years before hair begins to grow again.
For the body to function correctly, it must have the right amount of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. These nutrients are available through the food people eat. If you have a poor diet or eat mainly processed foods, then your body may suffer from nutritional deficiencies, which can affect your entire body, including your hair.
When the body lacks the nutrients it needs, it prioritizes which functions receive them. Most of them will be prioritized for the vital organs, like the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, etc. Hair follicles may not be a priority, so hair can begin to thin or fall out.
Hair can fall out if you're on a crash diet, develop conditions like bulimia, anorexia, anemia, and many others. To maintain healthy hair, some of the nutrients your body needs include:
- Essential fatty acids
- B Vitamins
- Trace minerals
Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3s and other fatty acids play an important part in the formation of healthy hair. They are also important for healthy skin and nails. To ensure you're getting the fatty acids you need to keep a full head of shiny, thick hair, you should include these foods in your diet every day:
- Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel contain omega-3 fatty acids. Not only are they good for your hair, skin, and nails, they can help protect your heart as well. Be careful about consuming too much tuna because it can contain mercury.
- Flaxseed oil is a good source of fatty acids.
- Walnuts and almonds also contain fatty acids, so a handful of them every day can help keep your hair healthy and on your head.
The B Vitamins like B6, B12, and folic acid are important for maintaining hair growth. Vitamin B6 is found in bananas, white and sweet potatoes, and in green leafy vegetables like spinach. Vitamin B12 is mainly found in poultry, fish, meat, and milk. Many vegans and vegetarians do not get enough B vitamins, especially B12, from their diets.
Folic acid is an important part of your diet. Without an adequate amount of it, you can develop anemia. Pregnant women are prescribed folic acid to maintain their iron levels and to ensure their baby gets the best chance of being healthy because folic acid is an integral part of their development.
Folic acid food sources include fresh fruits and vegetables, such as citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and tomatoes. Whole-grain or fortified grain foods, lentils, and beans are also a good source for this vital nutrient.
Protein is important for keeping the body healthy, including hair. There are many food sources of protein, but many people do not eat enough of them. Protein is available by eating meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and eggs.
It is also available in plant-based foods like beans, legumes, nuts, soy, and protein powders. It is important to eat at least one serving of protein every day.
Along with vitamins, minerals are important for your body to function correctly. Minerals are found mostly in plant-based foods because they are found in the soil in which they are grown. If the vegetables you eat are hydroponically grown, then the solutions they receive contain vitamins and minerals.
Some of the minerals important for healthy hair include:
Although you can take a multivitamin to ensure you get these minerals in your diet, you can also get them from the foods you eat.
Foods that contain iron include dark chocolate, spinach, broccoli, quinoa, beef, beans, and tofu. Most green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, avocados, tree nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate contain magnesium. Foods with zinc in them are whole grains, milk, oysters, beef, cashews, and almonds.
Biotin is especially important because it keeps hair, skin, and nails healthy. It also helps convert food into energy, so you need to make sure it is included in your diet every day. Some of the foods containing this mineral are egg yolks, liver, nuts, soybeans, whole grains, cereal, bananas, and mushrooms.
True nutritional deficiencies in developed countries are rare, but with inadequate supplies of these nutrients, you can experience thinning hair or hair loss. While taking a multivitamin every day can help ensure you get the right vitamins and minerals in your body, it is also important to eat a healthy diet.
Many illnesses affect the entire body and can lead to hair loss. If it isn’t an illness that is directly affecting your hair, it could be the treatment or medications that you’re given for the condition. Some of the diseases that can cause hair loss include:
- Thyroid Disease
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
- Crohn’s Disease
The purpose of the thyroid gland, which is located in the neck, is to release hormones. However, if it is malfunctioning by being too active, which is called hyperthyroidism, or not active enough, known as hypothyroidism, it can affect how your body functions.
The first noticeable symptom of thyroid disease may be hair loss. Hormones help healthy hair grow, but thyroid disease can affect it and cause it to fall out. Fortunately, once the thyroid is properly treated and its functioning normally again, the hair will grow back.
If the thyroid needs to be removed because of cancer or a tumor, then the patient will be given synthetic hormones. Once their body adjusts to them, then their hair will start re-growing.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
Although Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is rare, it affects nine times more women than it does men. It is an autoimmune disease that causes antibodies to form and fight the body’s cells, tissues, and hair follicles. The immune system sees these normal processes as enemy invaders and attacks them.
When the antibodies invade the hair follicles, it causes them to reject the hair shafts, so the hair falls out. SLE can be unpredictable, so there may be times when the hair starts to regrow, but it can easily fall back out again because it cycles between remission and flare-ups of the disease.
There is no known cure for SLE, and it can greatly impact the patient's quality of life. Hair implants can be done to maintain a hair full of hair for many sufferers of this disease.
High blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can create disruptions throughout the body, including hair growth. The primary cause of diabetes-related hair loss is the reshaping of red blood cells, which can take place when blood sugar levels run too high.
Misshapen red blood cells have a more difficult time moving through small blood vessels and capillaries, so they may not be able to make it to their destination. When hair falls out, it is because the follicles are not receiving enough red blood cells and it can cause the follicles to die.
By maintaining their blood sugar and keeping it at acceptable levels, a diabetic can keep their hair from falling out. If you notice thinning hair or excessive hair shedding, speak to your doctor about managing your blood sugar levels better.
Crohn’s Disease is a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) that can affect the entire body and cause hair loss. When a person with IBD experiences hair loss, it may be because of:
Sufferers of IBD, such as those with Crohn’s Disease, can lose a significant amount of weight that can lead to hair loss. However, they may not be able to absorb the nutrients necessary to keep hair healthy. This type of hair loss is usually temporary because once they have their nutritional needs normalized, the hair will grow back.
The medications that Crohn’s Disease patients take can affect their hair as well. Many patients are given immunosuppressive or anti-inflammatory drugs to control flare-ups of the disease. These drugs can then cause hair loss. This problem is also temporary because the hair will grow back once the flare-up is over and the medications are no longer needed.
People with conditions like Crohn's Disease need to be careful about styling their hair. If you have long hair, instead of putting it in a tight ponytail, consider a loose hair braid. The tightness of the ponytail can cause a condition called traction alopecia, and your hair can fall out.
Minoxidil, or Rogaine, may be able to trigger hair re-growth in patients with forms of IBD. Talk to your doctor about it before attempting to use it.
Hair products and hairstyles can lead to damaged hair, which can lead to thinning hair or hair loss. Some products contain alcohol that can dry out hair and cause it to become brittle. Shampoos often contain an ingredient called polyethylene glycol, that can cause hair to be dry.
The best way to combat brittle hair, which can easily break, is to buy hair products that are labeled "alcohol-free." Also, look for products, like shampoos, which are water-based as they are easier to wash out of your hair, which helps to prevent damage.
Harsh Chemical Treatments
Having a stylist color or straighten your hair can also lead to hair damage. Chemical straighteners break the bonds on the outer hair layer to get rid of its curly texture. Although the hair will become straighter, it will also become weaker, so it can break more easily.
Hair dyes can also weaken hair by irritating the scalp. Most hair dyes have a chemical called paraphenylenediamine that causes a skin irritation called contact dermatitis. The reaction to the chemical damages hair and can cause it to become thinner. Fortunately, you don’t need to color your hair as often when it’s done professionally, and they are better at keeping chemicals off the scalp.
Hair Styling Techniques
If you brush your hair, then you tug on the strands, which can pull them out if you’re tugging too hard. Also, blow drying your hair can cause it to dry out, making it brittle. As mentioned earlier, wearing it in a tight ponytail or braid can affect your hair and cause it to fall out.
A good way to prevent hair loss from styling techniques is to condition it thoroughly, which helps make it stronger. It should also be deep conditioned after it has been colored or chemically treated.
While many hair loss issues are not treatable, you really cannot do anything about your genetics, talk to a dermatologist about trying hair re-growth products, like minoxidil, to get it to grow back. Also, eat a healthy diet to give your hair a better chance of being strong and stay looking great.