Hair loss can affect both men and women. It has a number of causes and a variety of possible treatments. Here are 20 of the most commonly asked questions about hair loss and its prevention.
1. How common is hair loss?
Common hair loss, or androgenetic alopecia, is a surprisingly prevalent phenomenon. Around 50 per cent of men experience significant loss by the age of 50, and 80 per cent are affected by the age of 70.
2. What causes hair loss?
There are several contributing different factors, but the most common form of pattern loss is affected by changes in hormone levels. Dihydrotestosterone, also known as DHT, is synthesised in the adrenal glands, testes and hair follicles. Excessive levels of this cause hair follicles to shrink, which is also called miniaturisation. This shrinking of the follicles interrupts the hair’s normal resting and growing cycles as insufficient nutrients are absorbed to maintain healthy hair levels. As a result, hair becomes finer and lighter, leading to eventual loss.
3. Is it genetic?
Androgenetic alopecia, or pattern hair loss, can be inherited. Although the exact degree of genetic loss is hard to predict, if other close members of your family have this condition, it is likely you will experience a similar pattern.
4. Can women be affected?
Hair loss can be triggered by changes in sensitivity to testosterone levels. As these are typically higher in men, the impact of these changes is more significant in males. However, women also have testosterone, albeit in smaller quantities, so they can also be affected by this.
5. Do men and women experience baldness differently?
Although both men and women experience pattern baldness, women tend to maintain their hairline and lose hair in a more diffuse pattern, so it is usually less noticeable. Men typically experience loss in patches along the front of the hairline and on the crown of the head.
6. Is increased testosterone to blame?
It is a common misconception that testosterone levels can have an impact on hair loss, but it is actually the body’s sensitivity to testosterone that is the contributing factor. Changes in this sensitivity are what affect loss rather than particularly high or low levels themselves.
7. Does stress affect hair loss?
Some people exhibit hair loss during times of stress, although this has no impact on genetic or pattern baldness. Stress-related behaviours such as pulling on hair can also result in damage to the hair follicles.
8. Does cutting hair have an impact on density?
Hair is only alive at the follicle and not along the shaft, so cutting it will make no difference to its thickness.
9. Can it be caused by pregnancy?
Although hormonal changes can have an impact on hair loss, the usual natural shedding cycle is disrupted during pregnancy, which is why some people report having thicker hair while pregnant. Once the pregnancy has ended, this normal shedding resumes, which is why it can feel as though there is significant hair loss afterward.
10. What about chemicals?
Exposure to chemicals can have a damaging effect on the hair follicles and cause hair to fall out. Some hair dyes, such as those containing high levels of ammonia or peroxide, can be damaging to the hair. They do not cause loss on their own, but they can cause hair to become brittle and more prone to breaking, making it appear thinner.
11. Can illness cause hair loss?
Some illnesses, including thyroid disease and anaemia, can also have an impact on hair health. This is usually due to hormonal changes or vitamin deficiencies due to sickness.
12. Is diet to blame?
A deficiency in iron can be a contributory factor, so it is sensible to maintain a balanced diet.
13. Can extensions and braids cause baldness?
When hair is pulled excessively at the roots to style it into braids or to fit extensions, it can result in a type of loss called alopecia marginalis. This can lead to bald patches where hair has been removed due to traction.
14. What about lifestyle?
Smoking, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, and taking drugs can all be potential factors in hair loss, so adopting a healthy lifestyle can be beneficial.
15. Does shampoo help?
This depends on the underlying cause of the loss. If it is due to inflammation affecting production by the hair follicles, an anti-fungal shampoo that cleanses the scalp and unblocks androgen receptors might calm the scalp and prevent further damage.
16. Are there treatments to halt hair loss?
Hair loss treatments that contain the active ingredient finasteride might halt hair loss, which is ideal for those who are happy with their current hair density and simply want to prevent further thinning. They work by limiting the follicle-shrinking effects of DHT.
17. What about growth stimulants?
There are a number of treatments available that may promote new hair growth. These contain the ingredient minoxidil, which is a potassium channel opener. Applied topically to the scalp in the form of a liquid or foam, it combats the shrinking of hair follicles. As follicles return to their normal size, the usual blood flow can resume, allowing the necessary nutrients for hair growth to reach the follicle.
18. How long does treatment take?
This varies according to each individual, but most people using a growth stimulant should have some new hair after approximately three months. This will be very fine, with more noticeable results appearing after around six months of continuous treatment.
19. Why does my hair look thinner after beginning treatment?
Some people undergoing treatment report that their hair looks thinner after beginning the process. This is completely normal and is due to changes in the hair follicles. As they become healthier, they cease production on damaged thin hairs and begin creating new ones. As the old ones are naturally shed, this can make density thinner until the new hair has noticeably grown in, usually after a few months.
20. Can a transplant help?
Hair transplants can be effective, but this depends on the type of hair loss and the health of the donor area. Hair is usually transplanted from the back of the head to bald areas at the hairline or crown, so if this donor area has insufficient healthy growth, the client might not be suitable for transplant.