Hair loss, also known as alopecia, refers to the loss of hair from a person’s head or body. This can come in the form of generalised hair loss or something called male pattern baldness, wherein the hair recedes around the temples. This mostly occurs due to male hormones known as androgens; the most significant one in terms of hair loss is testosterone.
Some forms of hair loss can be attributed to alopecia areata or spot baldness, a disease of the autoimmune system wherein the body fails to recognise its own tissue and starts attacking it. Extreme types of alopecia areata include the condition of alopecia totalis, which involves losing all the hair on one’s head, and alopecia universalis, which is associated with the loss of all bodily hair and hair from the head.
Around two out of three men are said to experience some degree of hair loss by the age of 60. For the most part, this is due to male pattern baldness. Whilst men seem to be primarily affected by hair loss, women can also be subject to the same follicular challenges – a phenomenon that is reportedly on the increase – and can find them equally distressing. Rather than receding around the temples as is often the case in male hair loss, women are more inclined to experience a widening of the parting or an overall thinning of the hair.
Before looking at the theories as to why hair loss happens, it is important to understand the hair cycle. A normal head of hair can contain up to 150,000 strands of hair. At any given time, approximately 90 per cent of these are in a growth phase, a phase that lasts for two to three years. After this point, hair growth enters a resting phase that is about three to four months in duration. Once that phase is complete, the hair falls out and the process starts all over again.
Why does it happen?
The exact reasons for hair loss are generally unknown, but there are various contributory factors. If a person is affected by a combination of two or more of these factors, the chances of hair loss are considerably greater.
Various forms of stress are thought to play a role in hair loss, although its exact role is largely unknown.
Physical stresses on the body such as injury, trauma or surgical operations are one particular type of stress. These could trigger a change in the body’s routine physiological functions and make a disproportionate number of hairs go into the resting phase mentioned above.
Pregnancy and menopause are further examples of such physical stress on the body, with many women finding they lose their hair after giving birth. Sometimes this can happen during pregnancy itself or as a menopausal symptom. Hormonal changes in the body at these times are accountable for such hair loss and cause a disruption to the body’s normal functioning.
Changes in hormones are also responsible for hair loss in men. Testosterone plays a part in male pattern baldness. Combined with the heredity gene necessary for hair loss, a small amount of this testosterone is formed by the roots of the hair into a derivative known as Dihydrotestosterone. It is this derivative that is responsible for hair loss. Female pattern hair loss can also be heredity.
The idea of hair loss from emotional stress alone is a topic of debate. Short-term everyday stress is not thought to affect the body to the point of hair loss, but sustained stress that affects sleep, appetite and the level of stress hormones in the body is much more likely to be a contributory factor towards hair loss.
Excess oil, sebum, poor blood flow to the scalp, and nutritional deficiencies such as a deficiency in iron are also thought to contribute to the likelihood of hair loss.
Several drugs and medications have also been associated with hair loss. These include anticoagulants, agents for gout, drugs derived from vitamin A, anticonvulsants for epilepsy, certain antidepressants, beta-blocker drugs for high blood pressure, and anti-thyroid agents. Others drugs, such as blood thinners and male hormones (anabolic steroids), are also thought to have an effect on hair loss.
Radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and infections are known to be associated with hair loss; all of this has to do with the changes triggered in the body’s normal physiological functions. Nervous disorders, which are also linked to changes in the body’s routine functioning, put the body under stress and might cause hair loss.
What can be done about hair loss?
Hair loss is not always a foregone conclusion. Fortunately, various treatments are available that have been shown to improve both the rate and amount of loss, but it does depend on the type of hair loss in question.
Drugs are available – either via prescription or over the counter – that claim to slow the rate of hair loss and promote growth. The market is also boasts a considerable number of hair loss cures, either commercial or natural treatments, which can also stop hair loss and encourage growth. Vitamins and minerals play a vital role in the functioning of the body, and taking certain vitamins in supplement form may well play a considerable part in helping to keep a healthy head of hair. A daily vitamin and mineral supplement containing the vitamin B complex, pantothenic acid, folic acid, vitamin A and zinc can reportedly go a long way towards keeping hair healthy and preventing it from turning grey. A once-daily multi-vitamin formula of magnesium can have a great effect on hair growth. There is no guarantee that this works, however, but many people have witnessed a definite reduction in hair loss with such a regimen.
Surgical options also exist whereby hair is transplanted or grafted. If completed by a competent surgeon, these should be virtually undetectable.
Hair concealers are also an interesting option for some people. These are available in solid, spray or particle form to coat and thicken the hair, the latter of which uses thousands of colour-matched hair fibres that intertwine with existing hair. None of these concealer options clog the pores and they allow the skin to breathe freely.
Hair replacement systems such as toupees and wigs are another option when faced with hair loss and have greatly improved over the years.