Hair loss is an extremely common phenomenon, with around 80% of men experiencing it to a varying degree at some point in their lives. What is less talked about is that almost 40% of women will experience significant hair loss. Even though so many people will lose their hair, it can still be quite an upsetting experience for many as they find it hard to cope with their changing appearance. It is more expected by society that a man will lose his hair as he ages, which means that women can find the prospect particularly difficult. Throughout their lives women have often based more of their identity on their looks, of which hair can be a big part. Its loss can therefore sometimes feel quite distressing.
As so many of the population are affected by the loss of their hair, it makes sense to spend some time thinking about the possible causes of hair loss and whether there is anything we can do to prevent or treat it.
So what actually causes hair loss?
The possible causes of hair loss are many and varied, with the most widely known being the simple process of ageing. It is perfectly normal for everyone to shed around 100 hairs every day, but as you age the rate at which these hairs are replaced will naturally slow down. The loss becomes gradually more pronounced and will eventually be permanent. In addition to having less hairs, as you get older you may find that the individual hairs diminish in size and thickness.
Drinking too much alcohol or drinking alcohol too often can have an effect on your hormone levels and these hormone levels can contribute to hair loss. Your body will be less efficient at absorbing the key nutrients needed for healthy hair growth, while oestrogen levels can rise to levels that cause you to lose hair.
Hereditary hair loss means that your hair loss will follow a pattern handed down from previous generations of your family. Hereditary hair loss can also often begin at a fairly young age. The age at which someone begins to lose their hair will often determine the final extent of the resulting baldness, although this will not always be the case.
Stress levels rise exponentially at times of life trauma, such as bereavement or divorce, and can have a significant effect on levels of hair loss. People normally begin to notice the hair loss only after the stressful event is over, as the stress chemicals released in the body cause the hair follicles to enter a resting phase where no new growth will take place. Hairs are shed naturally but are no longer being replaced, as the hair follicles are likely to remain in the resting phase for a number of months after the traumatic event has passed.
Serious illnesses such as cancer and their treatment can often have a dramatic effect on levels of hair loss for the individual. When chemotherapy is used as a treatment option for cancer, high levels of extremely powerful drugs are introduced into the body to fight against the cancerous cells. This can cause hair loss if the cancer fighting drugs also attack the cells that make up the healthy hair follicle. If radiation therapy is used on the scalp, this can also have an effect on the hair follicles.
Not all causes of hair loss are physical; in fact, it is possible that using the wrong hair care products could lead to problems. Using the wrong product for your hair type can cause the hairs to become dry or brittle and can even lead to them breaking off at the root. If too much oil is allowed to build up on the scalp due to the wrong hair care product, this can lead to infection and can damage the hair follicles. Using bleach to lighten your hair can also damage it. Even if you care for your hair with special products for coloured hair, it will still be more likely to be brittle and prone to breaking off easily.
Can hair loss be treated?
Normally there is no need to seek treatment for hair loss for medical reasons, but many people choose to do so for cosmetic reasons and to feel happier about their own appearance. Treatments have advanced somewhat over recent years and there are now a few options available that are certainly worth investigating.
There are two drugs available for the treatment of male pattern baldness: finasteride / propecia and minoxidil. These are not available free of charge on the NHS, but you may decide to look into paying for treatment privately. Finasteride is taken in tablet form and works by preventing the conversion of testosterone into another hormone that shrinks the hair follicles. It normally takes between three and six months for finasteride to take effect and treatment needs to be ongoing to prevent the hair loss process resuming.
Minoxidil is a lotion that is rubbed onto the scalp daily and can be bought from a pharmacy without needing to have a prescription from your doctor. It is unclear how the drug works, but it does seem to cause hair regrowth in some men. Again, this treatment needs to be ongoing to maintain its effects.
Some people may choose to wear a wig to mask their hair loss rather than undertaking other treatments. These days there are many styles of extremely realistic wigs available and this can be a great solution for some people.
It is also possible to have surgery for hair loss and there are several main types on offer. A hair transplant entails the removal of a small piece of scalp from an area where you have a lot of hair. Single hairs are then grafted to other areas where there are currently no hairs. An alternative is scalp reduction surgery, where bald pieces of scalp are cut away and hairy pieces of scalp are moved closer together. Finally, artificial hair made from synthetic fibre can be implanted.