Hair loss can be quite a traumatic condition and is experienced by both males and females. There are several causes of hair loss, but the good news is that many of the conditions are very treatable.
What constitutes hair loss?
When people think about hair loss, often they think about hair loss affecting the scalp, but the reality is that hair loss can occur anywhere on your body. It is effectively the thinning of hair, or total loss of hair, throughout or on parts of the head and body. While hair loss affects both males and females, it is more commonly experienced by males.
It is important to remember that a degree of hair loss during the aging process is entirely normal. People lose, on average, 50 to 100 hairs per day, although new hair generally regrows from the same follicles. Over time, some follicles stop producing hair, the shafts get finer, and the hair will lose colour.
What are the signs of hair loss?
In addition to there being many causes of hair loss, people also experience hair loss differently. If you are concerned that you might be experiencing hair loss, here are some of the signs or symptoms you can identify:
- A sudden loosening of hair whereby your hair comes out when it’s washed or even with a gentle tug.
- Gradual hair thinning which is common in females; or the receding of hair from the forehead common in males.
- Patchy bald spots which generally affect the head, possibly the facial hair as well.
- Full-body hair loss quite suddenly.
- Dry or scaly patches which are red and itchy.
If you, or a family member, is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to consult a medical practitioner. Any form of hair loss could be an indication of an underlying medical condition and treatment might be needed.
Causes of hair loss
There are many different causes of hair loss that are triggered by genetic or environmental factors. Hair loss in non-discriminatory, and can affect anyone of any age, race or gender. Here are some of the more common reasons:
- Hormonal changes
A sudden change in hormones in your body can result in temporary hair loss. Some of the examples of hormonal changes that result in hair loss include:
- Birth control pills
As mentioned above, hair follicles lose regenerative properties and become a lot finer as people get older, resulting in thinning and greying hair.
This is a condition that creates round, bald patches on the scalp or elsewhere on the body, and will generally become apparent in childhood initially. While the specific triggers of alopecia areata are not known, it is believed that a combination of genetics and environmental factors are involved.
Various nutrients – such as Vitamin D and protein – are needed to create new hair follicles and maintain existing healthy hair follicles. Malnutrition can, therefore, result in hair loss.
- Androgenetic alopecia
One of the most common causes of hair loss is male-pattern / female-pattern baldness which is a genetic condition. For men, the hair loss is usually evident as a receding hairline or bad spots. For women, the hair loss is usually just a general thinning of the hair.
- Stress / Telogen effluvium
Experiencing an extremely stressful event, stress to the body or an emotional shock can cause a general thinning of the hair over a few months, although this is temporary. This could be excessive weight loss, a family tragedy or illness.
One side effect of certain medications might be hair loss. Some of the medications known to cause hair loss are used to treat:
- High blood pressure
- Heart conditions
This is a psychological condition – also known as hair-pulling disorder – whereby people compulsively pull out their hair, usually from the scalp, eyebrows, or eyelashes. This is generally triggered by high-stress scenarios.
- Traction alopecia
When wearing hair in tight styles for an extended period of time, the pressure placed on the hair follicles can result in hair loss. Hot oil hair treatments and permanents can also cause inflammation of hair follicles that leads to hair loss.
- Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia (CCCA)
This is a hair loss caused by a gene found in women of African descent. The recent discovery of this gene by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Dean of Clinical Medicine, Professor Ncoza Dlova, has been hailed as a major breakthrough for South African dermatology.
- Ringworm /Tinea capitis
Despite the name, ringworm is actually a fungal infection which can occur anywhere in the body. It can develop on the scalp and result in hair loss.
Hair loss prevention
Although many forms of hair loss cannot be prevented, there are some steps you can take to avoid hair loss, particularly when it’s related to compulsive habits. Some hair loss prevention tips include:
- Avoiding medications or supplements where hair loss is a side effect.
- Avoiding tight hairstyles and twisting or pulling hair.
- Using a wide-toothed comb or soft brush.
- Avoiding harsh hair treatment such as straighteners or hot oil treatments and dyes.
- Wearing a hat to protect your hair from sunlight.
- Eat a healthy, nutrient-enriched diet.
- Stopping smoking as it’s been shown to increase baldness in men.
- Wearing a cooling cap if you’re being treated with chemotherapy as it can reduce the risk of hair loss.
Treatments for hair loss
Once a dermatologist has identified the cause of your hair loss, then a treatment can be sought. The treatment for hair loss in males is generally the same as treatment for hair loss in females, hair loss is just more commonly found in males. Whatever treatment option is decided upon, it’s always easier to treat before extensive hair loss so consult a medical practitioner as early as possible. Some of the treatment options are:
- Mioxidil – a medicine applied to the scalp which stops hairs from thinning while also stimulating hair growth.
- Lasers – these are handheld devices which give off a laser light to stimulate hair growth.
- Corticosteroid – this is used in cases when hair loss is as a result of inflammation, such as alopecia areata.
- Finasteride – this is a pill that effectively slows hair loss and stimulates regrowth by preventing the body’s production of the hormone, dihydrotestosterone.
- Hair transplant – generally the skin on the scalp with hair growth is transplanted to an area that needs hair growth.
- Scalp reduction – part of bald scalp is removed and scalp with hair brought together to reduce balding.
- Scalp expansion – the hair-bearing areas of the scalp are stretched.
Foods that could boost hair growth
Because hair growth needs a balance of nutrients, it’s understood that certain foods might stimulate hair growth in certain cases. Some of these foods are:
- Eggs – contain protein and biotin – a B vitamin that might boost hair growth.
- Brazil nuts – a source of selenium.
- Fatty fish and walnuts – a good source of Omega 3.
- Any foods containing Vitamin D as a deficiency will contribute to hair loss. Foods high in Vitamin D are fatty fish, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks and mushrooms.
Although not scientifically proven, there are also a number of natural remedies that are believed to stimulate hair growth such as massage and essential oils.
If you are concerned that you are experiencing hair loss, it is vital that you consult a dermatologist before seeking any treatment options. Discovering the underlying condition that is resulting in the hair loss is vital to actually dealing with the condition.