Common Causes & Myths of Hair Loss
If you’ve always had a full head of hair, it raises an eyebrow when suddenly some of it starts to disappear before your very eyes. You might notice that your hairline starts to recede, the shower drain is always clogged with hair, or that your crowning glory is looking a lot more sparse than usual – particularly over the past year where the lockdown and prolonged periods of stress have contributed to even more instances of hair loss and thinning than usual.
Hair loss is a lot more common than you might think. In fact, almost 4 out of 10 men will experience significant hair loss, and up to 1 in 4 women. While it can be unnerving, don’t panic – there are many things you can do about hair loss and thinning hair. But before we jump straight into the hair loss products and treatments, it’s important to understand WHY you’re losing hair in the first place, as well as debunk some of the misconceptions and myths about hair loss.
First things first, not all hair loss is the same. Alopecia is the umbrella term for hair loss and there are several different kinds, which can either be genetic (you can thank your parents for this one) or reactive. Let’s take a closer look at these in more detail…
Genetic Hair Loss
Androgenic alopecia, also known as hereditary male pattern baldness (MPB) or female pattern baldness (FPB), is the most common cause of hair loss in women and men. Genetic balding or hair loss is not a disease, but rather a natural condition caused by a combination of genetics, hormone levels and the aging process.
If you’re genetically predisposed to hair thinning, you may see a progressive, gradual reduction in your hair volume. Certain hair follicles are sensitive to male hormones, which causes them to shrink and produce shorter, finer hairs as time goes on.
For men, MPB almost always starts as an m-shaped recession at the front of your scalp and often starts in your 20s or 30s. If you’re a woman, you might notice a widening of your part. FPB can thin your hair, but your hairline doesn’t recede and you’re unlikely to become totally bald.
If you have alopecia areata, your immune system mistakenly attacks your hair follicles. As a result, the follicles become smaller and stop producing hair, leading to hair loss.
Researchers aren’t 100% sure of the exact cause of this condition, although it typically occurs in people who have a family history of other autoimmune conditions, such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. This is why some scientists suspect that genetics may contribute to the development of alopecia areata. They also believe that certain factors in the environment are needed to trigger alopecia areata in people who are genetically predisposed to it.
Reactive Hair Loss
Reactive hair loss is when you lose hair as a result of a trigger, and not because of a genetic predisposition. These triggers could be many different things, and the best way to treat this type of hair loss is to get to the root cause.
If your hormones are out of whack, your entire body can be affected – from weight gain and pesky adult acne to hair loss. Our hormones play a very important role in regulating the hair’s growth cycle, and if you have an excess of androgens (the male hormones, which shorten the hair growth cycle), this can result in hair loss.
Post-partum Hair Loss
New moms sometimes notice a lot of hair loss – sometimes in clumps – in the first six months after their babies are born. Normally, your hair falls out in small amounts every day. However, when you’re expecting, your pregnancy hormones prevent those hairs from falling out. But all good things must come to an end, and that includes your thick new locks. When your hormones drop back to normal after birth, the extra hairs drop, too. But don’t freak out – the total volume of hair loss most likely isn’t more than you would have lost over the last nine months, it just seems like it because it’s happening all at once. Your hair should be back to normal within a year.
Yes, stress can literally make your hair fall out. But before you start stressing about your stress levels, keep in mind that everyday stress such as a nagging boss or a hectic job is not usually enough to cause hair loss all by itself. Traumatic events and emotional stress such as long-term suffering and illness can cause your hair to go into a longer “resting phase” where the hair follicles pause to regenerate hair.
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism
Having a thyroid imbalance, whether it’s under- or over-active, can affect your hair follicles. The thyroid gland helps regulate the body’s metabolism by controlling the production of proteins and tissue use of oxygen. Hypothyroidism can also result in anemia, which can impact your hair’s health.
Anemia / Iron Deficiency
An iron deficiency is a common cause of hair loss in women. This important nutrient is vital for producing hair cell protein and a lack of it can take its toll on your tresses. Before you rush out to stock up on Iron tablets, be sure to visit a GP first who will be able to confirm the correct dosage or treatment for you.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 affects the health of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to your tissues. A vitamin B12 deficiency is most common in vegans, as you typically only obtain B12 through animal proteins.
Dramatic Weight Loss
Your waist is getting thinner, and so is your hair. Why? Any nutritional deficiency often first shows up in our hair. Hair follicles are among the most metabolically active in your body. Studies show that hair growth can be impacted when you reduce your caloric and/or protein intake or have a micronutrient deficiency. Low protein intake may also lead to hair loss, and very low-calorie diets don’t provide enough nutrition to allow your body– including hair follicles – to function normally.
Almost all men and women will notice hair loss or hair thinning as they get older. Hair loss can also become more prevalent leading up to and after menopause.
Traction alopecia is caused by putting stress on hair through repeated pulling or stretching, such as wearing your hair in a tight ponytail, buns, dreadlocks, hair extensions, weaves, or braids. The pattern of hair loss mirrors where the hair is under strain, usually by the edges and hairline, so be sure to go easy in those areas. Switching over to less-damaging hairstyles and rotating hairstyles can go a long way toward reversing traction alopecia.
Myths About Baldness & Hair Loss
We bet you’ve heard a lot of strange stories about what causes hair loss. We’re here to help set the record straight!
- All hair loss is permanent – FALSE. Only genetic hair loss is irreversible, while reactive hair loss (caused by triggers) is most often only temporary once the underlying cause is dealt with.
- Wearing hats too often can cause hair loss – FALSE. You might have heard that the scalp needs to breathe and wearing a hat can stifle that. The oxygen that your hair follicles need is derived from your bloodstream and not the air outside, so wearing a hat will not affect your hair’s growth or increase hair loss in any way.
- Hair loss only happens to old people – FALSE. If you have a genetic predisposition to hair loss, you may see the first signs of losing your hair in your twenties. Keep in mind that you might not notice it right away. In fact, most hair loss can only be noticeable or seen after half of your hair is gone!
- Genetic hair loss is passed down through your mother’s side of the family – FALSE. You can’t let Dad off the hook for this one! Genetic hair loss can be passed on by either one of your parents.
- Only men suffer from hair loss – FALSE. Women can and do suffer from hair loss. However, women experience hair loss differently than men in that they typically have receding hairlines, but rather experience thinning hair more evenly across the entire scalp.
- Washing your hair too often can cause hair loss – FALSE. The frequency of how often you wash your hair has no effect on the overall growth of hair.
- Taking vitamins will promote hair growth – MOSTLY FALSE. If you’re deficient in certain vitamins (such as B vitamins and Vitamin D), supplementing with that vitamin may prevent further hair loss. However, taking supplements when you aren’t deficient will have little effect.
- Cutting your hair often will make it grow back thicker and/or faster – FALSE. Haircuts have no effect on how fast or thick your hair grows.
Getting to the Root
Now that you know what causes hair loss and thinning, keep an eye out for our next blog post where we’ll give you the lowdown on the best treatments and products for hair loss and thinning hair. If your hair loss is worrying you or you’re not sure what is causing it, our best advice is to visit your doctor who will help pinpoint the cause.
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