“I’m worried my hair is falling out! My hairdresser told me that my hair is much thinner than it used to be and I’ve noticed a change in thickness myself. I thought only men lost their hair when they got older.”
As a dermatologist I frequently hear this complaint from women. Although men are more likely to lose their hair, women and children are also subject to excessive hair loss. Shedding some hair on a daily basis is normal but when it becomes excessive it could have an underlying cause. Most people assume that baldness is a result of age or genetics but there are many things that can cause hair loss.
• Major surgery or serious illness may cause a sudden loss of hair after 3 to 4 months but it is temporary and will grow back.
• Hormone imbalance, known as androgens and estrogens (male/female), is a very common cause of hair loss in both men and women. Many women notice hair loss after giving birth because high levels of certain hormones cause the body to keep hair that would normally fall out. After the birth of a baby, that hair falls out and the normal cycle of hair growth resumes.
• Some medicines cause hair loss such as blood thinners, drugs for high blood pressure, gout, birth control pills and antidepressants.
• Fungal infections of the scalp or an underlying disease such as lupus or diabetes can result in hair loss.
What About Pattern Baldness?
Everyone loses hair but men lose it earlier, faster, and more extensively. This is due to what most people refer to as common baldness or male – pattern baldness, which is responsible for 95% of all hair loss. This type of hair loss is usually inherited and is marked by a receding hair line and baldness on the top of the head.
About 15% of all women develop some degree of pattern baldness in which the hair becomes thin over the entire scalp. In some cases female pattern hair loss can produce bald patches along with thinning.
Hair follicles grow hairs within a normal cycle that lasts for 2 to 3 years. About 90 % of the hair on your head is growing and about 10% is in a resting phase. After 3 to 4 months, the resting hair falls out and new hair begins to grow. For people with a genetic tendency for baldness, the hair begins to grow in thinner, shorter, and lighter when they reach a certain age. Eventually, new hairs stop growing creating a thin spot or balding.
Genetic hair loss can begin as early as 17 years of age and by age 50 approximately 60% of all men will show signs of significant hair loss. Pattern baldness begins most often between the ages of 24-38 years of age.
Is There Any Hope For Hair Loss?
When patients come to me with concerns about hair loss, I ask questions about their diet, medicines they might be taking, and whether they have had a recent illness. Female patients are questioned about their menstrual cycle, pregnancies and menopause to better understand hormonal triggers. In some cases a physical exam, blood tests or a biopsy may be needed to get a better picture of the cause of hair loss. It is important to understand the possible causes in order to make an informed decision about how to treat the condition.
Once the cause of your hair loss has been determined, various treatments can be helpful in restoring hair growth or slowing down the development of common baldness. You may be asked to change your medication if that is what’s causing you to lose your hair. If hormonal imbalance is to blame, there are medications to help prevent further hair loss.
There are medicines available without a prescription such as minoxidil that is applied to the scalp to help generate hair growth and can be used by both men and women. Keep in mind that medicines of this nature are composed of chemicals and as with many drugs, may produce side effects.
Vitamins and Diet Changes
Natural hair loss remedies have been used for years to reverse the loss of hair from disease of vitamin deficiencies. Sometimes changing to an organic, pesticide-free diet and taking vitamin supplements can help people recover from premature hair loss. Adding scalp massage, herbal remedies, and exercise to the mix has helped many people rejuvenate their hair growth.
A diet rich in whole food along with taking a multi-vitamin is recommended. Researchers have also found that increasing the amount of B vitamins (1/2/12) is helpful in reversing hair loss.
As a word of caution; be sure to consult your doctor or nutritionist before making any drastic changes to your diet.
There are also herbal hair growth treatments that have been passed down from generation to generation as therapy for hair loss. These include:
• Rosemary – Made into tea and rinsed through the hair daily.
• Mallow roots – Boiled in wine and massaged into the scalp weekly.
• Nettles – Infused in water and combed through the hair daily.
• Artichoke leaves – Simmered in water for several hours and applied as a nightly massage.
• Catnip – Made into an infusion and rinsed through the hair daily.
• Parsley seeds – Crushed and applied in powder form to the scalp monthly. The powder is allowed to remain overnight, and brushed out of thoroughly in the morning.
If you find more hair than usual collecting in your shower drain or on your pillow each morning, check with your doctor. There could be a reason why you are losing more hair than normal. Don’t assume your hair loss is a result of common baldness; consider trying some of the suggestions offered here to help restore your hair to its original fullness.
Jay Brachfeld, M.D.