One of man’s (and woman’s) greatest fears is hair loss – that is, loss of the hair that starts out growing atop your head. Theories abound as to what causes hair loss, ranging from excessive wearing of ballcaps or ponytails to driving convertibles with the top down to too many shampoos, but more likely it’s a combination of factors based more in science than myths. No, experts say, frequent brushing or towel-drying of your hair won’t turn you bald overnight.
“People associate these things (shampooing, towel-drying, and brushing) with hair loss because they see their hair come away. But these aren’t the cause,” says Cleveland Clinic dermatologist Dr. Melissa Piliang, quoted at time.com. Note, though, that Piliang says less-frequent cleaning of your hair could make things worse, because “It can lead to dandruff and scalp inflammation, which can exacerbate hair loss.”
What About Stress?
Another frequently cited reason for hair fallout is psychological stress, and there seems to be some truth to that. Per webmd.com, excessive levels of stress sustained over time can activate your immune system in such a way as to turn against itself and attack your hair follicles, causing them to detach themselves and fall away. Such large doses of stress can even pause hair growth, rendering your follicles more likely to fall out when you brush. So, chill, OK?
Granted, at times it can be hard to tell which comes first (the chicken-egg conundrum), the stress or the hair loss, as hair loss by itself – when it becomes noticeable when looking in the mirror –can be a source of great stress. Physical stress can also play a part in hair loss, such as that associated with surgery, high fevers, or blood loss, per healthline.com.
Other Sources of Hair Loss
Here are some of the other common sources of hair loss:
- Poor nutrition. A diet deficient in iron, vitamin D, zinc, and some of the B vitamins can be a factor associated with hair loss. You want to make sure you’re getting enough protein as well (such as from meat, eggs, fish, nuts, seeds, and beans). Re-engineering your diet and taking nutritional supplements can help stop the “damage.”
- Medications. It’s common knowledge that chemotherapy treatments for cancer can result in massive (temporary) hair loss, but chemo has company in that regard. Other types of medications linked to hair loss include beta blockers, blood thinners, vitamin A-fortified acne medications, anabolic steroids, antidepressants, anticoagulants, and anticonvulsants.
- Birth control. Hormonal-related birth control products such as oral contraceptives, implants, injections, and vaginal rings can initiate hair loss. See your doctor – he or she might have non-hormonal options you can try.
- Various diseases. Per webmd.com, dozens of diseases have been linked to loss of hair, to include scalp ringworm (ugh!) and various autoimmune conditions.
- Smoking. Toxins found in cigarette smoke can wreak havoc on your hair follicles.
- Menopause. Women often lose hair after childbirth or during menopause for problems related to hormones. Hormonal imbalances or changes in composition can affect men in the same way, with such hair thinning caused by the follicles’ response to the dihydrotestosterone (DHT) hormone.
- Eating disorders. Namely, bulimia (self-induced vomiting after eating) and anorexia (skimping big-time on eating) usually translate to not getting the proper nutrients that hair needs in order to grow and stay healthy.
- Thyroid disorders. The bad news: too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) or too little of it (hypothyroidism) can result in hair loss, per healthline.com. The good news: The hair loss might be reversed with proper treatment of your thyroid condition.
How Does Our Hair ‘Work’?
Your hair – at least what you have of it for the moment – is constantly sprouting, growing, and falling out “similar to the way your skin’s cells turn over,” as time.com puts it, reporting that adult males with healthy hair shed from 60 to 80 follicles a day, compared to the 100 or so lost daily by women. The most common type of hair loss entails hairs growing in shorter and shorter as time passes, ultimately to stop growing back at all, presumably because of a genetic sensitivity to skin hormones – although it’s usually a slow process that takes years to be evident to the naked eye. “In men, you see this most in the front and sides of the scalp,” says dermatology expert Dr. Adam Friedman, quoted by Time. “In women, it’s more centrally located and diffuse.”
Drugs such as minoxidil and finasteride have demonstrated an ability to stop or at least slow hair loss by inhibiting skin hormones’ production or by keeping hairs from falling out. But there’s not a whole lot these medicine can do for restoring lost hair. Once you notice the start of what you perceive as a problem with hair loss, see your doctor as soon as possible.