Getting to the Root of Hair Loss—Why It Happens and What You Can Do About It



Picture this: You wake up one morning, glance at yourself in the mirror, and notice something troubling—thinning hair, a receding hairline, or even bald patches around your head. Hair loss is a common concern affecting both men and women, and it can significantly impact one's self-esteem and confidence. But fear not!

In this article, we will dive into the mysteries of hair loss, exploring its causes and providing expert-backed ways to prevent and treat it. From understanding the intricacies of the hair growth cycle to embracing lifestyle changes that promote healthy hair growth, we'll equip you with the knowledge you need to maintain (or, in some cases, regain) a healthy head of hair.

Common Causes of Hair Loss

Hair loss occurs when the amount of hair shedding exceeds the amount of hair grown. It manifests in various ways, according to Dr. Andy Goren, a dermatologist. "Most people first notice hair loss when more than 50% of hair is lost in a specific region, such as the top of the scalp. Another common sign of hair loss is excessive shedding in the shower or while brushing the hair."

As we age, our hair becomes thinner and more prone to shedding. This gradual thinning, known as androgenetic alopecia or pattern baldness, can affect anyone. Genetic factors also play a significant role—a family history of hair loss increases the likelihood of experiencing it. Hormonal changes, such as those occurring during pregnancy or menopause, also can disrupt the delicate balance of hair growth, leading to temporary or prolonged hair loss. Additionally, whether it's stress in the workplace or your chaotic dating life, high-stress levels can give your mane a run for its money.

Underlying medical conditions, including autoimmune disorders, thyroid dysfunction, and skin conditions also can cause hair loss. Even some medications, such as those used for cancer treatments, may lead to hair loss as a side effect, Ray Nettles, M.D., the chief medical scientist of Stop and Regrow told SHAPE.

Related: If Your Hair Is Falling Out Like Crazy, Here&#39;s Deal

Understanding the Hair Growth Cycle

To truly comprehend hair loss, it's essential to grasp the intricacies of the hair growth cycle. Below are explanations of the three phases of hair growth as described by Dr. Nettles.

Anagen Phase

The anagen phase, also known as the growth phase, is when the hair actively grows for several years. Generally, this phase is between seven and nine years, though the duration can vary depending on individual factors such as genetics and overall health. During this period, the hair follicle produces new cells, and the hair shaft lengthens.

Catagen Phase

The catagen phase is the transition period in the hair growth cycle. It's like a vacation for your strands, lasting about two to three weeks. During this downtime, the hair follicle shrinks and disconnects from its trusty blood supply. While hair loss during this phase is as rare as finding a unicorn, certain underlying conditions or disruptions in the hair growth cycle can tip the scales and trigger unexpected shedding.

One interesting caveat of the catagen phase is that throughout pregnancy a person's hair follicles tend to skip it and stay in the anagen phase, explains Dr. Nettles. As a result, they don't shed any hair during this time, leading to luxurious and thick hair. However, all those hairs may begin shedding at once after giving birth.

This shedding can be surprising for people who weren't expecting it. But it's simply the accumulation of hairs that would have been shed gradually over the previous nine to 12 months. So, rest assured, it's not hair loss per se, but rather the natural cycle catching up.

Telogen Phase

In the final phase, better known as the telogen phase, your hair follicles rest for around two to three months. During this phase, the hair follicle remains dormant, and the old hair is eventually shed. Hair loss during the telogen phase (a condition known as telogen effluvium) is the most common type of acute hair loss, according to Dr. Nettles.

Telogen effluvium can be triggered by various factors, including high-stress levels, hormonal changes (such as pregnancy, childbirth, or menopause), nutritional deficiencies, certain medications, illness (like post Covid hair loss), or surgery.

It's worth noting that the hair growth cycle isn't synchronized for all hair follicles. Each hair on your scalp can be in a different phase at any given time. That's why you typically experience a daily shedding of around 100 to 150 hairs as part of the average hair growth and replacement process.

Ways to Prevent Hair Loss

When dodging the hair loss bullet, it's all about playing detective and getting to the root of the problem, Dr. Goren says. Our experts also emphasize the need for personalized prevention tactics that target the specific cause of your hair loss.

Nutrition and Diet

Though nutrition generally isn't an underlying cause of hair loss, you shouldn't underestimate its role in maintaining healthy hair, says Dr. Nettles. Adequate protein intake is essential, as hair is primarily composed of protein, so incorporate lean meats, fish, eggs, lentils, and nuts into your diet. Additionally, ensure you're consuming enough vitamins and minerals, such as iron, biotin, zinc, and vitamin E, which are crucial for healthy hair.

diet rich in protein, healthy fats, and vegetables provides the necessary building blocks for hair growth, Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N., a registered dietitian and author of The Flexitarian Diet previously told SHAPE.

Scalp and Hair Care

Maintaining a clean and healthy scalp is vital for optimal hair growth. Regularly wash your hair with a gentle shampoo and conditioner to free the scalp from dirt, excess oil, and product buildup. Also, avoid using harsh hair treatments, excessive heat styling, or tight hairstyles that can cause tension and breakage, urges Dr. Goren.

Stress Management

Chronic stress is the arch nemesis of hair loss—so managing stress levels is essential for preventing hair loss, our experts explain. Try weaving some stress-reducing activities into your daily routine.

Sweat it out with some heart-pumping exercise, find your Zen with a bit of meditation, or dive into hobbies that make your soul sing. Even pampering yourself with self-care is a healthy way to cope with stress. Not only will your hair thank you, but your overall well-being will soar to new heights.

Medical Interventions for Hair Loss

In some cases, medical interventions may be necessary to address hair loss. It's essential to consult with a healthcare professional or dermatologist to determine the most suitable treatment option for your specific condition. They can assess your medical history, evaluate potential side effects, and recommend the best course of action. A thorough evaluation also can determine the underlying cause of your hair loss. Here are some options available if your condition does warrant medical treatment.

Hair Transplants

Hair transplants have gained significant popularity in addressing hair loss. However, it's important to understand that hair transplants do not stop the progression of hair loss. The procedure redistributes existing hair follicles, providing a more aesthetically pleasing appearance, explains Dr. Nettles. During a hair transplant, hair follicles are harvested from areas of the scalp with healthy hair, typically at the back or sides of the head, and implanted into the areas experiencing hair loss.

It's crucial to manage expectations when opting for a hair transplant. The density achieved through transplantation may be much lower than that of natural hair (around 50%), and multiple sessions may be required to achieve the desired outcome. Additionally, it's essential to choose a qualified and experienced surgeon to ensure the best possible results.

Topical Treatments and Medications

Topical treatments, such as minoxidil, can effectively promote hair growth and slow down the progression of hair loss. Minoxidil (available over the counter) is applied directly to the scalp and stimulates hair follicles, increasing hair growth.

This treatment option is approved by the FDA for both men and women, with a formula of at least 5% minoxidil shown to be the optimal amount for hair regrowth. It's important to note that minoxidil is the only drug approved for women and generally is only 30% to 40% effective among this particular group, says Dr. Goren.

Another medication commonly used to treat hair loss is finasteride. This oral medication works by blocking the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the latter of which is a hormone associated with hair loss. Finasteride is primarily prescribed for men and requires a healthcare provider's prescription.

Lifestyle Factors Affecting Hair Loss

Your everyday habits also can have a huge impact on hair loss. Here are some things to address in your life.

  • Sleep: Getting adequate sleep is crucial for hair growth as it allows the body to repair and regenerate itself. While sleeping, your body releases growth hormones (like melatonin) which are linked to promoting healthy hair growth. Lack of sleep can disrupt this process and lead to imbalances in hormone levels, potentially contributing to hair loss.

  • Exercise: Regular exercise improves blood circulation, which is essential for delivering nutrients to the hair follicles. As explained earlier, it also helps reduce stress levels contributing to hair loss. Physical activity also promotes overall well-being, which can translate into healthier hair growth.

  • Alcohol consumption: As much as you love hitting happy hour or bottomless mimosas brunch, your drinking habits may impact your hair growth. Alcohol is a diuretic that can lead to dehydration, including the scalp, aka the foundation of healthy hair growth. Additionally, alcohol can disrupt hormone levels, impacting hair growth cycles. Limiting alcohol consumption or opting for healthier alternatives can help maintain optimal hair growth conditions.

If you notice excessive hair loss or significant changes in your hair pattern, don't hesitate to seek professional advice. Dermatologists and hair loss specialists can provide a thorough evaluation, diagnose the underlying cause of your hair loss, and recommend appropriate treatment options. With the proper support and proactive measures, you can embrace a future with healthier, fuller hair and boost your confidence.

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Read the original article on Shape.