Genetics are often to blame for hair loss, and rightfully so, at least in many cases. But while genetics are the most common cause of hair loss in both men and women, for some, hair loss can be caused by a variety of other reasons, including -- yourself.
Could something you are doing be behind those extra hairs in the shower drain?
Since August is Hair Loss Awareness Month in the U.S., let's take a look at some of the everyday habits that could be putting your follicles at risk.
- Hot Tools: That super hot blow dryer or that flat iron used over and over again can degrade the proteins that make up your hair and it's protective cuticle. Once the protective cuticle is damaged, moisture balance is disrupted and the hair is more prone to breakage. Turn down the heat or say "no" to the compulsive flat-ironing to protect your hair from thermal damage. Specially formulated heat protectants can, and should be used, to help decrease friction and improve shine, while preventing breakage.
- Wet Combing: Combing your hair while it's wet predisposes you to breakage because this is the time when your hair has the least amount of friction and is most likely to tangle and snap/break. Using a quality conditioner designed to decrease friction during this susceptible time is a good idea and to detangle with your fingers and allow to almost dry before styling.
- High Stress: You've heard it over and over, but studies show that mice under chronic stress have trouble growing hair, and it can actually be reversed with an experimental drug called Astressin-B. While we can't eliminate stress from our hectic lives, we can all learn how to manage it better.
- Oral Contraceptives: Certain types of birth control pills affect women differently. If you are sensitive to hair shedding or thinning due to hormone changes, a change in your birth control prescription can weaken your hair. If your prescription contains androgens and you are particularly "androgen sensitive" this might be affecting your hair. An "androgen sensitivity" genetic test (no blood needed, it's a cheek swab) is available from some hair restoration physicians as is advice on what treatments might be right for you.
- Chemical Straightening: The harsh chemicals used to break the molecular bonds in your hair in order to straighten the fibers, followed by the high heat of a flat iron can damage the protective cuticle and cause breakage if over-done.
- Tight Braids: Chronically tight braids often seen in certain ethnic populations put excessive tension on the hair follicles under the skin by pulling on the hair fibers. Over the long-term, this type of hair styling can cause traction alopecia a condition that permanently weakens or destroys hair follicles. Avoid hairstyles, wigs, weaves or hair extensions that pull on the follicles over time or you'll have nothing left to attach the artificial hair to.
- Crash Diets/Poor Nutrition: Scientists agree that your hair follicles work pretty hard making hair. However, deprive the body of nutrition (as in the latest calorie-restrictive diet) you are likely to see some hair fall. Typically, you will see hair thinning and shedding approximately 6-12 weeks after the nutritional deprivation begins. Feed your hair with a well-balanced diet. If you're trying to help your hair look and feel healthier, severe caloric restriction is not the answer.
- Medications: Certain medications like statin drugs, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety agents, anti-hypertensive medications or hormones such as thyroid replacement and many other pharmaceuticals can have hair loss as a side effect. Check with your prescribing physician before changing your dose or discontinuing ANY medication. Visit with your hair restoration physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan regarding any hair thinning.
- Scratching: It is not possible to scratch the scalp without scratching the hair. Conditions that cause itchy scalp (seborrheic dermatitis, for example) may result in hair loss due to scratching-induced hair damage in addition to the harmful hair-impairing inflammation at the scalp. With only 45 minutes of fingernail scratching, you can remove the cuticle layer of the hair. Few people will scratch for 45 minutes in a row, but remember that the damage is cumulative and does not self-repair. Consider for example, five minutes a day for nine days -- once the cuticle is damaged, the hair fiber is prone to breakage and loss. Seek out a trichology-based scientific examination and "scalp makeover" for an itchy scalp if over-the-counter remedies are not working.
- UV: Sunlight can damage hair structure and hair color. Try to minimize excessive sun exposure and utilize a lightweight conditioner that contains a sunscreen.
While avoiding these activities can help reduce your risk of thinning and hair loss, the other piece to the puzzle is to make sure you are being proactive about stimulating healthy hair growth. This means using high-quality nutritionals, physician-prescribed laser therapy devices, pharmaceuticals or other treatments to enhance the hair-fiber production of the hair follicle is critical to preventing much of the environmental damage to the hair. For more advice, seek out a qualified and experienced hair restoration physician who can evaluate, measure and manage any hair loss and thinning, and get you started on a multi-therapy treatment regimen.
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On our scalps, we have both growing (anagen) and resting (telogen) hairs. Normally about 80 per cent of those hairs are growing, says Dr. Barry Resnik, and 20 per cent are resting. "Anagen hairs are thick, deeply anchored hairs with a thick coat around the base. They hurt when they are pulled out,” Resnik says. "Telogen hairs are thin hairs with a tiny white bump at the end, and are those hairs that come out naturally.” Because we all have some of those telogen hairs it’s normal to lose 150 to 250 hairs daily, he says, due to everyday activities like brushing, washing, or moving around while sleeping.
Telogen effluvium is one of the most common causes of hair loss in women, Resnik says. "Telogen is the sleeping phase of hair, and Effluvium loosely means to 'fly away.' This generally occurs in response to a stressor to the system: birth, extreme weight loss or gain, death in the family, etc.,” Resnik says. In these cases, the ratio of growing to resting hairs can change from 80:20 to 50:50, he says, and significant hair shedding can be the result. "Stress itself does not cause hair loss,” he says. “If it did, we would all be bald!"
Sometimes hair loss is due to harsh hair treatments — Resnik says they can shock your system and put hairs in the telogen phase, increasing shedding. Other treatments like bleach lightening may cause breakage that looks like hair loss. “Over-styling is one of the main ways women today are damaging their hair,” says hair stylist and hair-loss expert Carla Rivas. "A lot of times they don't even realize they are doing it until it's too late."
Another possibility for hair loss is alopecia areata, which is round patches of hair loss that come on suddenly. “They are caused by an autoimmune reaction, in which the body suddenly stops recognizing the hair follicle cells as ‘self,' and attacks them like a foreign body or infection,” Shainhouse says. "This inflammation causes loosening of the hair within the follicle and the hairs fall out.” Treatment involves reducing inflammation around the hair follicles with corticosteroids. Some women only experience alopecia aerate once, she says, but in others it can recur.
"The scalp is the first thing that we look at when a client talks of losing hair or we notice more in the shampooing than before,” says Johnson. Build-up of product, oils, dirt, or flakes on the scalp can lead to hair loss and reduced growth by affecting the follicles. "If the follicles are perpetually clogged then the hair can’t grow."
This is otherwise known as female pattern baldness. "It is fairly common in women, and tends to start in the mid-30s to 50s who are genetically predisposed,” Shainhouse says. Pattern baldness in men generally begins with a receding hairline and crown, but women tend to maintain their hairline but have widening at the centre part and thinning at the crown. Pattern baldness in women can be related to testosterone-level changes in perimenopause, or polycystic ovarian syndrome.
There are other reasons that you could be experiencing hair loss, including iron-deficiency anemia, thyroid issues, or low-normal ferratin levels. Because unexplained hair loss could indicate a serious medical issue, see your doctor if you’re experiencing it. Hair loss is a side effect for some medications. And for some people, women included, hair loss is related to genetics and family history.
: The answer to that question depends on the cause of your hair loss. If it’s a case of telogen effluvium, it could lasts weeks or, less often, months. "The hair-loss usually begins about three months after the incident and can continue for six months to a year or more,” Resnik says. It can also, in rare cases, flow into a chronic form that may persist for years.” If thyroid or iron issues are the problem, righting your body’s hormone or nutrient levels should eventually stop the hair loss and restore growth, he says.
Treatment options vary depending on what’s causing your hair loss. With telogen effluvium, the treatment is generally just time, Shainhouse says. "Anecdotal studies suggest that topical agents, such as minoxidil (Rogaine) can increase circulation in the scalp, and that supplements like biotin (part of the B-complex), silica and horsetail can help thicken the new hairs,” she says. Potential treatments for pattern baldness include topical treatments, testosterone-lowering pills, red-light therapy, or hair transplants.
A good haircut can go a long way towards making your hair seem thicker — and a bad or just ill-planned one can emphasize thinning. "A ‘blunt' or one-length haircut can help with this, too, as horizontal cutting builds weight whereas layering or vertical cutting techniques can remove more weight from the hair,” Johnson says. "Fine, thin, straight hair is best with less layering to build that weight."
And a skilled colourist can use hair dye strategically to create the illusion of lusher locks. "Thin, fine hair can be cut or coloured to create an idea or illusion of more hair, too,” Johnson says. "I've used slightly deeper, rooted colour techniques to create a look of depth. Those super-fine blondes really show a thinner hair texture more than someone with some depth in their ‘do."
"I tell my patients that sometimes, this is the best option,” Shainhouse says. Options to camouflage thinning hair include hair extensions, wigs, partial hairpieces, keratin filaments, and hair powders.
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