Hair Thinning and Hair Loss: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment
Like many parts of your body, hair is a complex and delicate system whose health is influenced by several diverse factors. A hair strand is something so thin yet so sensitive to lifestyle, diet, or stress. Plenty of agents may weaken your hair, with consequent thinning or even loss.
When the hair weakens, it falls out. This phenomenon, known as hair thinning, may lead to hair loss if new hair doesn’t replace the one that falls out. Before worrying, remember that losing some hair it’s normal, and we all lose from 50 to 100 hair every day. There are, however, some symptoms that may suggest you should start to worry about your hair, and we’ll explore them in the article.
Ageing, genetic factors and hormonal imbalances are among the most common factors that may lead to hair thinning and loss. While you can’t act on genetics, you prevent most of the other risk factors by tacking smart choices each day.
You can tackle hair loss with specific treatments. Before considering any of those, you should talk to a doctor or dermatologist to examine the underlying causes, so you can decide what’s the method that works best in your case.
The hair growth cycle
Why do we lose hair? Well, there are numerous factors that cause hair loss but, to understand it properly, we first need to know how hair grows. Hair is located in a sac-shaped structure (the follicle), where new hair cells grow and old cells are substituted in a continuous cycle.
Our hair’s lifetime may vary, but in general, a single strand has an average life that spans from two to seven years. Hair growth follows a specific cycle made up of three different stages known as anagen, catagen, and telogen.
The anagen phase of hair growth lasts from two to six years, and it’s when hair begins to grow. In this stage, new hair cells continuously grow in the bulb. In the catagen phase, which has an approximate two-week duration, the growth slows down, and the follicle shrinks. The telogen phase is when hair growth stops, and the old hair detaches from the follicle. A new hair then begins to grow and pushes the old hair out. This last stage can last up to four months; after that, the cycle starts again.
Not the whole hair undergoes the same stages at the same time. Also, most of the hair is in the anagen phase, while the rest in the telogen phase. Only a few percent of hair is in the catagen stage at any given time.
Why do we lose hair?
The hair growth cycle gets shorter with ageing. Finer hair falls out easier, and thinner hair replaces it. That’s why ageing is one of the leading causes of hair thinning and hair loss. There are, however, plenty of additional agents that may reduce, limit, or even block the growth cycle.
Hair loss symptoms and causes may differ in men and women. Hormonal changes, emotional shocks, surgeries, or diseases, all can impact our hair’s health. Let’s analyze these risk factors, one by one.
One of the primary causes of hair loss is family history. With aging, hereditary conditions may provoke hormonal changes that alter the growth cycle, leading to hair thinning and loss.
Hereditary hair loss follows specific patterns; most often, it’s easy to recognize. In men, it begins at the temples and then proceeds to form a receding M-shaped line. Women experience a more widespread loss: it usually extends along the scalp’s crown, while temples and forehead are less affected. Unlike men, women are less likely to become completely bald.
Genetic hair loss is permanent, but some effective strategies help to slow it down — for example, medical treatment and surgery techniques (scroll below for more information).
Some medications can provoke hair loss, as they interfere with the anagen and telogen phase and modify their duration. Various types of drugs can induce hair loss: among them, antidepressants, blood pressure medications, birth control pills, antiepileptics, and chemotherapy drugs used for cancer treatment (these last ones kill cancer cells in the body, but can also eliminate healthy cells — including hair cells).
In most cases, drug-induced hair loss is reversible. This means it usually stops after you end the medical treatment: the hair grows up again, but it may become thinner or weaker.
It’s common for mothers to experience hair loss in the first months after childbirth. This happens because of hormonal changes related to pregnancy, which may alter the hair follicle’s natural cycle.
During pregnancy, estrogen levels increase, which results in more hair in the anagen (growth) phase. After childbirth, the levels can drop, and this may lead to hair thinning or even loss. You can see big clumps of hair falling out: this phenomenon reaches a peak up to four months after birth, but in general, is not permanent.
To minimize hair loss after pregnancy, you need to take care of your hair using a gentle shampoo and avoiding heat treatment. A well-balanced diet and appropriate exercise can help too. If hair loss doesn’t stop several months after childbirth, perhaps you should see a doctor and test your hormonal levels.
Hair loss is common during menopause when levels of estrogen and progesterone lower. These two hormones contribute to hair growth and fortify its structure. A lack of these hormones also triggers the production of androgen, which shrinks hair follicles and causes hair loss on the head. As a result, women during menopause can experience diffused hair thinning (more than localized bald spots). Androgens can also increase hair growth on the face; that’s why some women experience facial hair in menopause.
Once the hair loses its shape and volume, it ain’t easy to restore them. Take hormonal supplements, do regular exercises, and adopt a balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins to limit and slow down hair thinning due to menopause.
Thyroid disorders can cause significant hormonal changes and, if not appropriately treated, affect several processes in our organism. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can provoke hair loss due to T3 and T4 imbalances. The loss is diffused on the entire scalp (rather than distinct areas), and the hair appears sparse. People who have autoimmune thyroid diseases have a higher risk of developing alopecia areata.
When the loss is associated with the thyroid, it’s not permanent. Hair will regrow after you start therapy to reestablish hormonal equilibrium (in general, it takes some months).
Stress or emotional shock
Stress can be seriously harmful to the body, and it can damage and affect hair cells too. Emotional shocks or traumas (e.g., death or severe illness) can lead to hair thinning or loss. Hair loss can appear up to three months after the traumatic event and is temporary.
Lack of nutrients
As hair is made up mostly of water, minerals, and proteins, a diet low in such nutrients can affect hair’s health and quantity. Having an adequate intake of proteins, vitamins, iron, and zinc is essential for maintaining strong and healthy hair.
However, most of the time, there isn’t a unique cause for hair loss: most likely, it’s due to a combination of factors. Hormonal imbalances, lack of nutrients, medications, and stress can contribute together to thickening and weakening your hair. It’s crucial, therefore, to be able to recognize what triggers hair loss and how to adopt healthy choices to prevent it.
How to recognize you are experiencing hair loss?
On average, humans lose an average of 50 to 100 hair each day: this phenomenon is called hair shedding, and it’s a normal phase when the hair regenerates. Sometimes, you notice you’re losing more hair than usual: if you suspect you can’t ascribe it to simple shedding, you should analyze your symptoms to understand if you need to worry and consult a doctor.
There main symptoms that may suggest you’re experiencing hair loss are:
- You notice clumps falling out when you brush your hair;
- Big chunks of hair fall out when you wash your hair or you tug them (even gently);
- You start seeing larger areas of your scalp where the hair is thinner;
- You can see a gradual thinning at the top of the head;
- You notice bald spots, which can be circular or more irregular. Your skin can be
- itchy or painful in correspondence of the affected areas;
- Your scalp itches.
In any case, hair loss can be gradual or come suddenly and can affect limited parts or be spread on the whole scalp. Male and female patterns for hair loss are different. While in men, baldness starts with a receding hairline on the forehead, for women, the thinning is more diffuse, and there aren’t completely bald spots. It’s better to consult a specialist if you notice abnormal patterns or have some of the symptoms listed above.
How to prevent hair loss?
Don’t wash your hair too frequently
How often you wash your hair is related to your hair type. Oily hair needs to be cleaned more frequently than normal or dry hair. In any case, too much washing can cause the hair to become brittle.
So, how often should you wash your hair to make them look shiny and clean without damaging them? According to dermatologists, you should avoid excessive use of shampoo and wash your scalp at least two times per week.
Use nourishing products
Use adequate shampoo (you can choose according to your hair type — oily, dry, or normal) and a nourishing conditioner. Conditioner is essential since it contributes to hair’s sheen and restores the natural oil lost during the shampoo. Take care of your hair especially if you’re going to the swimming pool: chlorine can be quite dangerous for your scalp, so protect your hair with a waterproof headset.
Be cautious with hair treatments
If you decide to dye your hair, it’s better to go to a professional who can suggest the best products to use. Homemade hair treatments and dyes can be dangerous for your hair, so asking a specialist is the best way to prevent unhealthy products.
It would be better to abstain from daily heat stylings, such as flat or curling irons. The high temperatures these irons can reach are dangerous for the cells and damage your scalp. Moreover, the movement used to stretch the hair can damage it.
Try to avoid also bleaching agents and colouring products: they contain chemicals that can affect hair loss.
As said before, stress is harmful to your hair. It’s vital to adopt a lifestyle that allows you to reduce your stress levels. There are many ways to act on your stress management:
Practices like yoga, breathing techniques, or meditation can help you focus on the present moment and regulate your stress levels;
Hobbies are powerful allies, as you distract yourself doing something you like (it can be anything: volunteering, gardening, painting, or playing an instrument);
Physical exercise is essential to reduce stress. You can try with some gentle exercises, mild gymnastics, a walk, or even some gardening.
A healthy diet is necessary for your hair. You should have an adequate intake of proteins, as they’re the main components of hair and hair follicles (the primary component of hair is a protein called keratin). Other nutrients that help your hair look shiny and bright include:
Iron is essential to your hair as it helps carry oxygen throughout your body. Oxygen repairs the cells in the whole body, including those that stimulate hair growth. Spinach, peas, and lentils are loaded with iron;
Vitamin B is vital to nourish the follicle and synthesize keratin. You can get vitamin B from dark leafy greens (like spinach), avocados, beans, and nuts;
This nutrient fosters hair growth and is also essential to produce collagen, strengthening the hair. Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, berries, and broccoli;
Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant and increases oxygen absorption in the whole body. It contributes to shiny and strong hair. Eat olive oil, sunflower seeds, broccoli, avocados, or shrimp to have a boost of this nutrient;
Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids nourish and strengthen your hair. You can find them in salmon, tuna, walnuts, or flaxseed oil.
Some additional diet tips:
- Adopt a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables;
- Prefer whole grain cereals to refined grains;
- Drink enough water. The ideal water intake depends on each person; the average
- recommended intake is two litres per day;
- Avoid juices, soda, or sugar drinks, which aren’t nutritional at all.
Treatments for hair loss
Minoxidil (Rogaine) is one of the most used medications to slow down hair loss. Minoxidil is an over-the-counter drug and is available as a liquid solution or a foam. It acts as a vasodilator, which simply means it could enlarge follicles and thus help hair growth.
Minoxidil isn’t effective in all kinds of hair loss. It works best for hereditary hair loss and in people with baldness at the top of the vertex of the scalp (the area under the crown, at the back of the head).
Clinical studies demonstrated that rogaine could reduce hair loss, and the molecule has proven to be safe. The most common side effect of using rogaine include scalp irritation, redness in the application site, or hair colour changes.
Finasteride (Propecia) is an oral prescription drug used for the treatment of hair loss in men. It’s not used in women as it may lead to unwanted consequences, such as congenital disabilities in male fetuses if used in pregnancy. It works by stopping the production of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which causes the shrinking of hair follicles.
Side effects of Propecia include a decrease in sex drive, problems in ejaculation, and depression. There may be other unpleasant side effects, and Health Canada is actively monitoring them and checking the safety information regarding finasteride products.
Surgery or hair transplants
Hair restoration through surgery has become very popular as it helps growth and leads to natural-looking hair. Surgical approaches include hair transplant or s calp reduction. The first technique consists of taking hair from a part of the body where you naturally have hair and putting it where it needs to grow, while the latter operates by cutting the bald areas on your scalp and sewing the remaining areas together.
Depending on the procedure, the surgery may have a different duration — it generally takes from four up to eight hours. After the operation, the area can be very tender, and you might need to take pain medications and antibiotics for some days.
Hair transplants can be costly and may require a lot of time. The procedure is also risky, as it may provoke infections or bleeding. It would be better to check the surgeon’s credentials and experience before considering a transplant.
Hair-fibre powders are fibre sprinkles that work to camouflage bald areas. They create the appearance of thick and full hair and have an electrostatic charge that helps them attach to hair and look natural. They’re easy to apply and very effective in covering balding spots.
Hair-fibre powders are cosmetic products: they’re commercially available, cheap, and relatively safe. You can use them in combination with medical treatments (Rogaine, Propecia) or surgery.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP)
Platelets are components of blood that are vital in stopping bleeding when a wound occurs. The idea behind PRP is that platelet cells can be injected into a damaged part of the body and promote healing.
PRP used for hair loss is obtained by processing the patient’s blood to extract and concentrate platelet cells. After that, PRP is reinjected into the scalp. This therapy is still under investigation, however, the results are promising.
Hormonal Supplement for Women
Unbalanced hormone levels can be the primary cause of hair loss in women after 40. In a woman, each body function depends on the balance between three key hormones: estrogen, cortisol, and insulin.
Estrogen is the most influential female sex hormone. When it’s balanced, it works at preventing mood swings, hot flashes, and depression. It also has a crucial contribution to weight regulation as it regulates insulin levels. Cortisol, known as the “stress hormone,” has an essential contribution to regulating blood sugar and metabolism. Excess of cortisol may lead to diabetes, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and weight gain. Insulin is vital to regulate sugar in the blood. Low levels of this hormone can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and/or obesity. High levels of insulin can cause obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
The activity of these hormones is intertwined: this means that one affects the other. Both estrogen and cortisol levels contribute to insulin levels. An imbalance in these hormones can impact weight, sexual health, overall mood, and energy levels. So, as you can see, it’s vital to maintain specific hormonal stability.
For women over 40, lifestyle (for example, strict diets or hard workouts) can alter such hormones’ healthy level, thus leading to mood swings, depression, weight gain, and further unwanted consequences. Managing a proper level of the three hormones can be stressful, and you may end up being constantly worried about each little choice you do in your daily life.
Hormone Support and Hormone Solution Cookbook
Here at Applied Science Nutrition, we’ve implemented two useful allies to control and regulate your hormone levels. With such tools, you don’t have to stress out every minute of your day to keep your hormones at bay: they do most of the hard work for you.
Our Hormone Support is a combination of natural and clinically-tested ingredients that together act to balance your key-hormone levels. You can take one capsule of this supplement each day to flood your body with a combination of ingredients that, together, contribute to your hormonal balance.
Hormone Solution Cookbook is a set of recipes that provide you with the specific nutrients you need to find a perfect hormonal balance. Take the right choices from your well-being from the early morning to dinner, and indulge in tasty desserts without feeling guilty. The recipes are easy, quick, and highly nutritional. You will need around ten minutes a day to make them, but the results are long-lasting.
So, how to deal with hair loss?
While hair loss is a condition that may cause unpleasant looks and lead to frustration or even depression, the good news is that you have the power to prevent it by making the right choices every day.
Healthy nutrition, stress-relieving techniques, nourishing conditioners, and sparing use of hair treatments and artificial colourants are the best strategies to adopt to take care of your scalp and hair.
As hormonal imbalances are among the primary causes of hair loss, regularly check your hormonal levels. Thyroid diseases can alter such levels, as well as pregnancy and menopause. If you’re taking medications and suspect they may cause hair loss, talk to your doctor to ask for their side effects.
Hormonal imbalances are the primary cause of hair loss in women after 40. It happens mostly after childbirth or during menopause, and sometimes it’s hard to manage to keep a proper balance between the hormones that regulate the body’s correct functioning. That’s when hormonal supplements come to help.
Know that, hair loss is reversible; once you identify what provokes it, the hair will regrow after some time you eliminate the trigger.