Everyone loses hair from time to time, with an average of 50-100 hairs lost per day, but if your hair is starting to disappear at a faster rate than normal it can often be cause for alarm. But hair loss is not a modern phenomenon, mankind has been losing hair for hundreds of years, even Julius Caesar’s famed laurel wreath is rumoured to have been a disguise for his thinning hair.
Although hair loss largely affects men, it is estimated that around 8 million women in the UK are affected by hair loss too. Hair loss isn’t gender specific and it’s not age specific either. By the age of 40 around 50% of men will have experienced significant hair loss, but it frequently affects males in their 20s and can even begin in your teens.
But whether you choose to embrace your new style, or are eager for treatments, it’s important to understand the reason for your hair loss.
Rapid hair loss
If you’re experiencing a sudden loss of hair it’s likely to be Telogen Effluvium. This typically occurs 3 months after an event which has caused shock to your body and it happens due to the acceleration of a hair’s lifespan.
Hairs usually grow for 3 years and then enter a 3 month resting phase. During this resting phase the hair root shrivels up and the hair falls out. However, when your body has undergone a traumatic event, 30-40% of the stressed hairs can accelerate into this resting phase. Thus three months later you’ll start to notice a rapid shedding of hair.
Telogen Effluvium can be caused by stress, fever, surgery, anaemia, childbirth or sudden weight loss, but it’s rarely permanent. Hair typically grows back within 6-12 months, so it’s likely that you will soon be back to normal. However, it’s important to note that hair re-growth can sometimes take years and it could come back a slightly different colour or texture.
If you are concerned about rapid hair loss then it’s always best to consult a Doctor and any unexplained hair loss should always be investigated.
Gradual hair loss
If you are experiencing a gradual thinning of your hair, or a receding hairline, then you may have male or female pattern baldness. Male-pattern baldness is a genetic condition and it can be inherited from either of your parents.
Pattern baldness occurs when hair follicles are exposed to too much of the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which causes the hair to shrink and thin. It affects around 50% of men by the age of 50 and tends to only affect women after the menopause. The hair loss is gradual due to hair follicles being affected at different times.
Propecia (finasteride 1mg) tablets are male prescription only tablets that work to bring about hair re-growth by reducing the level of DHT in the blood. Improvements are normally seen in 3 months and maximum benefit is seen at 2 years. After 5 years there is a 90% chance of men having more or the same amount of hair as when they started. Regaine (minoxidil) is another medication for men, but it is available without prescription. It works by stimulating circulation to the scalp and has been shown to prevent hair loss in 4 out of 5 men.
For suffers of female-pattern baldness treatment comes in the form of minoxidil hair lotion. It prevents hair loss in many women and can help to re-grow hair in up to 1 in 4 cases.
All of the above treatments need to be continued for their effects to be sustained.
Small patches of complete baldness
If your baldness is occurring in perfectly smooth small patches then you are most likely experiencing alopecia areata. This is an autoimmune condition that can occur at any age, but typically affects teenagers and young adults.
Alopecia areata occurs when the immune system no longer recognises the hair follicles as part of the body and attacks them instead. However, the hair follicles are not permanently damaged, with hair typically re-growing within a year.
There is evidence that alopecia areata runs in families in up to 1 in 5 cases, but it often appears to come from nowhere, although stress may be a trigger. People with other autoimmune conditions tend to be more susceptible to alopecia areata.
The condition is usually treated with steroid injections, however creams can be effective too.
If your hair loss is leaving you with scaly patches on your scalp then you are probably suffering from the fungal infection Tinea Capitis. This infection most commonly affects children, but can also affect adults, especially those who have a weakened immune system.
The infection can be spread by sharing hats or brushes, but it is treatable with oral anti-fungal tablets. Hair will begin to re-grow as soon as the infection has cleared.
Localised hair loss
If you wear tight braids or ponytails and are experiencing localised hair loss, then you may be experiencing traction alopecia. This occurs when the pressure put on hairs causes them to fall out. Immediately switching to a different style will avoid any permanent damage from occurring.
Hairpieces or hair weaving are other options and often give authentic results. Colour matched artificial or human hair can be woven with your existing hair or a single hairpiece can be worn.
Surgical hair restoration can be another solution, with a single hair transplant session usually transplanting 500+ hairs. Scalp reduction is also sometimes an option, with bald areas of the scalp being cut away and the rest stitched together. However it is important for patients to continue to take medication in order to ensure that they keep what has been transplanted.
Always make sure to stick to treatments in the British Association of Dermatologist clinical guidelines.
Your hair can form a large part of your identity, so it’s not unusual for hair loss to cause a knock to your self confidence. Some GPs may suggest counselling and there are also support groups you can turn to.