What does hair loss mean?
To understand hair loss you need to know how hair growth works.
The average person has around 100,000 to 150,000 hair follicles on their head. Hair grows from the follicles and each strand has its own life cycle. The life cycle is in three parts. The first stage of the cycle is the anagen phase which is the growth cycle. It lasts about 3-5 years and your hair grows about 1cm per month. The second cycle is the catagen phase which is the transitional stage of the cycle where hair stops growing and coverts to a club hair. This is about a two week process before your hair enters the third stage of the cycle, the telogen phase. This lasts about 3 months and is where your hair falls out.
Each hair follicle’s life cycle occurs at different times so you don’t lose all your hair at once. This life cycle is continuously repeated so you experience new hair growth and loss throughout your lifetime.
So some hair loss is natural; the average person loses about 11 hair pers day and that’s normal. Hair loss becomes a problem when you lose more than the normal amount of hair and while it mainly affects the scalp, it can affect elsewhere on the body also.
How much hair loss is normal?
Most people lose up to 100 hairs per day. With longer hair this can appear to be more and it can also seem to be more when you’re washing and detangling your hair. Any normal hair loss will be replaced as your hair follicles go through their life cycle.
If your hair loss seems excessive or from other areas, something may be triggering hair loss. This is when you need to seek help and look at the underlying issue.
What does hair loss look like?
More than normal hair loss can occur gradually or suddenly but the signs and symptoms that indicate something may be wrong tend to be:
- Thinning on top of your head. This affects men and women and is the most common type of hair loss. It tends to be signified by a receding hairline in men and a widening parting on females and may be hormone related.
- Patchy hair loss. Round patches of hair missing from areas around the scalp. This may be seen on your eyebrows or beards also. This is known as alopecia areata.
- Clumps of hair. This probably won’t lead to large bald patches but you will witness noticeably thinner hair. When washing your hair, brushing or even touching your hair you may find your hands are full of hair. This tends to be caused by shock.
- Hair loss from all over the body. This tends to be related to illnesses and some treatments such as cancer and chemotherapy. Hair does tend to grow back after however.
It’s best to seek advice pertaining to your hair loss so you know what your options are.
Causes of hair loss
Many things can affect hair loss (see below) and the root cause will determine what action can be taken. For example hair loss caused by stress will often fix itself but male or female pattern baldness is related to hormones and will need to be actioned by specialist treatments.
- Diet. Crash dieting and depriving yourself of certain nutrients can cause excessive hair loss.
- Stress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious or stressed alopecia areata can occur whereby the body attacks hair follicles after mistaking them for a virus. Stress can also cause your hair follicles to be pushed into the third stage of their life cycle sooner than normal, which is when they fall out.
- Hair stylers can cause hair damage and this can lead to more hair fall out than normal.
- Hair dyes/bleaching/chemicals. Harsh hair treatments can lead to increased fall out, as can using chemicals and products, like shampooing too often. They can make the hair weaker.
- Medication or treatments. Hair loss can be a temporary side effect of taking certain medications.
- Illness. Certain illnesses and disorders can result in hair loss. For example autoimmune disorders, thyroid disease, anemia, ringworm, etc.
- Hormones. Increased levels of DHT, for example, is responsible for male and female pattern baldness.
- Hormonal changes during pregnancy, menopause or childbirth can see you experience higher amounts of hair loss.
- Genetics. Hair loss can be hereditary.
Can hair loss be prevented?
Natural hair loss is part of your hair follicle’s life cycle and will occur organically. It’s necessary to shed old hair so new healthy strands can grow in place.
Lifestyle choices can help prevent certain types of hair loss (stress or diet related) as these aren’t permanent anyway. Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and drinking plenty of water will keep your body healthy.
Hair stylers and hair dyes can worsen the condition of your hair and lead to increased hair fall out. This isn’t a type of hair loss that requires treatment but limiting their use will help your hair to restore its condition.
In regards to alopecia, there are hair loss treatments available such as hair transplants and laser therapy. Finasteride is the only treatment that looks at controlling the root cause of hair loss, however there is nothing you can do that can prevent this type of hair loss. The treatment options are more about reversing the effects and controlling further hair loss.
Hair loss can be targeted by various methods, the best option for you will depend on numerous factors so it’s recommended you seek consultation from a specialist.