Hair loss can be traumatic. No one wants to see their hairline receding or their hair coming out in clumps. It can be especially unsettling for women to discover they’re losing their hair. Fortunately, there are treatments that can help with this problem and ways to prevent further loss of hair.
People lose hair for a variety of reasons. The most common cause is androgenetic alopecia or male-pattern baldness. Men with this type of hair loss typically have a receding hairline that gradually progresses to more extensive loss of hair. Genetics play a role in this condition. Women can also experience a genetic pattern of hair loss called female-pattern hair loss. Unlike men, who have a receding hairline, women with female-pattern hair loss typically experience hair thinning around the crown and sides of their scalp.
Another autoimmune condition called alopecia areata causes loss of hair, usually in patches. This condition is often temporary and may spontaneously resolve on its own. It’s more common in people who have a family history of autoimmune disease.
People who have certain medical conditions such as thyroid disease, lupus or anemia can experience hair loss. Other causes of hair thinning include hormonal fluctuations due to childbirth or menopause, nutritional deficiencies, medications, cancer chemotherapy or stress. Scalp infections with fungi like ringworm can cause patches of lost hair. Loss of hair from these causes may reverse once the underlying problem is corrected.
Some people develop hair thinning and bald patches as a result of pulling their hair too tightly into a ponytail, using tight hair rollers or wearing cornrows. Some degree of hair thinning is also common with age.
There’s no cure for androgenetic alopecia, but a non-prescription medication called minoxidil that’s applied to the scalp can stop further hair loss and stimulate hair regrowth. To maintain the benefits, you have to use it twice a day. An oral medication called finasteride is available by prescription. It helps to reduce further hair loss but has side effects including problems with sexual function. Like minoxidil, the benefits are lost once the medication is stopped. Women shouldn’t use finasteride because it’s linked with birth defects.
When hair loss is due to alopecia areata, a doctor can treat the balding areas by injecting them with cortisone every four months. Some doctors also use immunotherapy treatments to treat hair loss due to alopecia areata. Fortunately, loss of hair from this condition is usually not permanent.
There’s also the option of getting a hair transplant. With this surgery, small plugs of skin containing hair are attached to bald areas. Unfortunately, this is an expensive procedure. A less costly option is to wear a wig or hairpiece. For women who have hair thinning, hair extensions can be used to add more volume.
An oral supplement has shown some potential for treating hair thinning and balding. This supplement called Viviscal contains marine extracts. A small study published in the Journal of International Medical Research showed that Viviscal increased hair growth in young men with alopecia.
There’s no cure for male-pattern baldness or female-pattern baldness, but treatments such as minoxidil may help. For those who have experienced irritation with this topical treatment, there are other scalp treatments that rely on natural ingredients to promote healthy growth and reduce thinning. Here are some steps you can take to reduce further loss of hair:
Don’t wear tight ponytails, buns, cornrows, tight braids or tight hats. Never sleep with your hair in a ponytail.
Use a conditioner after shampooing to soften hair and make it easier to handle. Choose products specially formulated for thinning hair. These often contain ingredients which nourish the hair follicle and promote a healthy scalp. Never brush wet hair. Use a wide-toothed comb instead. Avoid using heat appliances as much as possible.
Eat a nutritionally-balanced diet. A number of vitamin and mineral deficiencies including iron, zinc or biotin deficiency can contribute to hair loss. Excessive calorie restriction and inadequate dietary protein and fat can also cause hair thinning and loss. Adding more healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids from fish to your diet may reduce loss of hair.
Get a physical. Medical problems like iron deficiency anemia, autoimmune diseases and an underactive thyroid can all cause hair loss. Blood tests can be used to diagnose these problems.
Check your prescriptions. A variety of medications including steroid medications, birth control pills, cholesterol-lowering medications, antidepressants, seizure medications and blood pressure medications may be a factor in hair thinning.
Reduce stress in your life. Stress also contributes to hair loss in some people.
Hair Loss Prevention: The Bottom Line?
Hair loss isn’t a fun problem to deal with, but, fortunately, there are steps you can take to hang onto more of your hair.