The average person has more than 100,000 hairs on her head. Hair is constructed from protein called keratin and is only living tissue while it remains within the hair follicles. The portion of your hair that you can see is made up of cells that have already died and grows as the hair follicles produce more keratin, pushing the already formed tissue outward and producing length.
Hair grows in cycles with periods of activity followed by periods of rest. For most people, the hair grows at a rate of 1 centimeter per month during active periods. The cycle continues, alternating between periods of growth and dormancy for approximately two to three years. At the end of that time, the hair sheds or falls off and a new strand begins to grow in its place.
The average person loses approximately 50 to 100 strands of hair per day, but with so many hairs growing on the scalp, this loss is not detectable. Hair loss occurs when the body sheds hairs too rapidly or something causes the hair follicles to stop producing new strands or to produce them at a slower pace.
Hair loss affects millions of men and women and can be brought on by a variety of causes. The condition is grouped into specific types based upon the underlying problems that prompt the loss. Many types of hair loss are not permanent, and most are treatable.
In some cases, hair loss is caused by an underlying medical problem, such as a hormonal disorder like polycystic ovarian syndrome or thyroid disease. Hair loss can also be caused by severe nutrient deficiencies either due to a poor diet or an undiagnosed disease. Anyone who notices an increased amount of hair shedding should consult a doctor for a diagnosis to rule out the possibility of a serious medical condition.
Sometimes referred to as scarring or hot comb alopecia, cicatricial alopecia is a type of permanent hair loss that arises when the hair follicles become damaged. Typically, severe inflammation of the tissue on the scalp prompts the scarring of the follicles. As the skin swells, pressure is exerted on the follicles, which eventually becomes too intense and causes them to collapse or change shape. The condition may come on suddenly or develop slowly, going unnoticed in its early stages. Usually, patients who develop scarring alopecia have another medical condition like lupus erythematosus or lichen planus, which prompts the swelling.
Normally, cicatricial alopecia progresses for a set period of time in one or more areas on the scalp, producing bald patches that eventually stop growing in size. To stop the hair loss, doctors can prescribe medications to reduce the inflammation or suppress the activities of the immune system. Hair can typically not be grown in the bald patches left behind by scarring alopecia, but in some cases, a hair transplant can be performed to introduce new hair into the affected areas.
A temporary form of hair loss, alopecia areata occurs when an otherwise healthy person's immune system begins to attack the hair follicles, causing them to rapidly shed hair strands. The condition usually causes round bald patches, and in some cases, can lead to total baldness. This form is called alopecia totalis. Patients may also lose hair not only on their heads, but on the rest of their bodies as well with a form called alopecia universalis. Doctors do not fully understand what leads to the immune system malfunction that prompts alopecia areata.
The aim of treatment for alopecia areata is stopping the immune system's attack on the hair follicles. Typically, this is done through topical, injectable or oral drugs that suppress the immune system, such as corticosteroids. If the treatment is successful and the immune system's actions can be curbed, hair will usually re-grow in the areas previously affected by the condition.
Telogen effluvium is a type of hair loss in which the body sheds the hairs that are in their resting face of growth, the telogen hairs. Usually, the hair loss starts very suddenly and leads to rapid thinning. Because only the telogen hairs are shed, the hair loss is rarely total, though areas of scalp may be visible due to the condition.
Often, a severe shock, heightened emotional stress or a traumatic physical experience triggers telogen effluvium. After childbirth, many women experience the condition as the body often does not shed telogen hairs during pregnancy and then begins to during the postpartum period. Once the body recovers from the emotional or physical stress or a woman’s hormones return to their normal pre-pregnancy levels, the hair loss associated with telogen effluvium usually subsides. To hasten the regrowth of the hair, some doctors recommended the over-the-counter topical medication minoxodil.
Anagen effluvium is another temporary type of hair loss, which is marked by the shedding of the hairs in the growth phase, the anagens. The condition is typically associated with the side effects from chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer and other medical conditions. During chemotherapy treatments, the hair loss is generally unavoidable, but after the treatment is completed, the body will begin growing hair at a normal rate.
A temporary form of hair loss, traction alopecia develops when the hair is frequently pulled, causing the hair follicles to release strands. If you often wear your hair in a ponytail, you may notice signs of traction alopecia along the front of your scalp near your hairline. Pigtails, braids and cornrows can also cause traction alopecia. The treatment for traction alopecia involves simply avoiding the hairstyles that are contributing to the condition and allowing the hair time to regrow.
The most common form of hair loss is androgenic alopecia, which occurs due to excessive levels of male sex hormones or androgens being present in the body. The condition can occur in both men and women and is often called male or female pattern baldness. Androgenic alopecia is generally gradual and without treatment, is not reversible.
A wide variety of treatment options are available for dealing with androgenic alopecia. Most treatments focus on reducing the amount of male hormones that are produced by the body or present on the skin. This can be done through over-the-counter topical medications like minoxidil, prescription oral medications like finasteride and hair loss shampoos like those that contain ketoconazole and caffeine.
Laser hair combs are a new form of treatment that help stimulate growth in some androgenic alopecia sufferers through the use of red light applied directly to the scalp. Hair transplants are another possible treatment for the condition and involve surgically removing hair from one part of the body or scalp and then implanting it in bald areas.