This article has been medically approved by Pharmacist Sumaiya Patel - GPhC Reg No: 2215078
Losing your hair can be upsetting, but it usually isn’t something to worry about. Treatment may help with some types of hair loss, whereas other forms of hair loss may be due to ageing. In our article below, we’ll look at the symptoms, causes, and treatments for hair loss.
What are the Symptoms of Hair Loss?
The symptoms of hair loss depend on the cause. They may come on suddenly or gradually and can affect just your head or your whole body. Signs of hair loss may include:
- Gradual thinning on top of the head
- Circular or patchy bald spots
- Sudden loosening of hair
- Receding hairline
- Full-body hair loss
- Scaly patches on the scalp
What Causes Hair Loss?
Your hair is in a constant cycle of growth which ends with hairs falling out – this is normal. You can lose between 50 to 100 hairs a day without noticing any thinning. However, hair loss happens when new hair is not replacing the ones that have fallen out. Some types of hair loss can be permanent, where others may be temporary. Hair loss caused by a medical condition or medication usually stops or grows back when you have recovered or stopped the medication.
Runs in the family
Male and female pattern baldness (also known as androgenic alopecia) is the most common cause of hair loss. It usually occurs gradually and typically starts with a receding hairline and bald spots in men. Women may notice their hair getting thin along the crown of their head.
Pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and thyroid problems can all cause hair loss. It may be temporary or permanent.
A variety of medical conditions can cause hair loss. These include alopecia areata, scalp infections like ringworm, and trichotillomania. Alopecia areata is related to the immune system and causes patchy hair loss. Trichotillomania (or trich) is a disorder which causes you to impulsively pull out your hair.
Medications used for conditions like cancer, arthritis, depression, heart problems, gout, and high blood pressure can cause hair loss. This type of hair loss is often temporary and will stop when you stop the medication.
After a physical or emotional shock, many people experience a general thinning of the hair. This type of hair loss is typically temporary.
Hairstyles and treatments
Styling your hair too much or wearing styles that pull your hair tight can cause hair loss. This type of hair loss is called traction alopecia. Hot-oil hair treatments and perms can also cause hair loss. This type of hair loss is reversible if you act quickly – but if scarring occurs it may be permanent.
When to see your GP
You should visit your GP if:
- You have sudden hair loss
- You develop bald patches
- Your hair is falling out in clumps
- Your head also itches and burns
- You’re worried about your hair loss
How to Treat Hair Loss?
The most common first step for treating hair loss is medications. However, it’s important to remember that these treatments don’t work for everyone, only last as long as they’re used, and can be expensive.
Finasteride for men works by stopping testosterone converting into DHT - the hormone that slows hair production. The product is available in tablet form and only on private prescription (not on the NHS). Women shouldn't use finasteride (especially women of childbearing age- who should also avoid handling finasteride).
Minoxidil is a lotion rubbed onto the scalp daily. It can be used by men or women and is available over-the-counter. Its exact mechanism is not fully understood but it’s thought to increase blood supply to the hair follicles so they can produce hairs more efficiently.
Other treatment options include:
- Steroid injections given into bald patches
- Steroid creams applied to bald patches
- Immunotherapy – where a chemical is applied to bald patches
- Light treatments – where UV light is shone on bald patches
- Tattooing can look like short hair or eyebrows
- Hair transplants to move hair cells into thinning patches
- Scalp reduction surgery – where sections of the scalp with hair on them are stretched and stitched together
- Artificial hair transplant – where artificial hairs are implanted into bald patches
For many people, hair is an important part of their identity, so hair loss can be upsetting. If your hair loss is causing you emotional distress, you can speak with your GP about counselling. You may also like to join a support group or speak to people who are in the same situation as you. Some online support groups you might find helpful are Alopecia UK and Alopecia Awareness.
What Alternative Remedies are there to Help with Hair Loss?
If your hair loss is caused by genetics, it isn’t preventable. However, these tips may help you to avoid preventable types of hair loss:
Be gentle with your hair. Avoid excessively tugging or pulling it, especially when your hair is wet. You might like to try a wide tooth comb, as this can help to prevent pulling. You should also avoid damaging hair treatments like hot rollers, curling irons, hot-oil treatments, and perms. If you are tying your hair up, try not to tie it too tightly.
Ask your doctor if any medications or supplements you take can cause hair loss. They may be able to advise alternatives.
Protect your hair from sunlight and other UV light. While sunlight may not cause hair loss, it can damage your hair and scalp and exacerbate already thinning hair.
If you’re receiving chemotherapy, ask your doctor about a cooling cap. This is a hat that is worn during some chemotherapy treatments to help to prevent hair loss.