What Causes Hair Loss?
The most common cause of hair loss is male pattern baldness or alopecia androgenetica. But alopecia (the medical term for hair loss) can occur in women too. For both sexes, it can be distressing, for women particularly so. There are different types of hair loss, with different causes and different treatment regimes.
What are the Symptoms of Hair Loss?
- Thinning hair on top of the head
- Receding hairline
- Patches of baldness
- Thinning on crown & temples
What Causes Hair Loss?
Alopecia androgenetica - male-pattern baldness normally follows a pattern of a receding hairline, followed by thinning on the crown and temples. Female-pattern baldness (also called alopecia androgenetica) usually involves thinning on top of the head.
Male-pattern baldness is hereditary and occurs when the hair follicles react to an excess of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), made from the male hormone testosterone. DHT acts on the hair follicle slowing down hair production until it becomes thinner and weaker and eventually stops altogether. This tends to occur with age. Female-pattern baldness may be linked to a drop in production of the female hormone oestrogen following the menopause.
- Alopecia areata - is hair loss in patches. It is an autoimmune condition. Normally the immune system attacks the cause of infection but with alopecia areata, it attacks the hair follicles instead. The condition is more common in people with certain medical conditions such as thyroid disease or diabetes. Usually, the hair follicles are not permanently damaged and the hair grows back within a few months.
- Scarring alopecia - is hair loss that occurs usually as a result of another condition. The hair follicle gets completely destroyed which means the hair does not grow back.
- Anagen effluvium - is hair loss over the whole body and usually results from chemotherapy treatment for cancer. The hair usually grows back after chemo has stopped.
- Telogen effluvium - is temporary widespread thinning of the hair usually as a reaction to medication or stress.
How to Treat Hair Loss?
Baldness as a hereditary condition cannot be prevented but there are two drugs to slow it down. Finasteride for men works by stopping testosterone converting into DHT - the hormone that slow hair production. The product is available in tablet form and only on private prescription (not on the NHS).
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.
If hair loss has occurred after pregnancy, after changing oral contraceptive or HRT - then wait a while - as the hair loss may be a temporary reaction to hormonal changes. You should see your doctor if hair loss is dramatic to check for underlying medical causes.
There are a number of surgical techniques to replace hair including hair transplant - harvesting existing hair and grafting it onto bald areas, artificial hair transplants - implanting synthetic fibres into the scalp and scalp reduction - moving hairy part of the scalp closer together.
What Alternative Remedies are there to Help with Hair Loss?
- Good hairstyling, hairpieces and wigs can be used to disguise thinning or balding hair, or hair can be woven into existing hair.
- Loss of eyebrows or very short hair can be replicated with a tattoo. This is known as dermatography.
- Aromatherapy, acupuncture and massage are sometimes used for alopecia but there is scant evidence on effectiveness.