On average we have about 100,000 hairs on our head, with the large majority in the ‘resting phase’ and a small number (about 10%) in the ‘growing phase.’ Normal, everyday hair loss is about 50-100 hairs, but you may only notice it when washing your hair - and the amount could appear more due to hairs that were shed a day or so ago, but have become caught and not released until washing.
This article on hair loss treatment is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
Both men and women suffer from hair loss, with some causes similar and some unique to one gender (such as male pattern baldness). Many causes of female hair loss are temporary, and hair thinning or baldness can be concealed with cosmetic products, hats, scarves, and wigs until it grows back.
If you’re thinking of undertaking a hair loss treatment there are many options to choose from.
Causes of female hair loss
- The most common cause of hair loss in women is a condition named ‘telogen effluvium,’ which is a reaction to very high levels of stress on the body's physical or hormonal systems, or sometimes a reaction to certain medications. It causes widespread loss of hair all over the scalp, and sometimes in other parts of the body. It’s characterised by an abrupt onset, and often clears up by itself (within about six months), with normal hair growth restored. Rarely, the condition becomes chronic, persisting over many years without clearing up.
- Another cause of female hair loss is the hormone-induced condition of ‘androgenetic alopecia,’ which can be inherited from either parent. It mainly affects women over forty and causes general thinning of the hair, especially around the sides and top of the scalp.
- A third cause of female hair loss is ‘alopecia areata,’ an autoimmune disease affecting more than 2% of the population. Hair follicles attacked by the body’s own white blood cells become small and cease producing hairs.
Causes of male hair loss
The main cause of hair loss in men is ‘male pattern baldness’ which is inherited and caused by an excess of the chemical dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This results in hair loss around the temples and crown, often in a similar way to that of your father. Men can also be affected by the conditions ‘telogen effluvium’ and ‘alopecia areata’ that affect women.
Other causes of hair loss
- Iron deficiency anaemia
- Under-active thyroid
- Fungal scalp infection
- Prescribed medicines
If the cause of your hair loss can be halted (such as curing stress, anaemia, fungal infection, etc) you will most likely see spontaneous re-growth and your hair will be back to normal. However, male pattern baldness is currently not curable, although there are many techniques and products available to help with maximising the remaining hair. Quite often, hair loss slows down or stops of its own accord.
If you’re determined to find a hair loss treatment the following methods are commonly used:
- Vitamin supplements – that contain zinc, magnesium, iron, vitamin E and others, in various combinations.
- Hairstyles - Different hairstyles can create the appearance of a fuller head of hair. Do some research or ask your barber to help find the best style to maximise what you have left.
- Wigs and hair pieces – these can completely cover up hair loss, and today’s hair pieces are very realistic.
- Minoxidil – a lotion applied to the scalp to slow down the process of hair loss and encourage new growth. It is not known how it works and isn’t effective in everyone, although it works best on younger people with early hair loss. As soon as you stop using the lotion, hair loss continues at the original speed and new hair falls out.
- Propecia (Finasteride) – effective only in men, this new drug, taken in tablet form, increases hair growth and prevents further loss. Discovered by accident as a side effect in the treatment of prostate cancer, Propecia is prescription only.
Undergoing surgery for hair loss should be seen as a last resort after other methods have failed. However, surgery for restoring hair has greatly improved in recent times and can give an excellent result. There are two main techniques:
Hair transplants - very small areas of skin are taken from other parts of the body, such as the back of the neck (if there is still plenty of hair there) and implanted into the areas of the scalp with thin hair coverage.
Scalp reduction – areas of the scalp with good hair growth can be stretched, and the bald areas removed, or alternatively, small sections of scalp with good hair growth can be moved to poor growth areas.
Although not clinically proved, many people use one, or a combination, of the following to help increase healthy hair growth:
- Laser devices
- Steam treatment
- Ultraviolet and infra red light therapy
- Formulated shampoos and conditioners