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- Thinning hair: what causes it?
You only have to look at your hairbrush or shower drain to see that we all lose hair regularly. Today, as every day, you will lose about one in every thousand of your scalp hairs, but these are usually replaced by new hair growth at around the same rate. It is only when your hair follicles can no longer keep up and do not replace hair as fast as you lose it that you start to notice thinning hair.
What causes hair loss?
There are two main types of hair loss causes: genetic factors and other medical and physical factors. Most causes of thinning hair fall into the first category, and most of us will experience some form of hair loss at some time in our lives, some as early as our late teens. But don’t worry, there are plenty of proven solutions to put things right, from hair restoration treatments such as minoxidil foam to state-of-the-art hair transplants.
Hormones and thinning hair
Thinning hair that occurs as a result of genetic predisposition is known as androgenic alopecia. This can affect both men and women. Men tend to experience thinning hair in specific areas, such as on the crown or as a receding hairline, called pattern baldness; women usually show more general thinning over their entire head.
Three factors combine to produce thinning hair:
- High levels of the hormone testosterone
- High levels of 5-alpha reductase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This molecule shrinks hair follicles; as they reduce in size over time, their growth cycle also reduces, producing weaker, thinner hair. Eventually, the hair follicle may cease to function at all.
- Time: hair loss can occur at any age but thinning hair becomes more common with age
Your levels of 5-alpha reductase will vary depending on your genetics and it is worth remembering that you inherit the genes that can affect levels of this important enzyme from both sides of your family tree. So, even if your father kept a full head of hair, you may still inherit thinning hair from your mother’s bloodline.
Studies have also shown that wider genetic factors, such as race and skin colour, also affect thinning hair. Caucasian males are far more likely to experience thinning hair than oriental or African-American males.
Medical causes of thinning hair
While genetic factors are the main cause of permanently thinning hair, sudden or temporary hair loss can be an indication of a range of medical conditions. In some ways, the hair can be seen as a barometer of overall health.
Conditions that affect the blood flow to the scalp, such as diabetes, can cause hair loss, as can rarer conditions like lupus erythematosus and polycystic ovary syndrome. Any sudden onset of thinning hair should always be checked with your GP.
Dietary causes of thinning hair
The health of your hair follicles depends on a range of nutritional factors and thinning hair can be a result of poor diet and can be slowed or even reversed by changing what you eat.
Hair follicles need vitamins A, B, and E to function properly. Vitamin A is vital for the secretion of sebum to keep the hair moist. Lack of vitamin A can result in dry, brittle hair that breaks easily before it is ready to be replaced. Vitamin B complexes are required to keep the hair held firmly in the follicle and for strong, healthy hair growth. Vitamin E is essential for the maintenance of the rich blood supply needed by the follicles for healthy hair growth.
Other dietary deficiencies including lack of iron and lack of protein can also cause thinning hair, as can an excessive dose of vitamin A. However, it should be remembered that dietary deficiencies usually cause general thinning hair all over the head. Changes in your diet are unlikely to help prevent pattern baldness.
Physical causes of thinning hair
There are many myths about the physical factors that affect thinning hair. For example, many people believe that brushing hair stimulates blood flow to the scalp and helps prevent thinning hair. In truth, bald areas of the scalp have just as good a blood supply as areas that have thick hair.
Similarly, people claim that styling can affect thinning hair, but this is only true if you take things to the extreme, with styles such as tight cornrows that pull on the roots causing traction alopecia. Contrary to popular belief, cut hair grows no faster than uncut hair and all but the most vigorous blowing and brushing will have little effect on healthy hair.
There is, however, a condition called trichotillomania, in which people cause thinning hair by compulsively pulling their own hair out. When this is done repeatedly and consistently, it will inevitably lead to bald patches.
Thinning hair - all is not lost
It is ironic that the very hormone that makes men feel masculine, builds confidence, and drives their macho libido, is also responsible for thinning hair which can have the opposite effect. Fortunately there are a range of solutions that can help put things right. Expert help from experienced and qualified hair restoration specialists and hair transplant experts can help recreate an impressive, natural-looking, full head of hair that can restore confidence and rebuild self-esteem.
Hair restoration guide
- Exploring the causes of hair loss
- How can you treat hair loss?