What to Do if Your Hair is Falling Out: Hair Loss Treatments and Causes

Hair loss affects more than half of men and many women, but hair loss treatments from cosmetic to surgical can alleviate symptoms and stress

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Worried about hair loss? Check with your dermatologist before starting a hair loss treatment

The hair loss treatment industry in North America is estimated at $7 billion per year

The allure of beautiful hair is undeniable, so when hair starts falling out, it’s no wonder people are willing to try everything from natural hair loss treatments to surgical procedures.

Hair loss is common and will affect more than half of men and many women during some point in their lives. But the causes of hair loss are wide-ranging and require different courses of action.

Why You Might be Losing Your Hair

With normal healthy hair, you can expect to lose about 100 scalp hairs every day. However, many people will experience additional thinning for a variety of reasons, including:  

Stress: The most common type of stress-induced hair loss is Telogen Effluvium. This occurs when sudden or severe stress causes hair follicles to stop growing and enter the resting phase. The hair remains in this phase for about three months, after which large amounts will fall out. This is usually temporary.

Illness: Hair loss can be a sign of a more serious illness such as anemia, scalp fungal infections, diabetes and even a nutritional deficiency. Scarring Alopecia, for example, occurs when hair follicles are inflamed due to an infection or disease. This type of hair loss can be permanent because hair follicles can be destroyed and replaced with scar tissue.

Drugs: A surprising number of prescription drugs can cause hair to fall out as a side effect. Anagen Effluvium, for example, is when hair falls out after chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Hormones: Hair follicles on the scalp are extremely sensitive to hormonal imbalances. Having an under active or overactive thyroid, for example, can cause hair to fall out. For women, giving birth, going through menopause and taking birth control pills can cause hair loss. DHT (dihydrotesterone) is a derivative of testosterone and is made in men’s bodies in large amounts and in women’s in small amounts. Excessive amounts of DHT can cause hair to fall out.

Since the reasons vary so widely, it’s advisable to consult with a dermatologist when experiencing unexpected hair loss.

Different Types of Hair Loss in Women and Men

According to the Canadian Hair Research Foundation (CHRF), male pattern hair loss (MPHL), or androgentic alopecia, affects about 20% of men in their twenties and 50% of men in their fifties. People who have this genetic predisposition exhibit higher levels of androgens, specifically DHT.

For men with MPHL, follicles located at the top, front and temples of the head are sensitive to DHT and start to shrink with elevated levels of this hormone. This interrupts the natural resting and growing phases until the follicles either die or are rendered incapable of reproducing healthy hair. Eventually, MPHL results in a characteristic pattern: hair loss at the crown/front of the head, progressing to baldness until only a U-shaped fringe is left.

For women, female pattern hair loss (FPHL) encompasses more than just androgenetic alopecia. It includes triggers such as other types of enzymes and hormone receptors and blockers specific to women.

In FPHL, hair loss is neither as extensive nor as severe as MPHL. The hairline doesn’t normally recede and instead there is a uniform thinning of hair on the front, crown and sides of the head.

Because FPHL is so sensitive to hormonal fluctuations, estrogen helps counteract the effects of DHT, but for those who are genetically predisposed to FPHL, resistance to hair loss will be greatly compromised when estrogen levels drop during menopause. The CHRF estimates that 40% to 50% of women will be affected by hair loss by the time they reach menopause.

Hair Loss Treatments

Losing hair can have a traumatizing effect on body image and self-esteem, and can even disrupt work and family life.  

Before starting any hair remedies, it’s best to consult a dermatologist.

Chemicals: There are many topical solutions on the market, with Minoxidil (trade name Rogaine or Regaine) being the most well-known and available over the counter for men and women. Finasteride is a relatively new prescription oral medication, effective for men only, since its main function is to inhibit DHT.

Natural supplements: There’s a wide variety of natural hair treatments that claim to help increase hair growth. Some of the more popular supplements contain biotin, B3 vitamins, protein, iron, silica, zinc and collagen. People who see the best results from this line of treatment are usually nutritionally deficient in these areas.

Cosmetic: Wigs, weaves and toupees offer people with thinning hair an option for quick solutions without any potentially harmful side effects. The best pieces use real human hair, which require regular maintenance and replacement every 18-36 months.

Surgical: Hair transplants, scalp reductions and hair cloning are some of the surgical procedures available to treat hair loss. Hair transplants use areas of healthy hair growth and move them to parts of the scalp experiencing hair loss. Scalp reduction involves cutting away areas of a bald scalp and rejoining the healthy hair-producing scalp together. Hair cloning, or engineered hair growth, is a relatively new procedure that involves taking healthy follicle cells from a scalp, multiplying them in a laboratory and implanting them back to the donor’s scalp.