Seneca the Younger (the Roman stoic who insisted he was merely taller than his hair) might have thought little of being bald, but for many in the modern day, losing hair is a point of dissatisfaction. In the age of veritable celebrity worship, when forever-young are plastered on every billboard, building, and smart device, losing hair becomes a symbol of weakness and irrelevance. Of course, it's actually so much more common than that.
“Male pattern baldness” (androgenic alopecia) is hardly a new term and treatments and medications to treat hair loss have been on the market for decades. But the truth is, pattern baldness is equally common among women (as much as 40 percent by the age of 40), and there's a number of causes that can even affect children. Perhaps it gets missed because there are a myriad of potential causes in women, making it significantly harder to pin down a cause that can be campaigned.
Across all ages and genders, the literal cause of hair loss is a natural part of the hair growth cycle. About 90 percent of a person's hair is in a stage called “anagen,” a growth stage that should last for years, leaving only 10 percent of hair to be in transition or resting stages. After resting, even healthy hair falls out, to the tune of 100 to 200 strands per day. Sometimes large amounts of hair will naturally transition to the resting stage simultaneously, causing temporary hair loss called telogen effluvium. As a person ages, involutional alopecia naturally leads to thinning hair and balding.
Pattern baldness is premature hair loss, caused by a genetic condition passed from one generation to another. But that's merely the medical cause most people are familiar with, barring, hair loss from cancer treatments like chemotherapy. Other diseases, like lupus or syphilis, also cause hair loss. Skin conditions, like psoriasis, eczema, or seborrheic dermatitis, are also causes. Women may experience hair loss when suffering anemia, thyroid disorders, or poly-cystic ovary syndrome.
Autoimmune diseases can cause patchy, partial, or total hair loss due to the fact that the body is attacking itself. Alopecia areata, which afflicts children, is an autoimmune disease that attacks hair follicles in particular. This can progress to alopecia totalis or universalis, wherein hair stops growing on the scalp or anywhere on the body, respectively.
Some medications can also be responsible for hair loss. Blood thinners are an excellent example, but birth control and other hormonal medications sometimes lead to hair loss as well. In these cases, the hair loss is temporary, and hair will regrow when the medication is eventually discontinued.
Some causes can seem odd. For instance, pregnancy can cause hair loss in women, and there may be a correlation with menopause. Physical trauma, surgery unrelated to the head or scalp, and scalp injury or scarring can cause hair to fall out prematurely. In children, a ringworm called tinea capitis will cause hair to fall out or break in patches. There's also a psychological disorder (trichotillomania) that causes children as well as adults to compulsively pull on or twist hair until it breaks or pulls out.
The adage of stressful situations giving you gray hairs isn't far from the truth – intense emotional stress can cause hair to fall out. Similarly, fast, dramatic weight loss – also associated to intense stress – can cause hair loss. An inappropriate diet that results in either poor nutrition (e.g., not enough protein) or too much of particular vitamins (e.g., Vitamin A) will also cause brittle hair and hair loss.
Some types of hair styling can be problematic. Leaving bleach or other hair lightening products in hair for too long will cause it to fall out. Braids that are woven too tightly will pull chunks of hair out. Similarly, other dyes, chemical treatments, or heat based styling can damage hair and the scalp.
There are many different causes of hair loss but in recent years, effective medical treatments of hair loss are available. Hair loss medications have been shown to slow hair loss and can even improve coverage of the scalp or thickness of existing hair. Visit our Hair Loss Conditions page for more information and to print or download a free discount for popular hair loss medications.