A wide variety of conditions can cause baldness, and hair loss generally can't be reversed.
Hair loss is one of the most common—and frustrating—hair concerns. And it's not a condition unique to men. More than half of Australian women experience some form of hair loss as they age.
Most women do not go bald. Rather, women see diffuse thinning over the whole head, mostly on top.
Only your doctor can tell you for sure what's causing your hair loss, and it's always possible that there's more than one cause. But familiarising yourself with the most common forms of baldness can prepare you for an intelligent, informed conversation with your care provider.
Male Pattern Baldness
Don't be fooled by the name. Male pattern baldness happens to both men and women, but it's more common in men because men produce greater quantities of androgens—the so-called 'male' sex hormones.
The problem lies in dihydrogen testosterone (DHT). Testosterone converts to DHT in the body, and DHT attacks hair follicles.
So why do only some people develop male pattern baldness? The issue appears to be a balance with other hormones.
Particularly in women, when levels of oestrogen and other hormones are low, DHT can more easily attack hair follicles, causing baldness. Most researchers now believe this baldness-causing hormone imbalance is at least partially genetic.
Autoimmune diseases cause the body to attack its own cells. A number of autoimmune conditions, including lupus and alopecia, can kill hair follicles. If your hair loss is accompanied by other medical symptoms, this could be an early sign of a serious autoimmune disorder.
Some medications attack hair follicles, or reduce the body's to grow healthy hair. Two forms of hair loss can occur:
- Telogen effluvium causes all of the hair follicles to go into a resting phase two to four months after medication use begins.
- Anagen effluvium occurs about two weeks after taking a medication and interferes with the growth of new hairs.
Although chemotherapy is probably the best-known source of medication-induced hair loss, a wide variety of drugs can cause baldness. These include:
- Any drug that alters hormone levels, including birth control pills
- Acne medications
- Thyroid medications
- Cholesterol medications
- Blood pressure medications
If you notice sudden hair loss after taking a new drug, talk to your doctor.
Hormones are the body's chemical messengers, carrying information from one part of your body to another. Disruptions in hormones can trigger a wide array of chemical reactions, not just DHT-related male pattern baldness.
For example, some women find that precipitous drops in oestrogen after giving birth trigger more hair follicles to enter the resting stage, leading to temporary hair loss.
Viral, bacterial, and fungal infections on your scalp can interfere with hair growth or damage new hairs. You should be especially concerned if you have other symptoms, such as a fever or swelling on your scalp. Ask your doctor to examine your scalp for signs of infection.
If you've ever heard someone remark that they're tearing out their own hair, you already know that stress can lead to hair loss. Some people cope with stress or psychological compulsions by twisting or pulling their hair.
Trichotillomania, an impulse-control disorder, causes people to pull hair from various parts of their bodies, including the scalp, eyelashes, and eyebrows. Excessive pulling may damage hair follicles over time, so prompt psychological treatment is vital for hair regrowth.
Poor Hair Health
Bad haircare almost never causes permanent hair loss. But you can damage new growth, causing hair to break and look progressively thinner. Commonly induced hair damage includes:
- Excessive use of harsh chemical processes, such as bleach, dye, and relaxer
- Overuse of heated styling tools
- Inadequate use of quality conditioner
When you mix several of these lifestyle issues, you have a recipe for significant hair loss.