In our society having beautiful well styled hair is just as important as having beautiful skin. Unfortunately, excessive hair loss can be caused by a number of medical conditions, improper care, or genetics.
Dermatologists are physicians who specialize in treating diseases of the hair and skin, and will evaluate the patient’s hair problem by asking questions about diet, medications including vitamins and health food taken in the last six months, family history of hair loss, hair care habits, and recent illness. In women hormonal effects can be evaluated by asking about pregnancies, menstrual cycles, and menopause.
NORMAL HAIR GROWTH
About 90 percent of the hair on a person's scalp is growing at any one time. The growth phase lasts two to six years. Ten percent of the hair is in a resting phase that lasts between two and three months. The hair is shed at the end of the resting stage. When a strand of hair is shed, a new strand will grow from the same follicle to replace it and the cycle starts again. Hair on the scalp grows about ½ of an inch per month. Most hair shedding is due to the normal hair cycle, and losing 50 to 100 hairs a day is no cause for alarm.
CAUSES OF EXCESSIVE HAIR LOSS
Birth Control Pills
– When women lose hair while taking birth control pills it is often the result of a hereditary tendency of thinning hair. If this occurs, women can switch to another birth control pill. Approximately two or three months after a woman stops taking oral contraceptives, she may notice that her hair is shedding. This can continue for six months and is similar to hair loss that is experienced after the birth of a child.
- During pregnancy, more of a woman’s hair follicles enter the active growth phase. However, after childbirth, many hairs enter the resting phase of the hair cycle. Within two or three months, women may notice large amounts of their hair coming out when they are brushing it. This can last several months, but resolves completely in most cases.
Hereditary Thinning and Balding
- This is the most common cause of hair loss and can be inherited from either the father's or mother’s side of the family. Women who have this trait can develop thinning hair, but they do not experience complete hair loss. The disorder is called androgenetic alopecia. Some patients begin experiencing hair loss in their teens, while for other patients it can begin in their twenties, and thirties. There is no cure, although medical treatments have recently become available that may help some people. One treatment involves applying a lotion (minoxidil/Rogaine), to the scalp. Another treatment for men is a daily pill containing finasteride (Propecia) or for women spironolactone (Aldactone), drugs that block the hormone’s effects in the hair follicle.
Hair transplantation is a permanent form of hair replacement. This procedure involves moving some hair follicles from donor sites of the scalp to areas that are bald or thinning and possibly removing bald skin. Because the procedure involves surgery as well as time and money, they should not be undertaken lightly. Your dermatologist can recommend a hair transplant surgeon.
- Some people who go on low protein diets, or have abnormal eating habits, can develop protein malnutrition. To save protein their bodies will shift growing hairs to the resting phase, which can result in massive shedding about two or three months later. The hair can easily be pulled out. This condition can be corrected and is preventable by consuming the proper amounts of protein. When dieting, ensure that you are consuming the recommended amount of protein.
Improper Hair Care and Cosmetic Treatments
– Both women and men frequently use chemical treatments, such as tints, hair dyes, bleaches, permanent waves, and straighteners. If they are done correctly these treatments rarely result in hair damage. However, they can result in the hair weakening and breaking if the chemicals are used too frequently. Hair can be damaged if the solution is left on too long, when two procedures are done the same day, or if bleach is applied to hair that had previously been bleached. If you develop brittle hair due to chemical treatments, you should stop chemical treatments until your hair grows out.
Ponytails, braids, and other hairstyles that pull on the hair, should not be pulled tightly. They should be alternated with looser hairstyles. The constant tugging and pulling can cause hair loss, particularly along the edges of your hair line.
Brushing, combing, and shampooing too frequently can also result in damage to your hair, causing it to break. Using a conditioner or cream rinse after shampooing will help to make your hair easier to comb and more manageable. Wet hair is, more fragile, rubbing it vigorously with a towel, and rough brushing and combing should be avoided. It is recommended that you use brushes with smooth tips and a wide-toothed comb.
- Iron deficiency occasionally results in hair loss. People, whose diet is lacking in iron, do not fully absorb it or women with heavy menstrual cycles can develop an iron deficiency. Laboratory tests can detect low iron levels and this problem can be corrected with supplements
Major Surgery or Chronic Illness
– Patients who have had a major surgery may observe an increase in the amount of hair they are shedding within one to three months after the surgery or illness. This condition typically reverses itself within a few months. Patients who have a severe chronic illness can shed hair indefinitely.
– Some medications and prescription drugs can result in temporary hair loss. Medications that can cause hair loss include some of those that are used when treating: arthritis, depression, gout, heart problems, or high blood pressure. High doses of vitamin A and blood thinners may also result hair shedding.
Severe Infection, High Fever, Severe Flu
- Illnesses may cause hairs to enter the resting phase. Up to three months after a severe illness, high fever, or infection, a person may be shocked to see an excessive amount of hair being shed. This shedding usually corrects itself.
Treatments For Cancer
- Some treatments for cancer can cause hair cells to stop dividing. When this happens hair becomes thin and breaks as it exit the scalp. Patients can lose up to 90 percent of their hair. The hair will regrow once the treatment ends. Patients undergoing treatment may want to get wigs prior to beginning treatment.
- Both an overactive thyroid and an underactive thyroid can cause hair loss. Your doctor can diagnose thyroid disease with laboratory tests. The hair loss associated with thyroid disease can be reversed with proper treatment.
USEFUL WEBSITES ABOUT SKIN DISEASES
We put academic qualifications, many years of combined experience, and training in a variety of special interest areas to work for your healthy, radiant skin. Our providers – Drs. Schachter, Hanna, Curtis, Abdulla, Pollack, and Taradash – welcome new patients for treatment at the Dermatology on Bloor practice on Park Road in Toronto. Our team is here to serve your needs