Women joke about tearing their hair out when they’re stressed, but for those dealing with real hair loss, it’s no joke.
Hair loss can be frustrating, surprising and downright disheartening, and according to the American Hair Loss Association, women represent 40 percent of those with hair loss in the United States.
In order to treat or even prevent hair loss, it’s essential to understand why hair is falling out in the first place. TODAY Stylesought out the experts to explain how to tackle hair loss with confidence.
WHAT CAUSES HAIR LOSS?
Hair loss doesn’t happen overnight. Typically, there’s some kind of trigger that leads up to it.
“There are numerous causes of hair loss from such causes as hormonal issues, certain types of hair styling that can cause hair loss over time, systemic diseases such as thyroid gland problems, lupus and others,” said Dr. Alan Parks, board-certified dermatologist and founder of DermWarehouse.
Extreme mental or physical stress (childbirth, surgery and illness) and certain medications or nutritional deficiencies can also cause hair loss.
WHAT IS ALOPECIA?
Alopecia is basically a fancy medical term for hair loss and, like many conditions, no two types of alopecia are the same. “There are a number of different types of alopecia and they are generally characterized by thinning hair or complete loss of hair,” said cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Sejal Shah of New York City’s SmarterSkin Dermatology.
Although several types of hair loss exist, the two most common are androgenetic alopecia (female pattern hair loss) and telogen effluvium (excessive daily hair fall), according to Anabel Kingsley, a trichologist (a hair and scalp expert) for Philip Kingsley hair care.
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“Androgenetic alopecia is a slow and progressive reduction in hair volume,” Kingsley said. “It occurs when you have a genetic predisposition that causes hair follicles on your scalp to be sensitive to normal levels of circulating androgens (male hormones).”
In other words, your hair follicles gradually shrink and produce hairs that are slightly finer and shorter with each passing hair growth cycle. Even though this type of hair loss is mostly reliant on genes, Kingsley said other factors can influence it as well. For instance, certain contraceptives and hormone-replacement therapies that effect hormone levels can aggravate the problem if there’s already a genetic predisposition to follicle sensitivity.
Telogen effluvium, on the other hand, is characterized by excessive daily hair fall with more hairs falling out when women shampoo orbrush/style their hair. It can take 8-12 weeks for hair to fall out after a triggering event. “It is a reactive alopecia, triggered by an internal disruption,” Kingsley said. “As hair is non-essential tissue, it is very sensitive to fluctuations to general health.”
Certain vitamin deficiencies — like Vitamin D, iron and ferritin (stored iron), for instance — and other factors like crash dieting, thyroid issues and pregnancy (postpartum hair loss) can also trigger telogen effluvium.
Alopecia areata, another type of alopecia typically diagnosed by a dermatologist, is an autoimmune condition that affects as many as 6.8 million people (approximately 3.5 million women) in the U.S. Basically, the immune system mistakes the normal cells in the body as foreign invaders and attacks these cells.
To spot the condition, dermatologists will examine hairs that have fallen out and look to see if they resemble exclamation marks with their bulbs still attached, according to Gary Sherwood, director of communications for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.
“They also examine the scalp to see whether there are white spots where the hair used to be,” Sherwood said. “Additionally, they will ask whether there is a history of autoimmune conditions in the family as that could (but not always) play a role.”
IS MY HAIR LOSS NORMAL?
Whether it’s from combing or shampooing (or just standing still, to be honest), every woman loses a bit of hair on a daily basis. “On average, women lose 100 hairs per day; some people lose more and other less,” Shah said.