Every day, you lose about 50 to 100 hairs from your scalp. Don’t worry, new hairs grow back in.
It’s all part of your hair’s programmed life cycle, which consists of three phases: the growth phase, the shedding phase and the resting phase.
But when excessive hair loss or thinning of the scalp begins to happen, it’s because this cycle has been disrupted, or because the hair follicle has been destroyed and replaced by scar tissue. As a result, gradual thinning, receding hairlines, bald patches and complete baldness can occur.
Hair loss is attributed to many different causes, ranging from common to the not-so-common. It affects more men than women, but the latter’s still susceptible to it.
Here are 10 causes that can trigger adverse hair loss in women.
1. Extreme stress
According to dermatologist Marc Glashofer, experiencing a highly stressful event such as a physical injury or severe anxiety can cause shock to the hair cycle, pushing more hair into the shedding phase. Also, fewer hair follicles are available to grow new hair during the growing phase. This can trigger telogen effluvium, a type of hair loss that sees as many as 70% of the scalp hairs being shed, usually in handfuls. It becomes noticeable about two to six months after the shock occurs.
Fortunately, the body begins to go back to normal once the stress is over, which will then kickstart your hair’s growth cycle. It’s important to nurture your physical and mental health so that your hair cycle can continue unhampered. Partaking in regular exercise programmes or learning relaxation techniques like meditation are amongst some of the steps you can take towards maintaining your mane.
Read more: How to turn off the hormones that cause hair thinning
If hair loss runs in the family, chances are that you may be prone to it, too.
Androgenetic alopecia, or female-pattern hair loss (FPHL), causes thinning on all areas of the scalp including the widening of your parting. This leads to increased diffuse hair shedding or a reduction in hair volume, or both. It’s the most common form of hair loss, affecting 40% of women by age 50.
The American Academy of Dermatology says that FPHL is hereditary, meaning you inherit the genes from either parent or both. However, there are multiple genes that contribute to FPHL, genes which have yet to be established as causative. Factors tied to hormones also play a major role, so FPHL can also occur after menopause or pregnancy.
Minoxidil is the preferred medication to use to treat FPHL, as you can easily apply it to your dry scalp.
Read more: “Here’s why I decided to grow out my leg, underarm and pubic hair”
3. Lack of nutrients
Sometimes hair loss comes down to what you eat – or rather, what you don’t eat.
Like the cells in our bodies, hair thrives on a diet rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Without these necessary nutrients, your hair will feel the damaging effects.
A lack of Vitamin C – which aids in the synthesis of collagen, a structural fibre that hair follicles needed for growth – can make your hair dry and brittle. Protein powers growth in hair cells, but an absence of it results in less new hair growth. Iron helps red-blood cells to carry oxygen; once your iron levels are low, you become anaemic and your cells struggle to function, causing you to lose your hair.
Zinc is important for tissue growth and repair, plus it keeps oil glands around the hair follicles in good working order. But if your zinc intake is low, you’ll experience slow hair growth and dandruff in addition to the hair loss.
To prevent your hair from “starving out”, start eating foods that contain these vital nutrients. Oranges, mangoes, cauliflower and tomatoes contain Vitamin C, whilst protein can be found in meats, eggs, fish, yogurt and beans. Whole-grain cereals and dark green leafy vegetables are great for providing you with iron, plus you will need zinc-rich foods like nuts, chickpeas and sweet potatoes.
Read more: “I wore my bun so tight it made me bald”
4. Weight loss and crash diets
A sudden or excessive loss of weight can result in the thinning and loss of hair. Like stress-induced hair loss, drastic weight loss can be a shock to the system, which can trigger telogen effluvium.
Stress from dieting can cause more hairs than usual to fall out during the shedding phase. Vitamin or mineral deficiencies are also major factors. Usually you will see hair loss three to six months after you’ve lost weight, and then the hair cycle will start to correct itself.
To prevent hair loss when losing weight, make sure to incorporate meats, eggs, whole grains, fruits and vegetables into your diet. They’re rich in protein, iron, Vitamins A and C, and zinc, all of which are essential components for hair growth.
Read more: This healthy butternut pancake tastes great and actually fights hair loss
Once you reach 40, you may find that your hair isn’t as bouncy and full as it used to be. As we age, our bodies begin to lose the ability to renew and regenerate cells quickly. This results in thinning hair, hair loss and greying.
Research also points to menopause as a cause of hair loss as the body undergoes hormonal changes during this process. A decrease in hormones like oestrogen and progesterone, which help to grow and retain hair, leads to slow hair growth and thinning. This prompts the increased production of androgens, a group of male hormones. Androgens shrink hair follicles, resulting in hair loss on the head.
Eating a balanced diet of lean proteins, vitamins and minerals is one way to deal with thinning hair. If your hair’s on the dry side, consider using moisturising products that contain Argan oil or hazelnut oil to nourish it.
Read more: What exactly is… alopecia areata?
During the pregnancy itself, your oestrogen levels will have increased, meaning your hairs remain in the growing phase. So don’t be surprised if your hair looks and feels fuller.
However, hair loss occurs approximately three months after the delivery. That’s because your hormones are returning to their normal levels, causing the hair cycle to resume. Don’t panic if your hair suddenly starts falling out all at once – your hair will recover within six to 12 months as your follicles start to rejuvenate themselves.
To reduce hair loss after your pregnancy, supplement your diet with fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamins B, C and E, and zinc to promote hair growth.
Read more: 7 common things making your hair go grey WAY faster than it should
Over time, your hair can start falling out due to the stress caused by vigorous over-styling and hair treatments.
Traction alopecia, or gradual hair loss, is caused by hairstyles that pull your hair tight. Braids, cornrows, pig-tails and weaves, as well as hot-oil treatments and chemical relaxers, puts the hair under constant strain, which can affect the hair follicles to the point that these hairs may never grow back.
Think about wearing your hair down, changing your hairstyle every couple of weeks (alternating between loose hair and braids, for example) or avoid chemically processing your hair if you use weaves or braids.
Scalp massages are great for effective hair regrowth: olive oil, castor oil and unrefined coconut oil make for fabulous massage agents.
Certain medications could be the reason why you are experiencing hair loss. They are toxic to the hair follicles, and the damage leads to a disruption in the hair cycle.
Anti-coagulants (blood thinners that help to combat blood clots) are the most common hair loss-inducing medications and can trigger telogen effluvium. Blood pressure drugs like beta-blockers, gout medications like Allopurinol and exceptionally large doses of Vitamin A can also cause your hair to fall out. Luckily, this type of hair loss is temporary.
Speak to your doctor to find out which of your medications could be causing your hair loss. Also speak to your doctor about perhaps being prescribed a different medication, lowering your current dosage or recommending a viable treatment that will aid in minimising your hair loss.
9. High-energy sport
“During high-intensity exercise or sport, muscles consume a huge amount of energy, draining the rest of the body of energy, including the hair,” says Dr Adolf Klenk, a hair expert. “This causes hair to suffer and may result in hair loss.”
Other factors include using steroids to boost your physical performance and a lack of proper hair care, such as letting sweat build up in your hair for days on end. Eating nutrient-rich foods will provide your body with the components it needs to promote hair growth.
Additionally, caffeine-based shampoos that contain taurine and special micronutrients including biotin, zinc, magnesium and calcium can also help stimulate the hair to grow.
10. Trichotillomania (hair-pulling)
Trichotillomania is a mental disorder that causes people to compulsively pull out their hair from their scalp, eyebrows or other areas of their bodies. It occurs more frequently in women, and it’s estimated that 1-2% of adults and adolescents suffer from it.
The repeated pulling of your hair can damage your hair follicles, resulting in bald patches and near permanent hair loss. It can also be highly distressing, as it can interfere with your social and work functioning.
Although treatment of trichotillomania is limited, there are types of therapy available. Habit-reversal training enables you to recognise when you’re likely to pull your hair and how to substitute other behaviours instead, such as clenching your fists to help stop the urge to touch your hair. Your doctor may also recommend using an antidepressant like Clomipramine to help control the symptoms.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthsa.co.za
Image credit: iStock