Updated 09 March 2017

Why children lose their hair

Hair loss in children is more common than you might think, and can be caused by a number of conditions.

The incidence of hair loss (alopecia) has its roots in childhood and is more common than you may think. However with the right diagnosis it can, in most cases, be effectively treated and the hair loss will be temporary and eventually grow back.

Trevenen Glenn Bam, a Cape Town based trichologist (trichology is the science of the structure, function and diseases of the human hair), says that a visit to your paediatrician should be your first step if your child is suffering from hair loss and you are concerned.

“Most paediatricians will be able to diagnose and treat common causes of hair loss, such as ringworm, traction alopecia, and telogen effluvium. For other conditions, including trichotillomania and alopecia areata, your paediatrician will likely refer you to a specialist for further treatment,” he said.

Causes of hair loss in children

Some of the most common causes of hair loss in children include:

Alopecia areata: This condition is one of the most common causes of hair loss in children and is distinctive in its sudden manifestation of round patches of hair loss which appear smooth and without inflammation or skin flaking.

According to the The Iain Salis Trichology Clinic in London, Alopecia Areata is caused by the body's immune system attacking the hair follicles. There are medications available to treat this condition, however even though in some cases the hair may grow back, there is no known cure for the condition.

Ringworm (or tinea capitis): This condition  is caused by a fungus which infects the scalp and appears as patchy hair loss with broken hair follicles and often accompanied by a ring-like abrasion which can be scaly and itchy, although not all cases present the same and sometimes the itch is not present.

Depending on the appearance of the tinea capitis, treatment can range from an antifungal oral medication or scalp shampoo.

Trichotillomania: This condition is considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder in which the child pulls, plucks or twirls the hair around their fingers. As such the hair loss will be patchy and the child will have lots of broken hair follicles. As the root of this condition  is more psychological, the child should be seen by a child psychologist for treatment. As far as the hair loss goes, the hair should grow back normally once the hair pulling ceases.

Telogen effluvium: High fevers, anaesthesia, excess vitamin A, severe emotional stress and certain medications are the primary suspected culprits behind this condition, which is characterised by loss of hair in big clumps over a period of weeks to months. The hair will appear thinner, and will then begin to grow again – making it one of the least understood conditions in childhood hair loss. Experts believe this condition may merely be caused by something with interrupts the usual life cycle of the hair.

Traction alopecia: This condition is most prevalent in children with very tight braids or ponytails in their hair which has a constant tension on the hair follicle, pulling it from the scalp. It has also been seen in babies who sleep mostly on one side. This hair loss is not permanent and the hair will grow back once it is not tied back anymore. 

Read more: 

The hair loss robot 

When ringworm causes hair loss in your child 

Alopecia areata 


Cape Town Trichology

The Iain Salis Trichology Clinic