In this article:
- Three cycles hair goes through
- Hair breakage causes and fixes
- Other reasons we lose hair
- What does female alopecia look like & its causes
- Treatment & prevention
First of all, what is hair? Hair is made of a tough protein called keratin. A hair follicle anchors each hair into the skin. The hair bulb forms the base of the hair follicle. In the hair bulb, living cells divide and grow to build the hair shaft. The structure of a strand of hair is pretty straightforward, yet the natural cycle of hair is extraordinary. There is a three-step process our hair goes through.
Hair goes through these three cycles in the natural process:
With this 3-step process, it is actually normal for us to lose our hair. It is just natural. Could you imagine if your hair never fell out? We would look like a cave dweller. While those 3 phases are the norm, we know that our hair can be broken and fall out for other reasons. This is known as “hair breakage”
Hair breakage is connected to hair porosity and elasticity. Porosity is the ability of hair strands to absorb and retain moisture. Hair with high porosity is not good because it absorbs too much water. Low porosity is also not good because it means your cuticles are tightly closed and not allowing moisture in. Elasticity refers to our hair’s ability to return to its normal shape after being stretched. Hair with low elasticity is very likely to be damaged. Thus, the ultimate goal should be to have hair with normal porosity and elasticity. Wouldn't it be nice to have the perfect combination of both porosity and elasticity? Unfortunately, as we age, these factors become more crucial and the things we do to our hair can further affect the level of thickness.
Diet: Diet plays a strong role in every aspect of our lives. Make sure you’re getting enough zinc, iron, and folic acid in your daily diet. Adequate protein and antioxidants (found in plant foods) can also minimize damage to your hair.
Stress: There’s a multitude of evidence showing links between stress and hair loss, but it’s also known that stress can lead to hair breakage. Telogen effluvium is the type of stress linked to hair damage. This type of stress causes your follicles to go dormant, so hair either breaks or falls out in the middle of a growth cycle. Life is full of stressors. We need to find those things that can calm our minds. Meditation, hobbies, even therapy can go a long way not just for you, but your hair as well.
Dryness: When our hair follicles are constantly dry, hair becomes brittle and breaks off. Dry air, hard water from the shower tap, flat irons, bleach, and failing to use a conditioner can exacerbate dryness. There are many products that can help with the dryness of your hair.
Heat: Oh yes, that dryer and flat iron! When we consistently blow dry and/or iron our hair, it makes the scalp even drier, removing the natural oils scalps produce. Avoid these hair harmers as much as possible.
Over-processing: Whether we go to a hairstylist or do it ourselves, over-bleaching, changing hairstyles, or frequent dyeing has been shown to cause hair breakage. It’s understandable that changing hairstyles can be addictive, however, be aware of this adventurous tendency. Take some time and allow your hair to get used to the new hairstyle before you jump to a new one!
Over-washing: What does overwashing have to do with our hair breaking? Nobody likes to feel their hair is dirty, yet using shampoo and other hair products constantly will zap those natural oils. Letting some natural oil accumulate will help your hair.
Improper towel drying: It’s hard to believe that there is a technique for properly towel drying your hair. That's right, no more rubbing your scalp. Instead, gently squeeze excess water from your hair using a soft towel or a cotton t-shirt. Continue to remove excess water by gently blotting and squeezing. If you have long hair, tie your hair up and let the towel absorb the rest of the excess water for 10-15 minutes.
Hair ties: Tying your hair back in elastic bands is useful to keep the hair out of your face, yet it puts extreme strain on the hair follicles. Since this can pull your hair straight from the root, be careful not to pull too tight.
Incorrect brushing: I have always been guilty of this. I am one that rips through my hair quickly, then helplessly pulls hair from my brush. Before you start working those tangles out, it's important to choose a brush or comb made of quality materials that will work well with your hair type. According to a Healthline guide, the best hairbrush for thinning hair is a soft bristle brush because it’s gentle and won’t rip out your hair. If you’re looking for more volume at the crown, you can use a teasing brush, which is smaller and designed to reach the root of the hair. Always brush gently to work out tangles and distribute your hair's natural oils. Brush once a day and clean your brush every 2 weeks to keep your hair smooth, healthy, and clean!
Lack of hair trims: Hair grows thicker and healthier when it is trimmed on a regular basis. While regular trims do not affect hair loss, they do help make your hair look fuller and healthier by getting rid of split or swollen ends. How often you should trim your hair depends on many factors, like hair type and style. For example, highly textured hair requires more frequent trimming. Check with your hair-care professional for advice.
Hair breakage is not the only reason for thinning hair, there are other issues at hand that can actually cause hair to fall out. There are three basic causes:
Menopause: Unfortunately, it’s not just hot flashes and mood changes, menopause is also the number one cause of female alopecia. During menopause, hormone levels drop and cause hair to fall out.
Stress/trauma: When we are stressed, the way our bodies react affects our various hormone levels, adrenal gland output, and endorphin count. The impact on these systems has been shown to drastically affect our hair.
Scalp allergies or disorders: Certain disorders such as tinea capitis (a fungal infection that affects the scalp), seborrheic eczema (cradle cap), eczema of the scalp, and psoriasis (a dermatological condition of the scalp regarded as an autoimmune disease), can damage our hair.
Wrong supplements: Some vitamin and nutritional supplements may have a negative impact on our hair. According to a study by the NIH (National Institutes of Health), over-supplementation of certain nutrients, including selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin E, has actually been linked to hair loss. Consult your healthcare provider.
Family history: The most common causes of hair loss are hereditary conditions that happen with aging. These conditions are called androgenic alopecia which are also known as male-pattern baldness and female-pattern baldness. They usually occur gradually and in predictable patterns — a receding hairline and bald spots in men, and thinning hair along the crown of the scalp in women.
Hyperthyroid disorder: Symptoms related to thyroid problems usually don’t start until later in the disease process. These symptoms include brittle hair and nails, hair loss, and dry skin.
Autoimmune disease: Autoimmune diseases affect the entire body. However, some have been linked to hair loss in women. There is scientific evidence that both Lupus and Chronic Lymphocytic Thyroiditis cause damage to hair. Alopecia Areata is a specific immune disease where the immune system attacks the hair follicles during the anagen phase of hair growth.
Minoxidil (Rogaine, generic versions): While this was initially a treatment for high blood pressure, people who took it noticed they were growing hair in places where they had lost it. Thus it has been a standard treatment for many years and has proven effective.
Anti-androgens: Androgens include testosterone and other male hormones, which can accelerate hair loss in women.
The right supplement: According to Healthline, the right supplement for hair should contain vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, iron, and zinc. But as mentioned above, over-supplementation can be a problem. A supplement may be best for those already suffering a deficiency in one of the above nutrients. Again, consult your healthcare provider.
Iron supplements: Iron deficiency could be a cause of hair loss in some women. Your doctor may test your blood iron level, particularly if you're a vegetarian, have a history of anemia, or have heavy menstrual flow.
Collagen Supplements: An imbalance of hormones, particularly the sex hormones of testosterone and estrogen, is one of the most common causes of hair loss in women of all ages. Collagen is full of amino acids that help regulate the production of hormones, ensuring that our hair stays healthy.
Hair replacement surgery: During this procedure, surgeons remove a narrow strip of scalp and divide it into hundreds of tiny grafts, each containing just a few hairs. Each graft is planted in a slit in the scalp created by a blade or needle in the area of missing hair. Hair grows naturally this way, in small clusters of one to four follicles, called follicular units.
Essential Oils: There are at least 8 oils that have been shown to do exceptional work with hair regrowth. Rosemary, pumpkinseed, peppermint, lavender, clary sage, cedarwood, tea tree, and thyme all contain either antibacterial, anti-fungal, and/or anti-inflammatory properties that help produce stronger and thicker hair as well as regrowth.
Biotin: has been shown to decrease the hair loss process and increase new hair follicles.
Scalp Massage: Massaging of the scalp for at least 5 minutes a day can stimulate your hair and help in the growth process. There are many products out there to assist you with this. Combining essential oils with scalp massage greatly increases the benefit. There is limited proof, however, that this can bring back lost hair.
Shampoo: The shelves are filled with many shampoos and conditioners promising to help with hair thinning and loss. Those products containing any of the essential oils are the ones that may help the most.
Folic acid: is an integral part of the nutrients your body needs to make new cells. This is very true in the regrowing of hair. Folic acid has been shown to work especially with women over the age of 50 in reproducing and strengthening hair.
Omega-3: is famous as an anti-inflammatory agent, used historically for medicinal purposes. Omega-3s for hair growth not only feed and nourish hair but reduce inflammation that can contribute to hair loss.
Aldactone: is a medication that isn't for everyone with hair loss, yet it can help women who experience it due to hormone imbalance. Please always consult with your doctor before taking such a medication.
Finasteride: is one of the few hair loss treatments to be clinically tested, FDA-approved, and proven to work for many women. It is a medication, so please consult with your doctor.
Corticosteroids: Women with hair loss due to alopecia areata may consider treatment with corticosteroids injected at multiple sites in the affected area. Hair growth may be noticeable as soon as four weeks, and treatment can be repeated every four to six weeks. There are, however, side effects to this process. It is very important to discuss medications, medical conditions, as well as supplements you take with your physician. It's up to you to decide if the side effects are worth the risk of taking corticosteroids.
Plant Estrogen: Natural estrogen with pomegranate extract is a dietary supplement that provides standardized, plant extracts to help relieve menopausal symptoms. It also offers hormone-modulating effects that are essential for health maintenance and hair loss prevention in women over 40, and has been helpful in earlier onsets of androgenetic alopecia.
Protein: Hair is made of protein. According to the NIH study mentioned above, protein malnutrition can lead to hair loss. Be sure to get your recommended daily amount of protein.
We all are different, particularly as we age, but it is natural for our hair to start thinning and even fall out. It's part of the life process. Studies show that women over the age of 50 start losing hair for a variety of reasons. Understanding what is happening with your body as a whole will assist you in finding out what to do to help keep that beautiful-looking hair you enjoy. Talk to your hairdresser, your friends, and most importantly, your physician. Never accept excessive hair loss as standard. Our hair is a part of us. Be creative. Enjoy and have fun with it. Your hair will thank you for it.