Hair Loss – A Common Saga
By Soujanya Padikkal & Sheetal Kabra
Hair has always been a beauty standard for men and women. Be it mythology, fairy tales or songs, hair has always been a prized possession irrespective of gender and don’t we all wish for the perfect hair!
Unfortunately, pre-mature baldness and or hair fall on a daily basis has become a common problem now. Most of us experience or hear stories of hair fall. The market is flooded with thousands of products promising a quick and easy solution to this most common hair problem. And lets be honest, each one of us has tried several of these products. But have they worked? Have you ever wondered, why don’t they work for most people? To answer this question, you need to first understand, why does hair fall occur and why has it become such a common problem.
Before we dive straight into the causes of hair loss, lets get a brief understanding of our scalp hair. It is important to understand that we are born with all the hair cells we will ever have. Our scalp contains on an average 1,00,000 hair follicles. According to the American Academy of Dermatologists, it is normal to lose 50-100 strands of hair per day. The most unusual feature of hair is its ability of self-regeneration and yet here we are struggling to maintain it! Every time you lose hair, the hair follicle generates hair to replace it unless it has shrunk too much.
Like all the cells in our body, hair follicles have a growth cycle that is divided into 3 phases:
- Anagen phase(active phase, hair grows around half an inch/month),
- Catagen phase (transition phase that signals the end of active hair growth),
- Telogen phase (old hair falls out when pulled or combed) and back to anagen phase where new hair grows.
Different follicles go through different phases of the cycle at the same time. Some follicles are in the growth phase while others might be in the resting phase. Some of your hair might be growing, while others are falling out. Hair follicles also determine the length, shape, color and texture of hair.
Earlier, most people experienced hair fall by the age of fifty. But now it has become a common problem with the first signs being observed even during adolescence. Hair fall can be caused due to several factors, varying in individuals with temporary or long lasting effects. Unfortunately, most people try to address hair fall issue with quick fixes (like a shampoo, hair mask, hair oil) without understanding the root cause. The purpose of this post is to create awareness about the various factors that cause hair loss to enable you address the issue appropriately.
Now, let us understand the various factors that cause hair loss. For ease of understanding, we have divided the factors into two broad categories – internal & external.
- Internal factors include genetic / hereditary disorders, medical conditions, poor nutrition & vitamin deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, unhealthy lifestyle, inadequate sleep and stress.
- Genetic / hereditary hair loss is the most common type which occurs with aging (androgenetic alopecia). It happens in a predictable pattern i.e. a receding hairline and bald spot in men and thinning hair along the crown of the scalp in women. Such type of hair loss cannot be prevented.
- Medical conditions that can cause hair loss include thyroid disease, alopecia areata (an autoimmune disease that attacks hair follicles), scalp infections like ringworm, etc. Diseases that cause scarring, such as lichen planus and some types of lupus (a systemic autoimmune disease), can result in permanent hair loss because of the scarring. Hair loss can also be due to medications used to treat certain health conditions or diseases like cancer, high blood pressure, arthritis, depression, heart problems etc.
- Poor or inadequate nutrition or diet, contribute to hair fall. Studies show that deficiency in vitamin D, zinc, copper and iron contribute to hair fall.
- Hormonal changes or imbalance also causes hair loss. It is for this reason that women very often face hair loss during or after pregnancy, menopause, on discontinuing use of birth control pills etc. Hair distribution, type and growth rate is partly mediated by hormones. Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) a by-product of testosterone is a hormone that has been linked to hair loss. High levels of DHT can shorten the hair growth cycle and shrink the hair follicles causing hair to grow thinner and fall out faster. The thyroid hormone also plays an essential role in hair growth. Studies show that thyroid hormone signaling regulates hair growth and people suffering from hypo/hyper thyroidism are prone to hair loss.
- Unhealthy lifestyle and inadequate sleep can lead to lifestyle related diseases and also nutritional deficiencies, which in turn cause hair loss.
- Stress triggers hair fall in a person already pre-disposed to it due to faulty genes. It occurs a few months after the stressful event (physical or emotional shock like death, surgery, sudden weight loss due to crash dieting, etc). Stress can lead to telogen effluvium where a significantly large number of hair enter the telogen phase. Such hair loss is temporary.
- External factors responsible for hair loss are water, pollution, application of chemical based products and excessive indulgence in hairstyling.
- The increased amount of calcium and magnesium present in hard water weakens the hair follicles, roots and shafts causing dandruff, dry scalp and hair fall.
- As per some studies that tested the effect of dust and fuel particles on human scalp cells, it was found that that exposure to common pollutants reduced the levels of four proteins responsible for hair growth and hair retention. It also showed that the effect increased when the amount of airborne particles increased – suggesting that those living in cities or close to industrial works are at greater risk of going bald.
- Hair fall can also be as a result of indulgence in excessive hairstyling like, constant hair straightening , frequently usage of hair dryers / hot curlers, constantly pulling your hair into tight buns or braids (hair fall due to this is traction alopecia), applying hair dyes, using commercial shampoos, applying mineral oil or petroleum based hair oils/masks/packs or other chemical loaded cosmetics or products.
Now, that we have understood the various causes for hair fall/loss, it is not difficult to ascertain the line of treatment. While genetically inherited hair loss factors cannot be prevented, medical conditions require medical intervention. All other factors (acquired hair loss factors) need to be addressed ourselves by changing and improving our lifestyle, diet, nutrition and switching to natural and using minimal hair care products. We also hope that you are now in a better position to appreciate the fact that an external product like shampoo, hair oil, hair mask etc can help in addressing a hair loss problem only to the extent the cause is external. Coining an external hair care product as anti-hair fall or a miracle cure for your hair loss problem is only a marketing strategy by the manufacturers to drive their sales and tantamounts to cheating. It is exactly for this reason only that, Earthy Sapo does not make such claims with its hair care products.