Tips on coping with hair loss
Your grandfather was bald. Your father is bald. You look in the mirror and your hairline is receding –and you are only 30. You know where you are headed, but is there anything you can do about it?
In order to know what do, it is important to understand what actually causes hair loss.
The human head has over 100,000 strands of hair. On average, you lose about 50-100 hairs daily without much significant effect. It is only when you start losing more than this that the problem begins.
Causes in men:
• Genetics: This usually gives rise to characteristic balding at the front of the scalp (male pattern baldness).
• Medical conditions: Thyroid problems and low blood levels (anaemia) can cause hair loss. This type of hair loss resolves once the medical condition is treated.
• Immunity problems: In some cases, your immune system can attack your hair follicles and cause them to fall off. This type of hair loss resolves once the cause of the immune dysfunction is treated.
• Scalp skin infection: The most common are fungal infections. This type of hair loss improves once the infection is cleared.
• Stress: This includes physical, mental and emotional stress.
• After severe illness: three-six months after a severe ailment, one may notice the hair falling out. Unlike the male pattern baldness, this affects the whole head.
• Medication: Most popularly known is cancer treatment. Other drugs that cause hair loss include some of those used to treat high blood pressure, depression and arthritis.
How about women?
Contrary to popular belief, even women can begin to experience hair loss and, in extreme cases, get completely bald. The most common causes are
• Genetic: Women, unlike men, get generalised hair thinning as opposed to frontal balding.
• Hormonal: This is usually related to pregnancy and cessation of use of hormonal contraceptives such as pills. The hair grows back once the hormonal balance is restored.
• Menopause: After menopause, there is noticeable hair reduction in most women.
• Post-childbirth: Hair loss after delivery of a baby is thought to be hormonal. With time the hair usually grows back.
• Hair pulling disorders: This refers to people who sub-consciously rip hair off their heads. In extreme cases, they can even completely pluck off eyebrows, eyelashes and all visible hair on their body.
• Certain hairstyles: This is especially common with braiding, weaving and holding tight ponytails.
• Hair care: Excessive heat treatment destroys hair follicles. This includes excessive blow drying and over-use of the flat iron.
• Poor nutrition: A poor, under-nourishing diet and women with eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia usually experience hair loss. This resolves after a few months of proper balanced feeding.
• Medical conditions: These include anaemia, thyroid, immune disorders and skin infections (as for males).
• Extreme weight loss: This could either be as a result of illness or deliberate weight reduction. The hair usually re-grows with time as long as you have a healthy eating plan.
Managing Hair Loss
- Treat underlying cause: Visit your dermatologist to determine the underlying cause of your balding. Remember, it is only after the cause has been determined that effective treatment can begin.
- Good hair hygiene: Ensure your scalp is always clean and well-moisturised. This helps prevent dandruff and other itchy scalp conditions. If you are repeatedly getting scalp infections, buy your own shaver, combs and brushes which you will ask your barber/ hairstylist to use exclusively on you.
- Good nutrition: Eating a balanced diet with a healthy ration of protein, fruits and vegetables is crucial for a healthy scalp.
- Medication: They include Minoxidil (an ointment) and Finasteride (tablets). Even though Minoxidil is available over the counter, it should preferably be used under the instruction of your doctor. Finasteride, when used in larger doses, also treats prostate enlargement and is therefore a strictly prescription-only drug. These drugs are , however, not recommended for women of childbearing age.
- Hair transplant: This involves ‘harvesting’ hair from one part of your scalp and ‘planting’ it in the bald areas.
- Scalp reduction: This involves surgically cutting away the bald areas and stitching the remaining areas with hair together.
- Laser therapy: This is a new technique that is being tested as a way of stimulating hair growth.
- Hair pieces: If you are conservative, you can buy a hair piece or wig to hide the baldness.
- Watchful waiting: If you lost hair due to a short-term illness, stress and other temporary situations such as pregnancy, you do not need to actively intervene. With time, the hair will grow back.
- It is generally good for one to get all the right vitamins and minerals for a healthy body. However, there is currently no scientific evidence to show that any specific supplement will prevent balding. In fact, very high doses of vitamin A has been found to lead to hair loss.
Currently, the market is full of safe options for both men and women with hair loss. With the help of your dermatologist, you can find a solution that is best suited for you.