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Hair Loss 101: Types and Causes

June 12, 2023


What is Hair Loss? 

The problem of hair loss affects millions of people globally, regardless of age or gender. Our confidence and sense of self-worth can be significantly impacted by the health of our hair, which is crucial to how we look overall. One must look at the various types and causes of hair loss in order to understand it. In this blog post, we will look at the many types of hair loss and consider their underlying reasons. Whether you are battling with excessive shedding, bald patches, or thinning hair, this guide will provide valuable information. 

 

Hair Loss and Its Impact on Mental Health 

Your mental health may be significantly impacted by hair loss, which frequently results in stress, anxiety, and a decline in well-being. The following are some significant ways that these conditions may impact mental health: 

  • Self-Esteem and Body Image: Our hair has a significant impact on our self-perception. Hair loss, whether gradual or sudden, can contribute to a drop in self-esteem. You may start to regard yourself as less attractive or be concerned about how other people perceive you, which can have a detrimental impact on your body image. 
  • Social Anxiety and Self-Consciousness: Hair loss can make people feel self-conscious, especially in social situations. They may be concerned about drawing attention to thinning or balding areas, which may cause greater social anxiety and a reluctance to participate in social activities. 
  • Depression and Emotional Distress: Hair loss can have a profound emotional impact, leading to feelings of grief, frustration, or even melancholy. The loss of a physical feature can result in a grieving process and a sense of loss of identity. 
  • Impact on Relationships: Hair loss can have an impact on relationships with partners, family members, and friends. Individuals may feel vulnerable and have difficulty with intimacy because they are concerned that their hair loss will make them less appealing or beautiful to their loved ones.  

There are many coping strategies for maintaining your mental health while suffering from hair loss. It is always important to seek support, practice self-compassion, and seek professional mental help.  At SkinDC, we have found success at improving the mental burden of hair loss by treating the underlying disease.  Patients who explore various treatment options find that it provides a sense of control and empowerment. Consultation with dermatologists or hair restoration specialists can offer personalized advice and guidance. Remember, everyone’s experience with hair loss and its impact on mental health is unique. It is crucial to prioritize self-care, seek support, and engage in strategies that promote both physical and emotional well-being throughout your hair loss journey. 

 

Types of Hair Loss 

Androgenetic Alopecia 

Androgenetic alopecia, also known as male or female pattern baldness, is the most common type of hair loss. It affects both men and women, albeit with different patterns and severity. Androgenetic alopecia is primarily caused by genetic hormonal factors and typically progresses gradually over time. 

Prevalence 

Androgenetic alopecia affects a significant portion of the population. In men, it often starts with a receding hairline and thinning at the crown, eventually leading to partial or complete baldness. Women, on the other hand, may experience overall hair thinning, particularly at the crown or parting line, while maintaining frontal hairlines. 

Genetic Factors 

Genetic predisposition plays a significant role in androgenetic alopecia. The condition can be inherited from either parents or even from both sides of the family. Certain genes contribute to the sensitivity of hair follicles to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone derived from testosterone. 

Hormonal Influence 

Hormones, particularly androgens like testosterone, have a significant influence on the development of androgenetic alopecia. In individuals with a genetic predisposition, DHT binds to hair follicles, contributing to their tendency to shrink and produce thinner and shorter hairs over time. Eventually, the affected follicles may cease hair production altogether. 

Hair Follicle Miniaturization 

Androgenetic alopecia is not a disease of hair loss, but rather hair miniaturization. One characteristic of androgenetic alopecia is the gradual miniaturization of the hair shaft. As the condition progresses, hair follicles become smaller and produce finer, thinner hairs, making them more susceptible to falling out and leading to overall hair thinning. 

Contributing Factors 

While genetics and hormones are the primary factors in androgenetic alopecia, other factors can accelerate or exacerbate the condition. These may include aging, stress, certain medications, underlying medical conditions, and hormonal imbalances. 

Alopecia Areata 

Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss, typically in patches on the scalp but can also affect other areas of the body. It is characterized by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking the hair follicles, leading to hair loss. 

Patchy Hair Loss

The primary symptom of alopecia areata is the sudden onset of patchy hair loss. Small, round, or oval-shaped bald patches may appear on the scalp, often without any associated redness, scaling, or irritation. In some cases, hair loss can progress to complete baldness on the scalp (alopecia totalis) or even affect the entire body (alopecia universalis). 

Autoimmune Disorder 

Alopecia areata is considered an autoimmune disease because the body’s immune system mistakenly targets its healthy hair follicles as foreign invaders. This attack disrupts the normal hair growth cycle, resulting in the shedding of the hair and the prevention of new hair growth. 

Triggers and Factors 

The exact cause of alopecia areata is unknown, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some potential triggers or factors that may contribute to its development include genetic predisposition, certain viral or bacterial infections, hormonal imbalances, stress, and psychological factors. 

Impact on Hair Growth Cycle 

In alopecia areata, the immune system attacks the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle, which is the active growth phase. This interruption leads to the premature transition of hair follicles into the resting phase (telogen), causing hair to fall out. 

Unpredictable Course 

The course of alopecia areata is highly unpredictable. Hair loss can occur suddenly and regrow on its own within a few months. However, in some cases, hair loss may persist or recur, leading to more extensive areas of baldness. The regrowth of hair can also be unpredictable, with variations in texture, color, and thickness. 

Telogen Effluvium 

Telogen effluvium is a type of hair loss characterized by excessive shedding of hair. It occurs when there is a disruption in the hair growth cycle, specifically during the telogen phase when hair is in the resting phase before naturally falling out. 

Hair Growth Cycle 

Understanding the hair growth cycle is essential to comprehend telogen effluvium. The cycle consists of three phases: anagen (growth phase), catagen (transitional phase), and telogen (resting phase). In the telogen phase, hair follicles are in a state of rest before shedding and being replaced by new hair. 

Excessive Hair Shedding

Telogen effluvium occurs when a larger number of hair follicles prematurely enter the telogen phase and shed hair. This can result in a noticeable increase in hair shedding, leading to thinning of the hair and a decrease in overall hair density.  

Triggers and Causes 

Telogen effluvium can be triggered by various factors, including physical or emotional stress, hormonal changes (such as childbirth or hormonal imbalances), illness or surgery, certain medications, rapid weight loss, and chronic medical conditions. These triggers disrupt the normal hair growth cycle and shift hair follicles into the telogen phase prematurely.  

Reversible Nature 

One positive aspect of telogen effluvium is that it is typically a temporary condition. Once the underlying trigger is addressed or resolved, the hair follicles reenter the anagen phase and resume normal hair growth. Hair regrowth usually occurs within a few months, but the timeline can vary depending on the individual and underlying cause. 

Traction Alopecia 

Traction alopecia is a specific type of hair loss caused by prolonged or repeated tension and pulling on the hair follicles. It commonly occurs due to certain hairstyling practices that put excessive stress on the hair, leading to damage and hair loss. 

Hairstyling Practices 

Traction alopecia is often associated with hairstyles that involve pulling the hair tightly, such as tight ponytails, braids, buns, weaves, cornrows, and extensions. These styles create constant tension on the hair and can lead to damage over time. 

Hair Follicle Damage 

The constant pulling and tension caused by tight hairstyles can damage the hair follicles. This can result in inflammation, and scarring, and eventually lead to the hair follicles becoming unable to produce new hair. 

Location of Hair Loss

Traction alopecia typically affects the areas of the scalp where the tension is exerted, such as the hairline, temples, and areas where clips or hair accessories are frequently used. In severe cases, it can spread to other parts of the scalp. 

Symptoms and Signs

In the early stages of traction alopecia, individuals may notice hair breakage, thinning, or small bald patches in the affected areas. Itching, redness, and tenderness of the scalp can also occur. If left untreated, the hair loss can become more extensive and permanent. 

Risk Factors 

Anyone who regularly engages in tight hairstyling practices is at risk of developing traction alopecia. This condition is more common among individuals with tightly coiled or curly hair, as the hair texture is more prone to damage and breakage. 

 

Underlying Causes of Hair Loss 

Hormonal Imbalances 

Hormonal imbalances can contribute to various types of hair loss. Hormones play a crucial role in regulating the hair growth cycle, and any disruption or imbalance can affect hair follicles’ health and function. Here are some hormonal imbalances that can lead to hair loss: 

  • Androgens: Androgens, including testosterone and its derivative dihydrotestosterone (DHT), can contribute to hair loss. In individuals genetically susceptible to androgenetic alopecia (male or female pattern baldness), hair follicles become sensitive to DHT. This hormone binds to receptors in the hair follicles, causing them to shrink and produce thinner, shorter hairs. Over time, this can lead to the miniaturization of hair follicles and eventual hair loss. 
  • Thyroid Hormone Imbalance: Both an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) and an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can disrupt the normal hair growth cycle. In hypothyroidism, hair loss may be diffuse and more widespread, while hyperthyroidism can lead to hair thinning. The thyroid hormones regulate metabolism, and alterations n thyroid function can impact hair growth. 
  • Estrogen and Progesterone Imbalance: Fluctuations or imbalances in estrogen and progesterone levels, commonly experienced during pregnancy, menopause, or due to certain medical conditions, can influence hair growth. Postpartum hair loss, for example, occurs as hormone levels normalize after childbirth. Estrogen dominance or low levels of estrogen and progesterone can also contribute to hair loss. 
  • Insulin Resistance and Metabolic Syndrome: Insulin resistance, a condition associated with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, can lead to hormonal imbalances that impact hair health. Elevated insulin levels and inflammation can affect androgen metabolism and contribute to hair thinning and hair loss. 
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): PCOS is a hormonal disorder characterized by elevated androgen levels, insulin resistance, and ovulatory dysfunction. The hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS, including increased levels of testosterone and DHT, can cause hair thinning or male-pattern hair loss in women. 
  • Adrenal Gland Disorders: Disorders affecting the adrenal glands, such as Cushing’s syndrome or adrenal insufficiency, can disrupt hormone production and result in hair loss. Cushing’s syndrome, characterized by high cortisol levels, can cause hair thinning and fragility. 

Nutritional Deficiencies 

Nutritional deficiencies can play a role in hair loss, as proper nutrition is essential for healthy hair growth. Insufficient intake or absorption of certain nutrients can impact the hair follicles’ health and disrupt the hair growth cycle. Here are some nutritional deficiencies that can contribute to hair loss: 

  • Iron Deficiency: Iron is crucial for the production of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to the body’s tissues, including the hair follicles. Iron deficiency anemia can lead to reduced oxygen supply to the hair follicles, resulting in hair thinning and shedding. 
  • Vitamin D Deficiency: Vitamin D is involved in hair follicle cycling and plays a role in maintaining healthy hair growth. A deficiency in vitamin D can contribute to hair loss and thinning. Adequate exposure to sunlight and consumption of vitamin D-rich foods or supplements are important for maintaining optimal levels. 
  • B-Vitamin Deficiency: B vitamins, including biotin, niacin, and cobalamin, are essential for hair health. Biotin deficiency, although rare, can cause brittle hair and hair loss. Insufficient intake or absorption of other B vitamins can also impact hair growth and contribute to hair loss. 
  • Zinc Deficiency: Zinc is involved in various biological processes, including hair follicle health and protein synthesis. Inadequate zinc levels can lead to hair thinning and hair loss. 
  • Protein Deficiency: Hair is primarily composed of a protein called keratin. Inadequate protein intake can affect hair growth, resulting in weaker and more brittle hair, leading to increased hair loss. 
  • Essential Fatty Acids Deficiency: Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds, play a role in maintaining scalp health and promoting hair growth. Insufficient intake of these essential fatty acids can contribute to dry scalp, brittle hair, and hair loss.

Lifestyles and Environmental Factors 

Lifestyle and environmental factors can also contribute to hair loss. While these factors may not directly cause hair loss, they can impact overall hair health and exacerbate existing conditions. Here are some lifestyle and environmental factors that can influence hair loss: 

  • Poor Nutrition: A diet lacking essential nutrients can affect hair health and contribute to hair loss. Inadequate intake of protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats can weaken the hair follicles and lead to thinning and shedding. 
  • Excessive Styling and Heat: Excessive use of heat styling tools (such as flat irons, curling irons, and blow dryers) and harsh hairstyling practices (like tight ponytails, braids, and extensions) can cause damage to the hair shaft and weaken the hair, leading to breakage and hair loss over time. 
  • Overprocessing and Chemical Treatments: Frequent use of hair dyes, chemical relaxers, perms, and other harsh chemical treatments can damage the hair follicles and contribute to hair loss. These treatments can weaken the hair shaft, disrupt the hair growth cycle, and cause breakage. 
  • Tension and Trauma: Constant pulling and tension on the hair, such as from tight hairstyles, hair extensions, or hair accessories, can lead to a condition called traction alopecia. This can cause hair loss in the areas where the tension is exerted. 
  • Smoking: Smoking has been associated with hair loss and premature graying. The toxic chemicals in cigarettes can damage the hair follicles, reduce blood circulation to the scalp, and contribute to oxidative stress, which can accelerate hair aging and hair loss. 
  • Environmental Pollution: Exposure to environmental pollutants, such as air pollution, can have a negative impact on hair health. Pollutants and toxins in the air can accumulate on the scalp and hair, leading to inflammation, scalp conditions, and hair damage. 
  • Stress and Anxiety: Chronic stress and anxiety can disrupt the hair growth cycle and lead to hair loss. Stress triggers hormonal changes, increases inflammation, and can contribute to conditions like telogen effluvium or trichotillomania, which can cause hair shedding or hair pulling.
  • UV Radiation: Prolonged exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation can damage the hair cuticles, leading to dryness, brittleness, and breakage. It’s important to protect the hair and scalp from excessive sun exposure by wearing hats or using sunscreen for the scalp.

Schedule your Hair Loss Consultation at SkinDC today!