Hair is weird. Every year, millions of pounds are spent on shampoo, conditioners, hair styling, colouring services and hair accessories (and sound the alarm bells, the forecasted spend on cosmetic products will be $635.7 billion by 2019). But all of this money is spent on looking after what, essentially, are dead cells. We feel so protective over our beloved locks that many of us would do almost anything to keep it in our scalp. If we glance at the floor or in the hairbrush and see clumps of hair, it is easy to go into panic mode and enter a full-on meltdown – why is my hair falling out!? Is there something wrong with me? Of course, you spend the next 45 minutes surfing the internet trying to self-diagnose…
Well, hair falling out is actually very common and quite normal; so much so, that on average, a person loses 50 to 100 hairs from their head every day (and on the days you wash your hair it can be as much as 250 strands!)
Obviously, we don’t really notice this a lot because – think about how many hairs are made per day, and how many there are on our head. It has often been said that you should think of your hair like a garden – how well it grows is mostly dependent on what’s happening ‘underground’ i.e. not the hair itself! Like the life of a plant, hair production has a normal hair cycle. But there are many things that have the potential to disrupt this process. Here are some of them:
- Hormonal imbalances, e.g. high thyroid levels
- Autoimmune conditions, such as lupus
- Long-term medical conditions, such as cancer or liver disease
- Sudden weight loss or nutritional deficiency e.g. from crash dieting
- Medications (there are many), such as beta-blockers and anticoagulants
- Cancer chemotherapy and radiotherapy
- Specific chemicals, such as bleach and dyes
And Many more…
Each strand of hair is produced from a hair follicle – a tiny ‘skin organ’ that functions as a hair-producing factory. The life of the follicle – and the hair – goes through a cycle that has three main phases: ‘growth’ phase (anagen phase) – that lasts 3-5 years, with hair growing around half an inch (just over 1 cm) per month; the ‘slowing down’ phase (catagen phase) – a short transitional phase, lasting around 10 days when hair production slows down, and lastly the ‘end’ phase (telogen phase) –a time of resting lasting up to 3 months, before the hair finally falls out.
Normally, about 90% of your hair on your scalp is growing at any one time (in the anagen phase). There are many factors that can influence overall hair cycle, causing the anagen phase to shorten resulting in hair loss. Some medications, infection, certain chemicals and starvation – basically anything that affects the overall health of the body – can cause increased hair loss. ‘Alopecia’ is the general term given to excess hair loss and has many different forms such as involutional alopecia (otherwise known as hair thinning in old age!) when more hair follicles enter the resting (telogen) phase, meaning the remaining hairs are fewer and shorter. Androgenic alopecia, also known as ‘male pattern baldness’ (or ‘going bald’!) is characterised by a receding hairline most often seen in men. It can also affect women, and who experiences androgenic alopecia is determined by our genes. (There are several other variations of alopecia, you can find more about them here.)
Hair loss has many causes and can be a very sensitive, emotional issue. I guess the only reassuring thing is that it happens to pretty much everyone to some degree!
Answer By Chloe Westley
Image Source: Hair Styling By Anthony Kelly, on Flickr