14 Surprising Reasons You Could Be Losing Your Hair
We all experience some hair shedding from time to time (in fact, it's normal to lose between 50 and 100 strands every day, as you'll learn more about soon), but if you've gotten to the point where you're noticing bald spots and/or afraid to so much as touch your hair for fear of having it fall out, there may be a more serious problem at the root.
To help end your worrying (after all, stress can only make it worse), we consulted with Paul Cucinello, beauty expert and creative director at the Chris Chase Salon in NYC, along with other experts, to break down some of the lesser-known culprits of hair loss.
Read on to find out who's really to blame — whether it be your ex-boyfriend, your demanding job, or genetics — and how to go about finding a solution.
According to Cucinello, many women tend to overlook this as one of the most common sources of hair loss. “When you’re stressed, inflammation occurs, which causes the hair follicle to shift from the growing stage to the resting stage. This is referred to as Telogen Effluvium and it causes hair loss to occur. There are over 200,000 cases diagnosed per year,” he says. He adds that hair could fall out when participating in everyday acts such as washing or brushing your mane.
What you can do: While Cucinello acknowledges that this is a vicious cycle – after all, losing hair typically causes one to stress even more – he says the key is to relax. “Your body is giving you a very clear signal that you need to take the anxiety factors down a huge notch. Try meditation, yoga, or even spending a little time alone in some peace and quiet. Recovery is possible, often occurring within six months unless a more serious condition — such as alopecia — is present,” he explains.
According to Cucinello, this autoimmune skin disease, also referred to as spot baldness, is another increasingly common culprit when it comes to hair loss: “When the body’s immune system begins attacking the hair follicles, it results in the form of smooth, circular bald patches that, if left untreated, can start to connect and create a snake-like pattern.”
What you can do: If you notice the symptoms described, visit your doctor about a solution that’s right for you. “Treatment usually includes cortisone injections in conjunction with topical steroids and hair regrowth products like Rogaine on the affected area," Cucinello explains.
If you’re perplexed as to how you can manage to lose hair where you want it most and yet continue to grow hair in the least ideal of places, Cucinello says you can blame a huge increase of Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a sex steroid and androgen hormone. “This can cause hair on the head to thin and hair to sprout in less desirable areas, such as the face and chin,” he explains.
What you can do: Cucinello suggests taking a supplement, such as Nutrafol, which features the key ingredient saw palmetto for stabilizing harmful levels of DHT. “Other hormonal imbalances such as thyroid problems, particularly hypothyroidism, can cause hair loss. Have your doctor do a blood test to make sure your thyroid levels are in balance to help keep your hair from excessive shedding," he adds.
If your hormones aren't to blame, there's a good chance your ancestors are, as Cucinello notes hereditary-pattern baldness as the most common cause of hair loss. “It is a natural condition that is usually diagnosed by both its pattern and a history of a similar type of hair loss affecting family members. In women, hair loss tends to be more widespread, but better hidden. In men, genetic hair loss tends to be localized and concentrated on the top of the head," he explains.
What you can do: According to Cucinello, there is light at the end of the tunnel: “Scientists have reported (in the British Journal of Dermatology May 2013 issue) that restoring hair growth on bald patches is possible by injecting those areas with platelet-rich plasma, dubbed The Vampire Treatment since taken from the blood of the patient. This energizes the scalp with new active blood flow,” he says. “Hair Stem Cell Cloning is already in the works and is expected to work by harvesting small, circular samples of healthy hair follicles from the scalp and cloning them into millions of new, strong hair follicle stem cells. These cloned stem cells will then be injected directly into the scalp, repopulating bald areas with new hair."
Unfortunately, wrinkles aren't the only thing we have to worry about when it comes to getting older. "As we age, hair becomes less dense and the scalp may become visible. The rate of hair growth also slows and many hair follicles stop producing new strands. The scalp tends to tighten and can strangle new hairs before they reach their full growth potential,” Cucinello explains.
What you can do: Cucinello suggests using certain antiaging hair care products, specifically geared toward softening the scalp, to help lessen the appearance of age-related hair loss. “I recommend Milbon's Plarmia Hairserum products to my clients with this concern. They soften the scalp, allowing the hair to grow through a full growth cycle and evening out the diameter of each strand," he adds.
Celiac disease, more commonly known as a gluten allergy, is a medical condition that is rarely taken seriously, but Cucinello says should be. “When someone with a gluten allergy consumes goods that contain wheat, barley or rye, it can create antibodies that attack various cells in the body, including hair follicles,” he explains.
What you can do: According to Julie Russak, MD, having a blood test for anti-tissue transglutaminase (tTG) antibodies, endomysial antibodies (EMA), and newer deamidated gliadin peptide (DGP) antibodies can help diagnose this disease. “Most people with celiac disease also have genetic predisposition to the disease encoded for by two human leukocyte antigen (HLA) gene variants. They're referred to as HLA-DQ2, found in 95 percent of those diagnosed, and HLA-DQ8. Definitive diagnosis is reached through a biopsy performed by the gastroenterologist from the stomach,” she explains. If diagnosed, Dr. Russak advises to avoid gluten at all costs, ingested through food but also in topical forms.
A severe emotional or physical stressor – examples include thyroid disease, celiac disease, and even childbirth – may lead to nutritional deficiencies and, consequently, to hair loss. Janie Zeitlin, RDN, CDN cautions: “Any fad diet, especially a restrictive one, may similarly take a tremendous toll on you and your hair."
What you can do: Seek professional help and strive to nourish your body with the proper fuel it deserves. “Eat a variety of brightly colored foods consisting of lean proteins, monounsaturated fats, and fibers to protect your hair and consume all the vitamins and minerals you need. Focus on consuming unprocessed forms of lean protein (such as chicken breast, turkey breast, and salmon), consume omega-3 fatty acids (such as walnuts and almonds), and make sure you’re getting enough iron, preferably from animal sources to enhance absorption,” Zeitlin advises.
While it's natural for people to shed (between 50 and 100 hairs every day), Cucinello says you might see an increase in the Fall when the weather begins to change. “Analysis of trichograms demonstrates annual periodicity in the growth and shedding of hair, manifested by a maximal proportion of telogen or resting hairs in Summer with a second peak in Spring, but not as significant. This leads to more hairs falling out in the late Fall, corresponding mostly to October and early November. It is unclear exactly why this is so, but it is speculated that the stress of heat and sun may play a role,” Dr. Russak further explains.
What you can do: Both Cucinello and Dr. Russak insist seasonal hair loss is nothing to be concerned about. “This is perfectly normal among almost all mammals – your dog or cat might be experiencing it at the same time you are! See a doctor if the shedding increases or ceases to stop after the change of season," Cucinello advises.
According to Cucinello, there have been numerous instances where chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide, applied to the scalp to straighten or relax the hair can lead to hair loss. “Simply watch Chris Rock's documentary Good Hair, addressing how this chemical can melt an aluminum soda can. Pretty frightening," he warns.
What you can do: Cucinello cautions you should be sure to do research on a salon and speak to your stylist about the chemicals he or she is going to use before undergoing a treatment.
According to Cucinello, you might also want to think twice about super-bleaching your mane to match your favorite celebrity. "The process of getting your hair as close to white as possible can leave you with so much breakage that you might confuse it with actual hair loss,” he says.
What you can do: Make sure your goals are achievable and the look is something you plan to invest a lot of time and money in. “Instead of having your colorist apply bleach directly to your scalp, you can also trying asking them to add a lot more highlights. You’ll get a superblond effect without having to have the chemicals irritating your skin,” Cucinello advises.
Clogged Hair Follicles
According to Cucinello, there may be a big difference between some drugstore and designer shampoos, after all. "There is a reason why some products are more expensive than others — the quality of the ingredients,” he notes. “Cheaper products tend to have larger molecules of waxes and oils that can build up on the scalp, clogging the hair follicle and causing excessive hair shedding."
What you can do: Cucinello says to look for ingredients that are refined or considered noncomedogenic (he’s personally a big fan of Briogeo products). “Some of the more inexpensive drug store products are now starting to boast that they contain natural ingredients like cocoa butter and coconut oil. This might sound wonderful, but these can be some of the worst offenders when it comes to clogging hair follicles. These oils, while natural, are unrefined and contain larger-size particles that are considered to be comedogenic, a term we usually only hear when referring to skin care products, meaning that, ultimately, that they will clog pores,” he explains. “You can also combat clogged hair follicles by using a product that works at removing product residue with carbonation. Try Plarmia Spa Cleansing Foam. This mousse-like formula deep cleanses the hair follicle without using harsh detergents or sulfates.”
Folliculitis, an inflammation due to an infection of the hair follicle, is another cause of hair loss. “If left untreated, folliculitis progresses and hair often falls out. In severe cases, it can cause extreme inflammation and permanently destroy hair follicles, leaving bald areas on the scalp,” Cucinello says.
What you can do: "Look for small spots with rings of inflammation around the hair follicle, accompanied by itching, irritation, or soreness,” Cucinello says. If the signs are there, you can see your doctor about the best solution – it could be as simple as taking one of several antibiotics that are available.
Unfortunately, one of the unpleasant side effects of some prescription drugs is a thinning of strands. “Some medications, such as those used to treat depression, ADHD, high blood pressure can cause hair to fall out," Cucinello says.
What you can do: “Consult your doctor to help assess whether the prescription you're taking is a known threat and if there are any hair-friendly alternatives,” Cucinello advises.
Last, but certainly not least, your hair may be falling out because you're literally pulling it out. "Trichotillomania is an obsessive compulsive disorder that urges people, as an outlet for handling stress, to pull out their own hair from the scalp, eyebrows, or other areas of the body,” Cucinello says, adding the disorder affects approximately 200,000 people yearly.
What you can do: “If you’re affected by this disorder, a doctor can design a custom treatment – usually a combination of behavioral modification interventions and antidepressant medications – to help,” Dr. Russak advises.