Why am I losing my hair?!

Why am I losing my hair?!

It's easy to take a healthy head of thick hair for granted, but for those with thin, sparse hair or patchy bald spots, hair loss can be life changing. Especially for women.

According to the National Library of Medicine, we normally lose 40 to 100 head hairs daily, hair that is replaced by new growth. Hair grows from the follicle at the rate of about half an inch a month, for two to six years, then rests and falls out. Baldness occurs when the follicle fails to produce a new hair. Called androgenic alopecia, typical hair loss can be the result of increasing age, hormonal changes and heredity.

While male pattern hair loss starts at the forehead and moves back, female pattern hair loss is different, and shows up as a thinning of hair all over the head. "Women take a shower, they look at their hands and have wads of hair in their hands," comments Nisha Jackson, women's healthcare nurse practitioner at Medford Women's Clinic.

"Guys can deal with it much better than women," says Brandon House, a stylist at Precision Hair Design in Medford. "Men can cut their hair real short, and eventually shave their heads, but most women can't do that. It can be devastating!"

The American Academy of Dermatology points out that minoxidil has been used to promote hair growth in women and men who experience androgenic alopecia. However minoxidil does not change the progression permanently, so stopping applications may cause the new hair growth to fall out again.

One cause of head hair loss in women is hormone imbalance according to Jackson. "By the time a woman is no longer menstruating, she will have lost 50% of her estrogen on average, 50% of her testosterone, and 75% of her progesterone," Jackson notes. "For women, estrogen is a very important component of hair health, so estrogen loss also contributes to hair thinning and loss of hair with age."

Jackson has seen women whose hair grows in thicker after beginning estrogen replacement therapy or treatment for an underactive thyroid. "Every hormone has its own function, but they're all inter-related so making that balance perfect will give that hair follicle the best chance for hair growth," says Jackson. "It takes 90 days before you see new hair growth, so I tell them to be patient."

Unlike overall thinning of the hair, alopecia areata is the sudden loss of hair in patchy spots. The cause of alopecia is not known, but the condition seems to run in families and may be associated with autoimmune diseases. Treatments include steroid injections or topical application, according to the National Library of Medicine, but hair growth returns in most cases even without treatment.

Physical damage to the hair follicle is another cause of patchy hair loss. Hair styles such as braiding, weaves, or barrettes that pull on one part of the scalp can over time kill hair follicles. Similarly, in a psychiatric condition called trichotillomania, the hair is twisted repeatedly and pulled out, permanently damaging hair follicles.

There can be many reasons why women lose their hair and the causes aren't fully known — that's part of what makes it so scary. Nutritional deficiencies, fungal infections, skin diseases, fever, pregnancy, stress, and some medications can also cause hair loss.

Health professionals, Nisha Jackson among them, search for causes of hair loss as part of their patient's overall health assessment. "We look at stress, diet, nutritional and supplement intake, and do a complete hormone panel so we can see exactly where a woman's at."

No matter what kind of hair loss you may be experiencing and at whatever age, see a stylist for cosmetic assistance, and call your health professional for medical advice.

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