What is hair? – understanding the basics

In humans, hair grows everywhere on the skin except palms and soles. Hair is basically made up of proteins (88%). These proteins are of a hard and fibrous type found in the outer layers of the skin known as keratin. As the follicles produce new hair cells, the old cells are pushed through the surface of the skin at a rate of six inches per year. The strand of hair we actually see is the dead string of keratin cells. On average, an adult head has about 100000-150000 hair and loses nearly 50-100 strands in a day.

Each hair follicle has its own life cycle. The life cycle of a hair follicle is generally divided into 3 phases:

  • Anagen: an active hair growth phase, observed in 90% of hair.
  • Catagen: transition or degeneration phase, observed in 10% of hair.
  • Telogen: resting phase, observed in 5-10% of hair. during this phase, shedding happens followed by replacement with new hair.

What is hair loss

Hair loss is the thinning on the scalp and is usually described by the medical term – alopecia. It can be permanent or temporary, and although hair loss is not considered as a life-threatening disease, losing hair can be distressing, and significantly impact the quality of life.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) stated that around 80 million men and women have hereditary hair loss in America.

Signs of hair loss:

Signs of hair loss vary with age and sex of the individuals. It can happen suddenly or gradually and can affect just the scalp or the whole body. Some of the signs of hair loss are listed below:

In men:

  • Gradual thinning of hair on the scalp
  • Receding hairline
  • Horseshoe-shaped pattern leaving the crown of head exposed
  • Circular or patchy bald spots

In women:

  • General gradual thinning of hair, especially on the crown area

In children:

  • Sudden patchy hair loss
  • Complete hair loss all over the body
  • Patches of broken hair on the crown of head and eyebrows
  • After various illnesses and treatments, excessive shedding but not complete baldness.

Causes and types of hair loss

Causes:

Hereditary (family history): hereditary reasons or family history is the most common cause that happens with aging. This causes a typical pattern of baldness in men and women, presented by receding hairline, bald spots in men, and thinning of hair around the crown areas in women.

Hormonal changes: pregnancy, menopause, abnormal androgen levels, thyroid, and several other medical conditions can cause patchy hair loss and thinning of hair.

Medications and supplements: as a side effect of medical treatments of diseases such as cancer, arthritis, depression, heart problems, and hypertension.

Stress: stress-induced hair loss is very common in today’s world. It causes general thinning of the scalp. This type of hair loss is mostly temporary in nature.

Frequent Hairstyles and treatments: excessive hairstyling or heat treatments can cause harmful side effects. Frequent hair color and chemical treatments can cause hair to fall out. In the case of scarring in these cases the hair loss is permanent.

Deficiency of vitamins and minerals: diet plays a very important role in maintaining proper health and balance. Deficiency of some vitamins such as vitamin D and biotin has been considered as the cause for thinning of hair and increased hair loss.

Types:

As people age their rate of growth of hair declines. Depending upon the signs and causes of hair loss, the types of hair loss are divided into the following:

  • Involutional alopecia: a natural phenomenon in which thinning of hair takes place with advancing age. More hair remains in the resting phase and the remaining hair becomes shorter and decreases in number.

 

  • Androgenic Alopecia: due to hereditary or genetic causes. In men, this is known as male pattern baldness, characterized by receding hairline and gradual loss of hair from the crown and front scalp areas. This condition can start in teens or early 20s. In women, this kind of condition is called female pattern baldness. But there are no signs or symptoms until the age of 40s or later. In women, it is generally characterized by the overall thinning of the entire scalp with the crown area being the most affected.

 

  • Alopecia Areata: caused by the interaction of the immune system with the hair follicles. It causes hair loss in small areas leaving a totally smooth round patch.

 

  • Traction Alopecia: the thinning of hair happens due to the pulling of the hair and tying them very tightly in ponytails or pigtails.

 

  • Telogen effluvium: a temporary condition characterized by the thinning of hair all over the scalp due to the changes in the growth cycles.

 

  • Scarring alopecia: caused by inflammatory skin conditions such as cellulitis, folliculitis, acne and forms of lupus. It often leads to scars on the scalp and permanent hair loss in those areas.

Treatment options:

There are a lot of remedies to restore the loss of hair, but most of these can do only a little to reverse the process. Firstly, you should realize that only certified doctors specializing in hair loss can help you with finding the most efficient treatment for your hair loss. However, some people may benefit from the following treatments:

Medications:

Minoxidil (Rogaine): This topical preparation appears to provide slight re-growth on the bald areas. It helps by reversing the shrinkage of the hair follicles and stimulating the new hair growth. This has to be applied twice a day on the balding spots and claims to reduce the hair loss and thickens the remaining hair. Side effects are minimal including skin irritation.

Finasteride (Propecia): it is mainly used in cases of male pattern baldness. This works by blocking the conversion of the male hormone testosterone to androgen DHT (dihydrotestosterone), which is responsible for hair miniaturization. It is worth noticing that finasteride is not prescribed for hair loss treatment for women and children.

Steroids: some practitioners also prescribe corticosteroids like prednisolone to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system in specific hair loss cases like alopecia areata.

Medical procedures:

Hair transplant: This involves the relocation of active hair plugs from the parts containing hair to the bald areas on the scalp. It is generally required to implant 10 to 60 plugs per session. The transplanted hair may fall out but new hair usually grows from the transplanted hair follicle. This is best suited for people with inherited hair loss.

Some ways to prevent hair loss:

Although it’s not possible to stop the aging and reverse natural hair loss. Some ways to slow down the process are:

Less cosmetic: the best way to protect your hair is to leave your hair in its natural texture and color. Try minimizing the heat and chemical treatment of the hair.

Choose products wisely: try to use basic shampoo and conditioners designed for your type of hair. Use a less damaging brush.

Also Read :[highlight color=”yellow”]Top 10 Foods for Healthy Hair[/highlight]

Proper diet and supplements: several studies have connected the deficiency of some vitamins (vitamin A, B, C, D, E, biotin) and minerals (zinc, selenium) to the increase in hair loss tendency. A balanced diet generally helps but in case of severe deficiencies, it is better to start with the supplements.

 

Disclaimer: The statements, opinions, and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of Credihealth and the editor(s). 

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