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5 min read

Understanding Hair Loss and Its Causes

Understanding Hair Loss and Its Causes

Everyday hair loss is completely normal and perfectly routine. However, if you’re noticing a significant amount of loss, it’s important to evaluate what the reason may be.

Easier said than done! Identifying why you’re seeing hair loss can be tricky because there are a few different causes, especially for women. For example, hereditary hair loss, also known as androgenetic alopecia, is unfortunately inherited and not your fault. The earlier it’s identified, the better chance you’ll have to slow its progress.

Other common kinds of excessive shedding include a condition called telogen effluvium, which can be treated once you figure out the underlying source. 

If your hair is shedding more than usual, looks thinner, or your normal growth seems to be stunted, here are the basics of hair growth and a few of the most common reasons for hair loss in women. The good news is, there are solutions!

Hair growth stages

Growth cycles are important to understand because if the cycle gets thrown off balance, it can result in shedding and thinning.

Several things that can interfere with the hair growth cycle, like hormones, medications, illness, or scalp irritation, all have the potential to stop hair growth at the root.

Hair grows in three different cycles — anagen, catagen, and telogen. On a healthy scalp, hair grows in the anagen phase about 90% of the time. During the catagen, or transition phase, the hair follicle shrinks. It then rests and eventually sheds during the telogen phase. For someone experiencing hair thinning, the follicles are shrinking rapidly, and much finer hair is being grown in the new, smaller follicle. If someone is experiencing telogen effluvium, hair is shifting faster than normal from its growing phase into the shedding or telogen phase, and the follicle remains inactive.

Physical appearance of hair loss

The most common physical indicator of hair loss for women is a gradual thinning in the front hairline, crown of the head, or widening of the center hair part. Some women can hide slight thinning by changing their part to the side wearing bangs, but acute thinning is noticeable.

*More often, men lose hair in round spots on the back of the head or will have a receding front hairline that can indicate male pattern baldness and require specific over-the-counter treatment.

Causes of hair loss

Family history

It’s possible you're genetically predisposed to hair loss, which means you are otherwise healthy but may simply see a gradual reduction in hair density as you age. One way to figure out if the problem might be genetic is by considering maternal relatives. The hair loss history of mothers, grandmothers, and aunts can be a clue as to how to treat your condition. Also, looking at a magnified view of the scalp can show if a woman’s follicles are both thick and thin and varying in size. These are signs of genetic female pattern hair loss, also called androgenetic alopecia. This condition is unlikely to reverse, and the effects can only be slowed down.  

Hormonal changes

There are so many hormonal imbalances that can be to blame for hair loss and the result of an internal trigger. Excessive hair shedding not reliant on a genetic predisposition results from an internal imbalance prompted by an illness, acute stress, birth control, or endocrine condition. It’s important to get to the root causes so that you’re closer to finding a treatment.

A hormonal imbalance can spiral and lead to other health and beauty issues, from fatigue, skin blemishes, to weight undermanagement. Female hormones play an important role in regulating the hair growth cycle. Estrogen helps support follicles in their growth phase for the ideal duration of time. Male hormones known as androgens can shorten or halt the hair growth cycle. Since hormones are responsible for regulating essential bodily functions, even a minor hormonal imbalance can affect numerous parts of the body.

Getting to the bottom of your hormonal imbalance by having your doctor run a simple blood test will help you feel empowered during this journey.

Postpartum hair loss

One thing many women experience while pregnant is thick and luscious hair! Hair, along with everything else, is in a rapid growth mode because of estrogen surges. Not only is the growth phase amped up, but it also lasts longer than normal, meaning that normal shedding is delayed.

Once estrogen levels go back to normal after giving birth, hair resumes its normal growth cycles and starts to shed all the accumulated hair. Some women notice very mild shedding, but others experience intense shedding for a few months. The shedding is normal, but it can feel dramatic. Women usually bounce back from this type of loss.

Medical conditions

If hair loss is sudden and drastic, it is likely to be something other than hereditary. A wide range of underlying conditions can prompt hair loss, with some of the most common being thyroid disorders and anemia. Others include autoimmune diseases, polycystic ovary syndrome, and inflamed skin conditions on the scalp, such as psoriasis and dermatitis.

Anemia is one of the most common causes of hair loss in women. Iron is essential for producing hair proteins; without it, your strands will be brittle and break off or fall out. Menstruating women are more likely to be anemic because of blood loss and should eat iron-rich foods to boost strength and endurance.  

Another medical issue is hypothyroidism. The thyroid gland helps to regulate the body's metabolism and hormones, so an imbalance can affect hair follicles and make you feel sluggish and even depressed. The good news is that hair loss will desist after thyroid levels are regulated.

The most acute hair loss illness is alopecia areata, which is a rare autoimmune disorder that results in an immune system response attacking healthy hair follicles. The cause is unknown, but it may be triggered by stress. The condition can present in three phases, beginning with patches of baldness on the scalp and eyebrows. Eventually, complete baldness on the head is referred to as alopecia totalis, while hair loss all over the body is called alopecia universalis. This specific condition is typically permanent and cannot be cured.

Medications and treatments

Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation have well-known hair loss side effects, but did you know other medications used to lower high blood pressure, manage arthritis, anti-depressants, and beta-blockers for heart conditions are known to cause these issues too? It’s best to discuss any side effects with your doctor to see if there’s a correlation between the two and if you can switch medications.

Stress

While it may sound a bit dramatic, stress can literally make your hair fall out. How so? While we all have felt stressed in our lives from time to time, chronic stress can impact our bodies in various ways. In women, one common way that stress affects the body is by throwing hormones out of whack.

Specifically, there is a delicate relationship between the stress hormone called cortisol and estrogen. When high cortisol levels lower estrogen levels, a hormonal balance can occur.

Stress may also trigger skin inflammation and scalp problems, such as dandruff. Stress can also disrupt your appetite and digestive system and alter your gut microbiome. It’s important not to discount the effect of stress on our health and, occasionally, our appearance.

Rapid weight loss

A plunging decline in weight in a short amount of time can impact your strands, commonly causing hair to shed in equally large amounts. The body can interpret dramatic weight loss as enduring physical trauma and so it can react pretty drastically. Some people have experienced fistfuls of hair loss, but luckily, this often self-regulates after a few weeks.

This can sometimes coincide with nutritional deficiencies, which often first reveal themselves with our hair.

Traction alopecia

Traction alopecia can be caused by consistently wearing tight hairstyles such as ponytails or braids, which results in tension on the scalp. It can cause progressive thinning of the hairline, and if you do it long enough, it could cause scarring. Just make sure you’re gentle on your fragile hairline and baby hairs.

Tips for hair loss

Hair loss usually happens gradually and can take a few months to fall out. So, what’s the most important thing? Don’t panic! Excessive shedding is manageable, and with the right approach, hair will start to grow back once any internal imbalance has been treated. It’s also a good rule of thumb to change any harmful routines or unnecessary ingredients your hair and follicles might be exposed to.

For one thing, try to stick to a cleansing routine that works for you. Both over and under shampooing can affect the health and condition of your scalp. Not washing enough can cause a buildup of product and oil that can suffocate the hair follicle, yet washing too frequently can strip the hair of its natural oils, making it more dry and prone to breakage.

Be gentle with shampooing and with styling. You might consider one of those silicone shampoo scalp-cleansing tools that lift debris and lightly exfoliate, yet are soft enough not to cause any friction. When it comes to heat styling tools, try to minimize their usage and avoid tugging with hot tools near the roots of your hair. It’s also a great time to avoid chemicals and heavy processing.  

Want a low-cost solution that doubles as therapeutic stress relief? Try a head and scalp massage. It might not be as relaxing to massage your own head, but the healthy hair benefits are worth the trouble. Scalp massage will encourage scalp and follicle health as it stimulates blood flow to the area, making it stronger from the root.

High quality oils can be great for hair loss and breakage as they can protects hair follicles and strands, be used to condition the scalp and skin, and they can cultivate healthy hair growth.

Another hair regrowth avenue to incorporate? Making sure we’re delivering the support hair follicles need from the inside with proper nutrients and diet. Hair is made of protein, making sufficient daily intake of protein-rich foods essential. Include at least one portion of protein with one meal per day.

The hair's nutritional needs are very unique, and supplements can be a practical way to promote healthy levels of vitamins and minerals available to your follicles. They are the spark plugs of cellular re-growth and protein builders. Look for these vitamins and nutrients: iron, vitamin C, vitamin B12, vitamin D3, copper, zinc, selenium, and essential amino acids like L-lysine.

Final thoughts

Our hair is so closely tied to our appearance and identity that it can be distressing to discover any loss or thinning. One of the most important things to remember is that you have many options and approaches available to you. Focusing on healing and treating a possible internal imbalance can do wonders for the spirit, and will help to improve overall wellness and happiness.

Take stock of your diet, stress levels, any prescriptions, hygiene, habits, and environment. Then, through trial and error, consulting a doctor, and giving yourself a little patience and kindness, you can embark on a hair journey of growth and rejuvenate its health and gorgeousness.

At Hair La Vie, we know that your hair is an integral part of how you present yourself to the world and shape your authentic style.

Join our private Facebook Community for a safe, human-moderated space to share your Hair Journey, discover new natural beauty, and take steps towards becoming “you” with the help of an understanding, supportive community.

Join now for instant access to livestreams, discussions, and exclusive access to new products!

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    At Hair La Vie, we know that your hair is an integral part of how you present yourself to the world and shape your authentic style.

    Join our private Facebook Community for a safe, human-moderated space to share your Hair Journey, discover new natural beauty, and take steps towards becoming “you” with the help of an understanding, supportive community.

    Join now for instant access to livestreams, discussions, and exclusive access to new products!

    JOIN THE GROUP