Alopecia or hair loss is a widespread disorder that affects millions of individuals across the world. The condition is often linked with aging although it may occur at any age and can have a substantial influence on the self-esteem and quality of life of an individual.
There are different causes of hair loss. These range from hereditary and hormonal variables to medical disorders or conditions and lifestyle choices.
Understanding the underlying causes of hair loss is important to determine the best management and treatment options and prevent additional hair loss. This article identifies and defines the most prevalent reasons for hair loss.
Understanding the Different Causes of Hair Loss
Experts have identified different causes of hair loss. Some of these causes have been categorized under certain conditions that are biological and non-biological in nature. There are also more specific causes that are considered as factors or general risk factors.
Causes Due to Hair Loss Type
There are seven different types of hair loss and each represents a particular general cause with more specific causes. Three of these are biological in nature while seven are non-biological. Treating hair loss first requires diagnosing an individual under one of these seven types. Take note of the following:
• Androgenetic Alopecia: This involves sensitivity to androgen or sex hormones and their precursors that disrupts the natural hair growth cycle. Androgenetic alopecia specifically occurs when high levels of hormones such as dihydrotestosterone or DHT miniaturize or shrink hair follicles and shorten the hair growth cycle leading to male-pattern hair loss or female-pattern hair loss.
• Alopecia Areata: Another cause of hair loss is autoimmunity. Alopecia areata is a condition in which the immune system attacks the hair follicles. Immune cells such as T cells release cytokines. Some of these cytokines are pro-inflammatory. Inflammation leads to follicles entering dormancy or the telogen phase. Prolonged attacks from immune cells lead to hair loss characterized by patches of bald spots.
• Telogen Effluvium: Groups of follicles can also enter the telogen phase prematurely due to other causes or factors other than a direct autoimmune activity or androgen sensitivity. Known risk factors include pregnancy and childbirth, poor diet and eating habits leading to poor nutrition intake, severe emotional disorders, hypothyroidism, chronic stress, chronic illness, major surgery, and certain medications.
• Traction Alopecia: This is a non-biological cause of hair loss. Traction alopecia transpires when excessive mechanical force is placed on the hair strands. This force is often a result of certain hairstyle choices such as braids, weaves, and ponytails or the use of certain hair accessories such as clips and bands. Prolonged tension to the hair strands leads to breakage from the roots and can result in permanent hair loss.
• Trichotillomania: Another non-biological cause is behavioral in nature. Trichotillomania is specifically a mental and behavioral disorder characterized by an uncontrollable and obsessive urge to pull hair in response to specific triggers or during a certain emotional state. The condition is also called hair-pulling disorder and it appears as patches of bald spots in specific areas of the scalp.
• Scarring Alopecia: Alopecia can also be incurred due to physical trauma or as an effect of another autoimmune disorder. Scarring alopecia happens when hair follicles are excessively damaged due to injuries, burns, or infections and inflammations. The affected area develops scar tissues. The scarred area would not be able to revert to its original state and the follicles would not be able to regenerate.
• Drug-Induced Hair Loss: Certain medications such as drugs used in chemotherapies fused to kill cancerous cells or stunt tumor growth can accelerate the hair growth cycle and lead to excessive hair fall. Other medications such as cholesterol-lowering drugs, certain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and hormone-related drugs like thyroid medications also affect skin health and scalp health.
Causes Due to Risk Factors
Take note that several of the aforementioned types of hair loss have more specific causes or underlying risk factors. These factors are also individually considered as specific causes of hair loss. A particular factor might not lead to alopecia but a combination of two or more can trigger excessive hair fall or disrupt the natural hair growth cycle. Take note of the following:
• Age: Remember that aging is one of the main causes of hair loss. Hair follicles tend to shrink as people age. This results in thinner hair volume and an increase in hair fall. Aging is one of the main risk factors for androgenetic alopecia, and it can also trigger medical conditions that can also increase hair fall.
• Genetics: Genes are an important risk factor in certain hair loss conditions. Note that androgenetic alopecia is a hereditary condition that affects men and women. Genes also play a role in alopecia areata or other autoimmune disorders.
• Hormonal Changes: Some individuals can go through hormonal changes and these can affect their natural hair growth cycles. Hormonal changes occur during pregnancy and childbirth, menstrual cycle and menopause, prolonged exposure to chronic stress, or when under birth control or hormonal therapy.
• Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions such as thyroid disorders, autoimmune diseases, metabolic disorders, and scalp infections. It is also important to reiterate the fact that certain medications can also disrupt the hair growth cycle.
• Poor Diet: Deficiencies in certain nutrients such as iron, zinc, protein and amino acids, essential fatty acids, B vitamins including biotin, and vitamins A, C, D, and E may slow down hair growth and even contribute to hair loss. These deficiencies are often a result of poor food choices and specific eating habits.
• Chronic Stress: Prolonged exposure to chronic stress can cause hormonal imbalance or trigger certain diseases such as metabolic disorders or autoimmune conditions. Stress is also one of the main culprits behind telogen effluvium.
• Styles and Treatments: Some haircare habits can damage the hair and scalp. These include specific hairstyles such as braids or weaves, as well as the use of heat for drying, curling, or ironing the hair, and exposure to harsh chemicals during hair treatment procedures such as rebonding, coloring, and styling.
• Cigarette Smoking: Smoking cigarettes and even vaping damages the skin and may contribute to hair loss. Certain chemicals in tobacco may damage the follicles or affect the natural hair growth cycle. Nicotine is also a known vasoconstrictor.