Understanding Thinning Hair and Hair Loss

Hair grows just about everywhere on the body except the palms and soles. It consists mainly of keratin, a protein produced in the hair follicles. As new hair cells grow, they push the old ones out.

A strand of hair is really a string of dead protein cells that “grow” about six inches a year. The average head has more than 100,000 strands and loses nearly 100 a day. A few stray hairs on a brush or comb is normal. Clumps of hair on a pillowcase or in the shower drain is cause for concern.

Hair Growth Phases
About 90 percent of scalp hair is growing hair. A follicle life cycle is influenced by factors like age and disease. The life cycle has three phases: anagen, catagen and telogen.

The anagen phase involves hair growth and can last up to six years. The catagen phase is about three weeks of transitional hair growth. Telogen is a resting phase that can last up to three months. New hair replaces shed hair at the end of telogen.

As people age, their hair thins due to slower hair growth. Some people experience hair loss at a faster than normal rate. Excessive scalp hair loss is called alopecia.

Hair Loss Types
There are several different hair loss types. Telogen effluvium is temporary thinning of scalp hair. Other types include involutional alopecia, androgenetic alopecia, alopecia areata, alopecia universalis and trichotillomania.

Telogen effluvium results from changes in the hair growth cycle. It occurs when several strands of hair enter telogen at the same time. Eventually, new hair replaces the hair loss.

Involutional alopecia is the gradual thinning of hair that occurs with age. As hair enters the resting phase, new hair does not grow back as long or thick. This causes natural hair thinning.

Androgenetic alopecia is the most common type of hair loss. The hereditary condition causes a sensitivity to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a testosterone byproduct. Too much DHT in the scalp causes a receding hairline and gradual thinning at the crown.

Alopecia areata is a sudden loss of scalp hair that occurs in patches and may end in complete baldness. Regrowth occurs in about 90 percent of the cases. Alopecia universalis causes complete hair loss throughout the body including the scalp, pubic hair, eyelashes and eyebrows.

Trichotillomania is more common in children than adults. A psychological disorder causes this type of hair loss. People with this condition pull out their own hair.

Hair Loss Treatments
There are many hair loss treatments, and the best one depends on the cause. Hormones, genetics, medications, diet, stress, injury and disease are common causes of thinning hair and hair loss.

Most treatments focus on hiding hair loss, preventing further loss or regrowing hair. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two drugs, finasteride and minoxidil, to treat hair loss. Some people prefer nutritional supplements as an alternative to drugs.

Surgical procedures can help people make the most of the hair they have. Hair transplants, scalp reductions and scalp extensions are three common hair loss surgeries.

Some people choose to let nature take its course. Instead of treating hair loss with medications, supplements or surgery, they hide their thin hair or baldness. Hats, scarves, wigs, toupees and hairpieces are popular alternatives to medical treatment.

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