Hair loss is a common issue affecting men and women of all ages. While it’s normal to lose some hair daily, excessive hair loss can be distressing and impact self-esteem and confidence. According to the American Hair Loss Association, roughly 66 percent of American men experience some degree of hair loss by age 35, and this number rises to a staggering 85 percent by age 50. (1) Often associated with youth and vitality, our hair does play a big part in our identity. 

Our hair has functions beyond just aesthetics. It acts as a natural cushion, protecting the head from physical impact, and helps keep us warm in colder weather. Additionally, it serves as a barrier against excessive sun exposure, protecting the sensitive scalp from UV rays. The condition of our hair can also reflect our internal health and nutritional status.

Understanding the Phases of Hair Growth

Hair growth occurs in several distinct phases, each with its unique characteristics. The three primary phases of hair growth are:

Anagen Phase:

  • The anagen phase is the active growth phase of hair.
  • During this phase, hair follicles actively produce new cells, lengthening the hair shaft.
  • The duration of the anagen phase varies among individuals and can last anywhere from a few years to a decade or more.
  • Hair grows approximately 1 centimetre per month during this phase.

Catagen Phase:

  • The catagen phase is a transitional phase that follows the anagen phase.
  • It is a relatively short period, lasting only a few weeks.
  • During this phase, the hair follicle shrinks, and the hair strand stops growing.
  • About 3% of hair follicles on the scalp are in the catagen phase at any given time.

Telogen Phase:

  • The telogen phase is the resting phase of hair growth.
  • It lasts several weeks to a few months, during which the hair follicle remains inactive.
  • Eventually, old hairs are shed, allowing new hairs to enter the anagen phase.
  • Around 10-15% of hair follicles are in the telogen phase at any given time.

Common Hair Loss Conditions

Alopecia areata, telogen effluvium, and androgenetic alopecia are three common hair loss conditions, each with distinct causes and characteristics. Let’s take a brief look at the differences between them:

Alopecia Areata

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles, leading to hair loss. It typically causes sudden, round or oval patches of hair loss on the scalp or other parts of the body. Complete loss of hair on the scalp (alopecia totalis) or the entire body (alopecia universalis) can also occur. Hair loss can occur rapidly, and regrowth may happen spontaneously, but the course of the condition is unpredictable. Hair loss is not accompanied by other symptoms, and the affected skin is usually smooth and unscarred. Conventional treatment options include corticosteroid injections, topical immunotherapy, and other medications that help modulate the immune response.

Telogen Effluvium

Telogen effluvium is a temporary hair loss condition characterized by increased thinning and shedding of hair from the scalp. It is a non-scarring form of hair loss, which means that it doesn’t typically result in permanent baldness or damage to the hair follicles. Instead, hair loss occurs because a significant number of hair follicles enter the telogen, or resting, phase of the hair growth cycle prematurely and simultaneously. Hair typically starts to regrow within a few months after the underlying trigger has been resolved.

Telogen effluvium is usually triggered by a significant physical or emotional stressor, such as illness, surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, nutritional deficiencies (iron, vitamin D, biotin), rapid weight loss or extreme dieting, or certain medications (chemotherapy drugs, beta-blockers, retinoids).

Women are particularly susceptible to hair loss due to hormonal fluctuations, which can be triggered by events like pregnancy, menopause, the use of birth control pills, thyroid disorders, and other common hormonal shifts. If you’ve ever been pregnant, you might recall the lushness of your hair during that time, only to experience significant hair loss postpartum. This phenomenon affects 40 to 50 percent of women and is attributed to hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy. 

Hair loss associated with telogen effluvium is temporary and typically occurs several weeks to a few months after the triggering event. Once the underlying cause is addressed, hair growth usually resumes; however, it may take several months for the hair to return to its normal thickness and volume.

Androgenetic Alopecia (Male and Female Pattern Baldness)

The most common form of hair loss, androgenetic alopecia, is primarily hereditary and is influenced by genetic and hormonal factors, particularly the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is an androgen hormone that leads to follicular shrinkage, resulting in a shortened hair lifespan and diminished hair production. Ordinarily, after a hair falls out, a new one begins growing from the same follicle. However, when DHT levels are elevated, this natural cycle is disrupted, causing a decline in hair growth.

In men, it often starts with a receding hairline and thinning at the crown, resulting in a characteristic “M” shape and ultimately progressing to the familiar “U” shape. In women, it typically leads to diffuse thinning across the crown of the head. Androgenetic alopecia progresses gradually over time and is a permanent condition unless treated. Hair becomes progressively thinner and shorter in the affected areas, and there may be an increase in hair shedding.

It is often thought that you can predict whether or not you will experience balding by looking at your maternal grandfather’s hair pattern, but this is not entirely accurate. The genes responsible for androgen receptors are not solely inherited from your maternal side or your maternal grandfather. These genes can come from both your maternal and paternal sides, and androgen receptor genes are present on both the X and Y chromosomes, which means that both men and women inherit them from both parents.

Other Hair Loss Causes

Conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can contribute to hair loss on the scalp while causing unwanted hair growth in undesirable areas. Interestingly, research has indicated that there may be a male counterpart to PCOS that is linked to male hair loss. One study found that men with premature male pattern baldness exhibited hormonal profiles akin to those of women with PCOS, coupled with significantly higher levels of insulin resistance. (2)

Additionally, excessive heat styling, tight hairstyles (like braids or ponytails), and chemical treatments (e.g. perms and dyes) can damage hair and lead to breakage and hair loss, known as traction alopecia. Fungal infections, such as ringworm, can affect the scalp and lead to hair loss if left untreated, and conditions like dandruff and psoriasis can also contribute to hair thinning.

It is recommended to seek guidance from a healthcare professional when experiencing hair loss, particularly if it occurs suddenly or in patches, as it could indicate an underlying, potentially serious condition requiring medical treatment.

Conventional Treatment For Hair Loss

The most common course of treatment for hair loss includes over-the-counter topical minoxidil (Rogaine), or the prescription medication finasteride (Propecia). While both can promote hair regrowth, there are some precautions to consider before choosing these treatment options. 

Side effects of minoxidil may include scalp irritation, unwanted hair growth on the face or body, heart palpitations, swelling of the hands and feet, unexplained weight gain, dizziness, chest pain, tiredness, and difficulty breathing. (3)

Finasteride works by inhibiting hormones responsible for hair loss in men, and side effects can include reduced libido, erectile dysfunction, and a decrease in semen volume, which may persist even after stopping the medication. Psychological effects such as depression and anxiety, as well as cognitive changes, have also been reported with its use. (4) Some men might experience gynecomastia or the development of breast tissue. Finasteride can lower prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels, which could mask the detection of prostate cancer. Additionally, finasteride is teratogenic and can cause birth defects if a male fetus is exposed to it; hence, it’s contraindicated during pregnancy, and women of childbearing age should avoid handling it at all costs. Another drawback to these medications is that they do not address the root cause of hair loss, and once you stop using them, the hair growth will stop.

Stimulate Hair Growth Naturally

Numerous natural remedies and lifestyle adjustments can be employed to mitigate hair loss and stimulate growth to effectively manage and enhance overall hair health. The effectiveness of these natural treatments can vary from person to person, and what works for one individual may not work for another. Patience and consistency are key, as natural remedies often take time to show results.

Here are some solutions to consider:

Saw Palmetto—Some studies suggest that saw palmetto can help with hair loss due to its potential ability to inhibit 5-alpha-reductase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a molecule associated with hair loss.(5)

Ginseng—Ginseng, a traditional herb revered for its many health benefits, contains active compounds known as ginsenosides that have been shown to encourage hair growth.(6)These ginsenosides may improve blood circulation and increase the dermal cells on the scalp which, in turn, fortifies the follicles and roots of the hair. This not only promotes new strand growth but also may help prevent hair thinning and breakage. Moreover, the anti-inflammatory properties of ginsenosides may help maintain scalp health, creating a conducive environment for hair growth. 

Peppermint Oil—Peppermint oil increases blood flow to the hair follicles, promoting better nutrient delivery and oxygenation, which encourages hair growth. In one study, peppermint oil was found to regrow hair at a faster rate than minoxidil. (7)

Rosemary OilRosemary oil is known to stimulate blood circulation in the scalp and has been shown to inhibit the production of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), making it a valuable ally in preventing hair thinning and promoting fuller, thicker hair.(8) This essential oil contains antioxidants that can help protect the hair and scalp from oxidative stress caused by free radicals. These antioxidants may contribute to maintaining the overall health and vitality of your hair, preventing damage from environmental factors, and even delaying premature graying.

Lavender Oil—In a recent study, researchers explored the potential benefits of lavender oil for hair growth compared to the pharmaceutical drug minoxidil. The findings indicated that lavender oil exhibited comparable effectiveness to minoxidil in stimulating hair growth. It not only increased the number of hair follicles but also deepened their depth and thickened the dermal layer, contributing to healthier and fuller hair growth. (9) Another study highlighted the positive outcomes of massaging a mixture of essential oils, including lavender, into the scalp daily. This approach led to significant improvements in 44% of patients with alopecia areata. (10)

Scalp Massage—Regular scalp massage may help to promote circulation and hair growth. Use the oils recommended above with a carrier oil like jojoba or sweet almond oil during massage to enhance the effect.

Nutrients for Hair HealthA diet rich in vitamins and minerals is essential for hair growth. Be sure to include the following nutrients in your diet: 

  • Iron—Iron deficiency is a common cause of hair loss, especially in women. Foods rich in iron include leafy greens, lean red meat, and legumes.
  • Protein—Hair is made of proteins called keratin, so ensuring adequate protein intake is necessary for hair growth. Sources include chicken, turkey, fish, dairy products, and beans.
  • Vitamin E—Nuts and seeds are high in vitamin E, which may enhance blood flow to the scalp and promote hair growth.
  • Biotin—Eggs, almonds, and whole grains are rich in biotin, a B vitamin associated with hair growth.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids—These fats can promote hair health. Sources include fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, as well as flaxseeds and walnuts.

Increase Insulin Sensitivity—Insulin resistance disrupts hormonal balance, increases inflammation, and may lead to nutrient deficiencies, all of which can contribute to hair thinning and loss. Myo-inositol, a natural compound, and berberine, a plant-derived substance, have shown potential in regulating blood sugar levels, reducing insulin resistance, and indirectly benefiting hair health. (11) These interventions, when incorporated into a holistic approach that includes a healthy diet and regular exercise, can help mitigate hair loss by addressing the underlying insulin resistance issue.

Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)—LLLT uses low-level laser light to stimulate hair follicles. LLLT devices, including laser caps and combs, work by emitting gentle laser light at specific wavelengths onto the scalp. This light is absorbed by hair follicle cells’ mitochondria, increasing cellular metabolism and promoting healthier hair. (12) While research on its effectiveness varies, LLLT is generally considered a safe and non-invasive treatment for hair loss. Treatment duration and frequency depend on the device, but consistent use over several months is typically necessary. LLLT is often used alongside other hair loss treatments, and it offers a safe option with minimal known side effects for those seeking to address hair loss concerns. 

Understandably, experiencing hair loss might make you feel like you’re losing a part of yourself, but allowing hair loss to negatively impact your mental and emotional well-being will only worsen the situation. It is important to remember that while hair plays a part in how you see yourself, it certainly doesn’t define who you are!

In-text References

  1. Di Guardo F, Ciotta L, Monteleone M, Palumbo M. Male Equivalent Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: Hormonal, Metabolic, and Clinical Aspects. Int J Fertil Steril. 2020 Jul;14(2):79-83. doi: 10.22074/ijfs.2020.6092. Epub 2020 Jul 15. PMID: 32681618; PMCID: PMC7382675.
  1. Mysore V. Finasteride and sexual side effects. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2012 Jan;3(1):62-5. doi: 10.4103/2229-5178.93496. PMID: 23130269; PMCID: PMC3481923.
  1. Evron E, Juhasz M, Babadjouni A, Mesinkovska NA. Natural Hair Supplement: Friend or Foe? Saw Palmetto, a Systematic Review in Alopecia. Skin Appendage Disord. 2020 Nov;6(6):329-337. doi: 10.1159/000509905. Epub 2020 Aug 23. PMID: 33313047; PMCID: PMC7706486.
  1. Choi BY. Hair-Growth Potential of Ginseng and Its Major Metabolites: A Review on Its Molecular Mechanisms. Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Sep 11;19(9):2703. doi: 10.3390/ijms19092703. PMID: 30208587; PMCID: PMC6163201.
  1. Oh JY, Park MA, Kim YC. Peppermint Oil Promotes Hair Growth without Toxic Signs. Toxicol Res. 2014 Dec;30(4):297-304. doi: 10.5487/TR.2014.30.4.297. PMID: 25584150; PMCID: PMC4289931.
  1. Panahi Y, Taghizadeh M, Marzony ET, Sahebkar A. Rosemary oil vs minoxidil 2% for the treatment of androgenetic alopecia: a randomized comparative trial. Skinmed. 2015 Jan-Feb;13(1):15-21. PMID: 25842469.
  1. Lee BH, Lee JS, Kim YC. Hair Growth-Promoting Effects of Lavender Oil in C57BL/6 Mice. Toxicol Res. 2016 Apr;32(2):103-8. doi: 10.5487/TR.2016.32.2.103. Epub 2016 Apr 30. PMID: 27123160; PMCID: PMC4843973.
  1. Hay IC, Jamieson M, Ormerod AD. Randomized trial of aromatherapy. Successful treatment for alopecia areata. Arch Dermatol. 1998 Nov;134(11):1349-52. doi: 10.1001/archderm.134.11.1349. PMID: 9828867.
  1. Mishra N, Verma R, Jadaun P. Study on the Effect of Berberine, Myoinositol, and Metformin in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Prospective Randomised Study. Cureus. 2022 Jan 31;14(1):e21781. doi: 10.7759/cureus.21781. PMID: 35251851; PMCID: PMC8890747.
  1. Avci P, Gupta GK, Clark J, Wikonkal N, Hamblin MR. Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) for treatment of hair loss. Lasers Surg Med. 2014 Feb;46(2):144-51. doi: 10.1002/lsm.22170. Epub 2013 Aug 23. PMID: 23970445; PMCID: PMC3944668.
General HealthUnderstanding and Managing Hair Loss: Effective Solutions for Men & Women