Understanding hair loss and the best ways to prevent or treat it
Hair loss (or alopecia) for a woman can be emotionally painful. While some men with no hair are considered handsome, this is not the case for women whom often perceive their hair as part of their physical identity. Losing it can be distressing. And yet, according to the American Academy of Dermatology 40 percent of women have visible hair loss by the time they are 40.
Is prevention possible?
“There are a whole slew of reasons that can trigger hair loss. Menopause, pregnancy, thyroid dysfunction, autoimmune disorders, stress, trauma, diabetes, and crash dieting are a few examples,” says Dr. Heather Lee, MD who specializes in facial plastics and reconstructive surgery at the Quatela Center for Hair Restoration.
Lee works with patients to manage their hair loss medically and surgically if necessary. She is focused on the full spectrum of hair loss – what may cause it, how it affects patients emotionally, and what can be done to treat it. She cites a balanced approach to wellness as the best preventative. This includes a healthy diet and weight along with exercise.
“Your body prioritizes your metabolism. If you have deficiencies in nutrients your body will prioritize your organs over your hair,” says Lee.
Stress is a big cause of hair loss and even has its own name: telogen effluvium. It can come in the form of a recent surgery where the follicle has been damaged or something like gastric bypass surgery, which affects person’s nutritional intake. Emotional stress can cause hair loss which is why exercise plays a key role in overall stress reduction.
Dye and hair products are also in the realm of stressors. Processors, products, and aggressive styling techniques can take a toll. Harsh chemicals and dyes can inflame hair follicles. Mechanical stress, such as overly tight ponytails or braids can also damage follicles. Lee recommends discussing options with your stylist on a regular basis as there are always new and improved products coming to the market.
There are other contributors that are linked to hair loss. Dermatological issues — dermatitis, fungal infections, psoriasis, and more — may be contributing. So can medications; anti-convulsants, certain blood thinners, as well as common medications for cholesterol and hypertension.
“Hair loss is multi-factorial. Getting off a medication is one less contributor,” says Lee pointedly.
Of course, getting off a medication gets back to the initial preventative measure of improving your overall health with diet and exercise. Lee, however, points out that genetics also play a role. For some people, hair follicles gradually get smaller and eventually fall out. Unfortunately, researchers don’t understand enough about female patterned hair loss to prevent it.
If you’re already managing your hair loss by improving your overall wellness and are still distressed with your diminishing tresses, there are options. Lee recommends a platelet rich plasma (PRP) treatment. Instead of introducing more medications or hormones to the body, PRP uses your own platelets to get follicles in better health to slow down loss.
A more advanced treatment is a hair transplant where parts of the scalp with healthy follicles are blended into the thinning areas. Not all plastic surgeons specialize in this treatment so make sure you discuss it with a hair restoration expert.
Your first step, however, is to discuss your condition with your primary care physician (PCP) who will assess your health and may refer you to a dermatologist. Lee has relationships with PCPs and dermatologists.
“It’s a collaborative approach,” says Lee. She adds empathetically, “You are not alone in this.”