Most people normally shed 50 to 100 hairs a day. This usually doesn’t cause noticeable thinning of scalp hair because new hair is growing in at the same time. Hair loss occurs when this cycle of hair growth and shedding is disrupted or when the hair follicle is destroyed and replaced with scar tissue.
The exact cause of hair loss may not be fully understood, but it’s usually related to one or more of the following factors:
• Family history (heredity)
• Hormonal changes
• Medical conditions
Family history (heredity)
The most common cause of hair loss is a hereditary condition called male-pattern baldness or female-pattern baldness. It usually occurs gradually and in predictable patterns — a receding hairline and bald spots in men and thinning hair in women.
Heredity also affects the age at which you begin to lose hair, the rate of hair loss and the extent of baldness. Pattern baldness is most common in men and can begin as early as puberty. This type of hair loss may involve both hair thinning and miniaturization (hair becomes soft, fine and short).
Hormonal changes and medical conditions
A variety of conditions can cause hair loss, including:
Hormonal changes and imbalances can cause temporary hair loss. This could be due to pregnancy, childbirth or the onset of menopause. Hormone levels are also affected by the thyroid gland, so thyroid problems may cause hair loss.
Patchy hair loss
This type of nonscarring hair loss is called alopecia areata (al-o-PEE-she-uh ar-e-A-tuh). It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks hair follicles — causing sudden hair loss that leaves smooth, roundish bald patches on the skin.
Infections, such as ringworm, can invade the hair and skin of your scalp, leading to scaly patches and hair loss. Once infections are treated, hair generally grows back.
Other skin disorders
Diseases that cause scarring alopecia may result in permanent loss at the scarred areas. These conditions include lichen planus, some types of lupus and sarcoidosis.
This condition, also called trichotillomania (trik-o-til-o-MAY-nee-uh), causes people to have an irresistible urge to pull out their hair, whether it’s from the scalp, the eyebrows or other areas of the body.
Hair loss can be caused by drugs used for cancer, arthritis, depression, heart problems, high blood pressure and birth control. Intake of too much vitamin A may cause hair loss as well.
Other causes of hair loss
Hair loss can also result from:
• Radiation therapy to the head. The hair may not grow back the same as it was before.
• A trigger event. Many people experience a general thinning of hair several months after a physical or emotional shock. This type of hair loss is temporary. Examples of trigger events include sudden or excessive weight loss, a high fever, surgery, or a death in the family.
• Certain hairstyles and treatments. Excessive hair-styling or hairstyles that pull your hair tight, such as pigtails or cornrows, can cause traction alopecia. Hot oil hair treatments and permanents can cause inflammation of hair follicles that leads to hair loss. If scarring occurs, hair loss could be permanent.
Hair Loss Treatment
If a hair loss treatment is not approved by the FDA or recommended by The American Hair Loss Association, chances are you are wasting your precious time and money. Remember, successful treatment of hair loss is greatly dependent on early intervention. It is critical to begin treatment with an effective product as soon as you notice the onset of hair loss.
The following two treatments have been clinically proven to successfully treat hair loss in men to varying degrees.
Finasteride is the generic name for the brand name drugs Proscar and Propecia. Finasteride was originally developed by Merck as a drug to treat enlarged prostate glands (Proscar). During the trials on men with prostate problems an intriguing side effect of hair growth was observed. Since finasteride had already been approved by the FDA to treat enlarged prostates in men, Merck and Company decided to pursue the possibility of developing finasteride as the first pill to treat male pattern baldness.
On December 22, 1997 the FDA approved a 1mg dose of finasteride for the treatment of androgenic alopecia in men (male pattern baldness). Propecia is the first drug in history to effectively treat male pattern baldness in the vast majority of men who use it.
How Propecia/Finasteride Works:
Finasteride’s hair-raising success is due to its ability to specifically inhibit Type II 5-alpha-reductace, the enzyme that converts testosterone into a more potent androgen dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Propecia’s 1 mg dose of finasteride can effectively lower DHT levels by as much as 60% when taken daily. It is DHT that shrinks or miniaturizes the hair follicle, which eventually leads to baldness. This 60% reduction in DHT has proven to stop the progression of hair loss in 86% of men taking the drug during clinical trials. 65% of trial participants experienced what was considered a substantial increase in hair growth.
At this point, the only truly effective medically proven way to arrest the hair loss process is to lower DHT levels. The American Hair Loss Association recommends finasteride as the first line of attack for all men interested in treating their male pattern baldness.
Minoxidil (loniten) was the first drug approved by the FDA for the treatment of male pattern baldness. For many years, minoxidill, in pill form, was widely used to treat high blood pressure. Just like finasteride researchers discovered a very interesting side effect of the drug. People taking the medication were growing hair in unexpected places like on their cheeks and the back of their hands, some even grew hair on their foreheads.
Some enterprising researchers had the notion that applying minoxidil topically, directly on the head, might grow hair on balding areas. Well it did this to varying degrees depending on the extent of the hair loss. For it’s time, this treatment was revolutionary.
While minoxidil has been clinically proven to slow the progression of hair loss and regrow some hair, most informed experts see it as a relatively marginally effective drug in the fight against hair loss. Since minoxidil has no effect on the hormonal process of hair loss its positive effects are at best temporary and usually yield somewhat disappointing long-term results.
With that said, The American Hair Loss Association still recommends the drug for those who have not responded favorably to finasteride treatment or for those who would like to add another product to their regimen. The AHLA does not recommend minoxidil as the first line of attack for men suffering with male pattern baldness, but does recognize it as an effective treatment for a small percentage of its users.