What causes hair loss and how to stop it, according to the experts
Written by Lucy Partington
Lucy Partington is Stylist’s beauty editor. She’s obsessed with all things skincare, collecting eyeshadow palettes that she’ll probably never use, and is constantly on the hunt for the ultimate glowy foundation.
Hair loss is much more common than you think. Here are some of the reasons why it might be happening and what you can do to help prevent it.
Rogue hairs appear everywhere: in the shower, on your pillows, draped over your dressing table – all of which is completely normal. In fact, hair shedding is something that happens to all of us, but if you’ve noticed more hair loss than your version of normal, or if it seems like it’s not growing back as thick as it used to, the first thing to do is try not to stress.
The second thing is to figure out why the hair is falling out and create a gameplan to stop it. And that’s exactly where we can help.
Hair loss is, surprisingly, extremely common, especially in women. So common that in a recent survey, Viviscal found that 41% of women are currently experiencing – or have previously experienced – hair loss or some form of hair thinning.
“There are many types of hair loss. However, the two most common types are reduced hair volume (AKA androgenic alopecia/hair thinning) and excessive daily hair fall (AKA telogen effluvium),” says Anabel Kingsley, trichologist at Philip Kingsley. “They can occur alone, but often occur alongside each other.” And they can be caused by different things, from hormone fluctuations to stress, via the weather.
What is androgenic alopecia and what causes it?
Most commonly referred to as either hair thinning or female pattern hair loss, androgenic alopecia is a slow, progressive reduction in the volume of hair. “It occurs when hair follicles on the scalp are genetically predisposed to have sensitive to normal levels of circulating androgens – which are male hormones,” explains Kingsley.
It sounds confusing but in simpler terms, that basically means that when somebody has that particular sensitivity, hair follicles will gradually start to shrink, causing them to produce finer and shorter hairs in every hair growth cycle. “It’s not necessarily that you have fewer hairs than you’re used to, it’s more that the new hairs that are growing are taking up less space,” says Kingsley. “Eventually, hair follicles can become so small that they stop producing hairs altogether.”
While genetics are the main cause of androgenic alopecia, other factors like stress, menopause and polycystic ovarian syndrome can contribute, too.
Why is my hair shedding and what causes it?
On the other hand, excessive daily hair shedding – known as telogen effluvium – isn’t a genetic problem, instead it’s a reactive type of hair loss. “It occurs when an internal imbalance triggers more hair than usual to move from the growth phase to the resting/shedding phase,” says Kingsley. “Unlike androgenic alopecia, telogen effluvium is immediately obvious because you’ll notice more hairs coming out when you shampoo or style it.”
In the anatomical hierarchy, your body considers your hair as non-essential, which means it’s usually the first thing to suffer when something is amiss internally. “The most common causes of excessive hair shedding are a poor diet, nutritional deficiencies (usually iron, vitamin b12 and vitamin D), illness and stress,” explains Kingsley. “Due to the nature of the hair growth cycle it takes six to twelve weeks for hair to fall out after whatever caused it.”
That means it’s worth having a think back to try and figure out what might have caused it. Were you unwell, or particularly stressed at work, did you change your diet? They can all be contributing causes.
It’s also something that’s extremely common in new mums – Kingsley says that up to 50% of women experience postpartum hair loss which occurs roughly three months after giving birth or stopping breastfeeding.
Can low-level light treatments help hair loss?
“Low-level light treatments can help those experiencing hair loss, providing they’re the right candidate,” explains Dr Bessam Farjo, founding director and lead hair restoration surgeon at the Farjo Hair Institute. “Essentially, if you bathe the scalp in light at a certain frequency – 650nm to be precise – it penetrates the skin and stimulates the cells beneath to produce more protein.”
A key component of hair is protein-derived keratin. So, it’s believed that boosting protein production in the scalp can strengthen the formation of keratin in the hair, which could lead to more bulk. “The light is beamed through individual light sources within the band, helmet or cap, or via a handheld device such as a laser comb,” he adds.
“This technology works best on areas where the hair is still present but thinning. If the hair has thinned significantly beyond a certain point, then this light technology is unlikely to be of any significant benefit to the patient,” Dr Fajo continues. “But for those who are a good candidate, the combination of low-level laser and Minoxidil (a hair loss medicine) can be quite effective in women, as well as in men who don’t want to use a medication called Finasteride or would like to combine multiple approaches.”
What are the best topical treatments to help hair loss?
“For androgenic alopecia I recommend topical anti-androgenic scalp drops; they can be very beneficial. Philip Kinglsey Tricho 7 Scalp Treatment, £50, is a combination of zinc sulphate, azelaic acid and vitamin B16 which work to help protect follicles from the effects of male hormones,” says Kingsley.
However, it’s no good just buying a product and using it once; consistency is key and any topical treatment must be applied daily in order for it to work. That’s not all, either – Kingsley says it’s also about taking a holistic approach when addressing any hair loss issue. “That involves optimising both nutrition and your general health and keeping stress levels under control as well as using weekly hair treatments to strengthen it.”
Do hair growth shampoos actually work?
In short: no. “Shampoos alone will not treat a hair loss issue like androgenic alopecia simply because they are not left on the scalp long enough to have a lasting effect on the follicle,” explains Kingsley. “No particular shampoo will stimulate growth, so it’s best to choose one that’s suitable for your hair texture or scalp concern,” she says.
However, it’s important to know that frequent shampooing is vital when it comes to hair growth. “It helps keep the scalp clean and in good condition, and in turn a healthy scalp encourages the growth of healthy hair,” she explains.
Do volumising shampoos actually work?
Yes, they do – and they especially work wonders for people with fine or thinning hair as they add immediate volume. “Look for products that are formulated with thickening proteins to add immediate bulk to strands,” says Kingsley. However, it’s important to avoid products that are rich in oils as they will weigh hair down. “Always keep in mind that volumising shampoos will not actively make hair grow faster or thicker, instead they make your hair appear fuller,” she adds.
The best volumising shampoos
Aveda Pure Abundance Volumising Shampoo
This plant-based formula not only smells incredible but also significantly helps to build body. Formulated with kaolin clay and acacia gum, it deeply cleanses hair while adding volume.
Shop Aveda Pure Abundance Volumising Shampoo at LookFantastic, £21.50
Kiehl’s Rice and Wheat Volumising Shampoo
This shampoo thoroughly cleanses hair without weighing it down or leaving any residue, and it’s formulated with rice and wheat proteins to create fullness without stripping.
Shop Kiehl’s Rice and Wheat Volumising Shampoo at FeelUnqiue, £19.50
Percy & Reed Turn up the Volume Volumising Shampoo
A lightweight formula that adds serious volume, it’s enriched with vitamin b5 and wheat protein to condition and shine hair.
Shop Percy & Reed Turn Up the Volume Volumising Shampoo at LookFantastic, £18
The best hair loss supplements
Viviscal Hair Growth Programme
Backed by 25 years of scientific research, these tablets are formulated with biotin, zinc and a marine protein complex to encourage hair to grow thicker, longer and stronger.
Shop Viviscal Hair Growth Programme at Boots, £51.99
Hairburst Healthy Hair Vitamins
A combination of biotin, zinc and selenium which all work together to promote stronger, shinier, more dense hair.
Shop Hairburst Healthy Hair Vitamins at Hairburst, £24.99
Scientifically proven to help reduce hair loss, these tablets stimulate hair follicles at the source and are packed with zinc, biotin and AnaGain – an ingredient derived from organic pea shoots.
Shop Hairgain Grow at Hair Gain, £34.99
Main image: Getty
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