Hair Loss – What Causes It?

By August 21, 2017Health Tips

Did you know that American men spend over a billion dollars a year on hair loss treatments? Interestingly, they spend over 4 billion on hair removal products.  So getting hair where you want it, and removing it from places you don’t want it, is a five billion dollar industry – and that’s just what guys are spending!

A recent survey of 2000 American women suggests that they spend $80/month on hair products and treatments – which adds up to $55,000 over a lifetime. Another survey suggests that women spend up to $23,000 on hair removal products over the course of their lives.

So “hair control” is a big deal. One worthy of a few health tips, I’d say…

First of all, hair loss (from the scalp) is incredibly common. In fact, forty per cent of men have noticeable hair loss by age 35, and 80% have noticeable hair loss by age 85. This is not just a male problem, though, as the American Academy of Dermatology estimates that 40% of women have noticeable hair loss by age 40. While most people naturally shed 50-100 scalp hairs per day, thinning hair occurs when they are not replaced at the same rate.

When I think about the causes of hair loss, I categorize them into things that we can control, and things that we can’t control.

Causes of hair loss that we can’t control:

  1. Genetics: This is by far the most common cause of hair loss. Your hair genes are inherited from your parents. Genes affect the age at which you begin to lose hair, the rate of hair loss and the extent of baldness.
  2. Autoimmune disease: In some cases, our bodies attack our hair follicles, causing patches of baldness (called alopecia areata) or total baldness (called alopecia totalis).
  3. Hormonal changes: Temporary hair loss may be caused by pregnancy, childbirth or the onset of menopause. Hormone levels are also affected by the thyroid gland, so thyroid problems may cause hair loss.
  4. Radiation therapy: For those who require cancer treatment with radiation to the head, permanent hair loss may result.

Causes of hair loss that we CAN control:

  1. Hairstyles and Hair Treatments: Hairstyles that pull hair tight, such as pigtails or cornrows, can cause hair loss from mechanical forces called “traction alopecia.” Hot oil hair treatments and perms can cause inflammation of hair follicles that leads to hair loss which can be permanent.
  2. Medications: Drugs used for cancer, arthritis, depression, heart problems, high blood pressure and birth control may cause hair loss. Intake of too much vitamin A may cause hair loss as well.
  3. Scalp Infections: Fungal infections of the scalp (called “ring worm”) can cause hair loss, but is reversible with topical antibiotics.
  4. Hair Pulling Disorder: This condition, also called trichotillomania, causes people to have an irresistible urge to pull out their hair. It can be treated with psychologist or psychiatrist input.
  5. Stress: Particularly stressful events can trigger hair loss and are often reversible. Sudden or excessive weight loss, a high fever, surgery, or a death in the family are examples.
  6. Skin Disorders:  Conditions such as lichen planus, some types of lupus and sarcoidosis, may cause hair loss that can be prevented or reversed with medical treatment.
  7. Severe Malnutrition: This may be experienced by those with anorexia from a medical or psychological condition. Healthy nutrition is important for hair growth and maintenance, though vitamin supplementation has not been shown to make much of a difference in regrowing hair.

Understanding the underlying cause of your hair loss is critical in finding the best treatment for it. Next week I will discuss all the possible treatments for hair loss, especially the kind of hair loss that we can’t control by other means.

If you have any questions you’d like answered in our Health Tips email, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.


Dr. Val Jones MD – Health Tip
Content Editor

Reviewed and Approved by Charles W. Smith MD, Medical Director on

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