If you’ve suddenly noticed that your hair isn’t as thick and luscious as it once was, you’re not alone. Approximately 49% of women will be affected by hair loss throughout their lives, while 42% of men experience moderate to extensive hair loss before 50—the likelihood for both genders increasing with age.
While some causes of hair loss—such as age and genetics—cannot be influenced, there are certain lifestyle factors that can have both a positive and negative impact on hair growth, hair strength and overall hair health.
As The Beauty Chef’s resident naturopath Jessie Hoeschle explains, the key to addressing hair loss lies in addressing the underlying cause. However, gut health and daily nourishment can also play a substantial role and is a great place to start if you’re looking to revive a fuller, glossier mane.
What are some of the most common reasons for hair loss?
Hair loss is a complex and multifactorial condition that can have a variety of causes in both men and women. These include:
Genetics: Hereditary factors can contribute to both male and female pattern baldness (also called androgenic alopecia).
Hormone changes: Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, menopause, thyroid disorders or changes in testosterone levels can cause temporary or permanent hair loss.
Age: Hair loss tends to increase as we age.
Medical conditions: Alopecia areata, scalp/skin infections, thyroid disorders or autoimmune disorders.
Medications/medical treatments: Chemotherapy, radiation and other medications.
Nutrient deficiencies: A lack of essential nutrients such as iron, vitamin D, protein, zinc and biotin.
Stress: According to this study, women who experience high stress are 11 times more likely to experience hair loss.
Hairstyling: Tight hairstyling practices and treatments that involve chemicals or heat can damage hair follicles and lead to hair loss over time.
How does hair loss in women differ to hair loss in men?
Hair loss can differ in a variety of ways between men and women. For example, in androgenic alopecia (which is affected by fluctuations in testosterone levels), the typical pattern of hair loss in men is a receding hair line and thinning at the crown of the head, which can lead to complete baldness over time.
In women, however, the hair loss usually affects the entire scalp, leading to an overall thinning of hair. Additionally, the age of onset for androgenic alopecia in men is usually after puberty, while in women it often develops much later; during or after menopause.
The major difference in hair loss between men and women relates to hormonal factors, due to the differences in endogenous hormones between sexes. For example, androgen hormones, (i.e. testosterone), can play a role in hair loss for both men and women. However, women experience more hormonal fluctuations throughout their lifetime, and are more susceptible to hormone imbalances, thyroid conditions and autoimmune disorders—all of which have the potential to cause hair loss.
Are we more susceptible to hair loss at different times in our lives?
Absolutely. Men are more susceptible to developing hair loss in their late teens or early twenties (after puberty). Women, on the other hand, are most likely to experience hair loss during postpartum— however, this should eventually resolve, with hair growth returning to normal after 3-4 months. In general, women are more susceptible to develop conditions that cause hair loss when they are experiencing significant hormone fluctuations, which of course includes puberty, pregnancy and menopause.
What is the difference between a normal amount of hair shedding vs hair loss?
Hair shedding is a natural part of the hair growth cycle, with a normal amount of shedding equating to about 70-100 hairs per day. If you are experience shedding of 100+ hairs daily, a sudden increase in hair loss, or visible thinning/bald patches on the scalp, then this would be considered abnormal and would warrant further investigation.
Are there certain scenarios where hair loss is permanent and scenarios where it can be treated?
As with any ongoing condition, treatment options and outcomes for hair loss will depend on the underlying cause. Due to the complexity of hair loss conditions, determining this can often be challenging. However, if you can identify the cause and find appropriate treatment, then hair loss can be minimised, prevented and even reversed.
In the cases where hair loss is permanent, this usually relates to hereditary factors or conditions where the hair follicle has been permanently altered, such as scarring alopecia.
Do you have any tips to encourage hair growth and thickness?
Aside from ruling out or treating the underlying cause, the two best general ways to encourage hair to regrow or thicken up are:
Nourishment: Proper nutrition is essential for promoting hair growth, with particular focus on hair-loving nutrients such as zinc, iron, biotin, vitamin D and of course protein, as it makes up the building blocks of hair. These nutrients can be found in lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and leafy greens, however, additional supplementation may be necessary in those that are wanting to address deficiency.
Circulation: Blood vessels within the scalp nourish the growing hair follicle and promote the transition of the “resting” hair follicle into a “growth stage” follicle. This is why conventional medications and treatments for hair growth often aim to increase the circulation of blood to the area. A way to do this is through daily vigorous scalp massage, as well as topical treatments that increase circulation such as rosemary oil^.
^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;13(1):15-21.