Rinsing your leave-in conditioning treatment out, only to shiver as you see an entire clump of hair land at your feed before swirling down the plughole? First off: know that this is seriously common. Research indicates that one in three women will experience hair loss or hair thinning at some point in their lives–with a blend of reactive (such as stress levels) and genetic (such as a familial disposition to shrinking hair follicles) at work.
Here, a clutch of the UK’s leading experts fill you in on what might be going on, and how you can amp up your efforts to keep your tresses on your head.
Why is my hair falling out?
1/ You had COVID-19
We all know that Covid-19 is an aggressive virus that can damage our bodies from top to toe. It is now emerging that in some cases this can include hair loss. ‘The International Association of Trichologists has reported two different types of hair loss attributed to the virus,’ says Hair Loss Consultant Simone Thomas. She adds these are diffuse hair loss and alopecia areata.’
‘Scientists are still working to fully understand the way that Covid-19 attacks the body, but it’s clear that it prompts a strong response from the immune system. As the immune system fights back, the body’s resources are diverted to fighting the virus and protecting the vital organs,’ continues Thomas.
‘Hair is not vital for the body to function (it’s a cosmetic feature) so when our bodies are under attack or running on empty, it is one of the first things to be impacted in the case of a virus and any illness. You will find the hair growth cycle is disrupted, sometimes stopping altogether. The result can be sudden hair loss, which in the worst cases can be similar to that experienced by cancer patients after chemotherapy 70% – 100% complete hair loss.’
2/ You’re experiencing cumulative hair loss
This is when you’ve had a busy week and have taken to shoving your hair up into a top knot, braid or ponytail. When you do finally get round to giving it a wash, it’s likely that you’re going to have accumulated a lot more hair because it’s been tied up and hasn’t been able to shed at it’s daily rate–meaning that while it may look as if you’re losing more strands than usual, you’re actually not. If you’ve gone longer in between your usual hair washes, expect to see more lost hairs in your brush or disappearing down the drain.
3/ You’ve had braids or extensions in
Some hair styles can exacerbate hair loss. ‘Traction alopecia is caused when there has been too much physical stress placed on hair follicles, causing them to become damaged and fall. Hair that has been tightly braided, or hair extensions are often causes of this type of alopecia,’ says Fay Afghahi, Co-Founder at KeraHealth.
4/ You are super stressed
And, right now, who’s not? ‘The stress hormone, cortisol, makes the hair that is already grown move into the telogen part of the cycle much more quickly. Lockdown and the uncertainty that came with being stuck in the house will have caused a lot of stress on many people which is most likely the main cause of any shedding or hair-loss,’ reveals Dr Aragona Giuseppe, GP and Medical Advisor at Prescription Doctor.
‘Some stress sufferers also develop the habit of playing with their hair, or even pulling it out completely, as a coping mechanism. This is called trichotillomania and this will remove hair or weaken it as well,’ she adds.
Plus, stress can cause problems with appetite, and if you aren’t consuming enough vitamins and minerals your hair will become weak and fall out more readily. Reducing the stress in your life is perhaps easier said than done, but practices such as yoga, meditation and regular exercise might help.
5/ You’ve had a baby
It’s estimated at least 50% of women experience Post-Partum (PP) hair loss and it can
seem rather random as to why and who PP hair loss strikes. ‘Hormone levels and metabolism vary from pregnancy-to-pregnancy without us even being aware of it,’ reveals Trichologist Anabel Kingsley.
‘The widely accepted reason for PP hair loss is hormonal shifts – specifically relating to oestrogen, a female hormone that helps keep hairs in the anagen (growth) phase. During pregnancy, when oestrogen levels rise, it is common for more hairs to remain growing, and for less to be shed. Hair therefore often becomes thicker and more voluminous. After birth, when oestrogen levels drop, the extra hairs maintained during pregnancy shed in quite a short period of time,’ she adds.
This shedding makes sense, otherwise your hair would get progressively thicker after each recurrent pregnancy. That said, often the scale tips a bit too much and you end up losing, initially, more hair than you gained.
Kingsley adds: ‘PP hair loss has to be left to run its course and often resolves on its own with no treatment. However, there are certainly things you can do to prevent it from going on for longer than it should. For instance, by eating well, looking after your scalp and tackling any vitamin or mineral deficiencies.’
6/ Your genes are at play
Some women are more likely to see a reduction in hair volume at others as they get older, purely due to their genetic make-up. ‘It occurs when you have a genetic predisposition to follicle sensitivity – meaning that hair follicles on your scalp become sensitive to normal levels of circulating androgens (male hormones). When you have this sensitivity, hair follicles gradually shrink and produce strands of a slightly finer diameter and shorter length with each passing hair growth cycle. It is not that you are losing more hair than you should, it’s simply that replacement hairs are taking up less space,’ says Kingsley.
‘The best way to treat a gradual reduction in volume is to apply daily anti-androgenic scalp drops, which help to protect your hair follicles from the miniaturising effects of male hormones,’ advises Kingsley. She adds that it’s important to talk to your GP about the pros and cons of taking these and whether they are suitable options.
7/ You have PCOS
‘It is also important to assess whether an underlying factor is at play. Conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which can raise androgen levels, may worsen a genetic reduction in hair volume. Unfortunately, treating reduced volume is not quick. As it happens so slowly, it can take many years to become aware of it – and as a consequence, treatment takes time,’ says Kingsley. Think you might have PCOS? Check out the symptoms and ask to book in with your GP, to discuss.
8/ You’re not eating enough protein
Diet is incredibly important to hair health. Being a non-essential tissue, hair is the last part of us to benefit from nutrients we ingest, and the first to be withheld from. It’s actually pretty common for poor nutrition to be the sole cause of hair loss.
‘Protein is particularly essential as it is what your hair is made of. Animal proteins are necessarily ‘better’ – they are just easier. This is because animal proteins are ‘complete proteins’ meaning that they contain all essential amino acids (proteins your body cannot make on its own)’ says Kingsley.
‘There are eight essential amino acids in total and if you eat a piece of fish, chicken or an egg, your body is getting all of them. Plant proteins generally only contain some essential amino acids–the exceptions being quinoa and whey. This isn’t a bad thing – you simply have to food combine to ensure you are getting all of them. For instance, you can combine rice and beans, or tofu with pulses and nuts. If you plan correctly and are armed with the right information, a vegan diet can be great for your hair,’ she adds.
9/ You need to get your vitamins in
As well as protein, check if your diet is rich in the below, to ensure that your hair is getting the nutrients it needs.
- Complex carbohydrates which provide a slow and sustained release of energy to rapidly growing hair cells. Hair cells are the second fastest growing cells your body produces, so they’re energy demands are very high. You can get these in things like buckwheat, brown rice and oats.
- Omega 3 fatty acids found in algae supplements, oily fish and chia/flax seeds. These are anti-inflammatory and important for scalp health.
- Iron and Ferritin (stored iron) – needed to produce the protein your hair is made of. Ferritin deficiency is one of the most common causes of hair loss we see. Once you have iron deficiency, you need to take a supplement as diet alone will not be enough to raise your levels.
- Vitamin D, AKA ‘the sunshine vitamin (it is synthesised when rays hit your skin.) This is essential to healthy hair growth cycle – every hair follicle contains a Vitamin D receptor. This really does need to be taken in a supplement in the colder months, as you can only get 10% of Vitamin D through the foods you eat.
- Vitamin B12. This is only found naturally in animal products like meat, fish and eggs, so it is recommended vegans and vegetarians take a supplement containing Vitamin B12. Read up on how to nix Vitamin B12 deficiency, here.
- Biotin – helps your body to metabolise proteins and fats. Find it in avocado, egg yolks and liver.
Should I take a hair supplement?
Whether or not you need a supplement, and which one, depends on your diet, your activity levels, your stress levels (stress impedes nutrient absorption), and how well you naturally absorb nutrients. It also depends on how heavy your periods are. For instance, if you have heavy periods, chances are you will need to take a supplement containing iron.
‘Personally, I see supplements as offering a buffer. No one eats perfectly the whole time, and those busy days when you’re in too much of a rush to eat a proper lunch, or you grab something easy, but of low nutritional value, can take their toll on your strands. Supplements help to give your hair an extra helping hand – which is usually needed. As hair is the last part of you to receive nutrients you ingest, a healthy diet alone often isn’t enough to keep it functioning at its best,’ says Kingsley.
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