Hair loss is a complicated issue. Hair is a defining aspect of our physical appearance. Many people feel that their hair is one of the first things people notice about them. Some people think it's funny to make fun of people going bald, which makes hair loss devastating mentally even if it's not really impactful physically. Your hair is not a crucial organ necessary to your survival, but sometimes it sure feels like it is.
Hair loss can affect just the scalp, or it can affect all body hair. It also has a variety of different causes. As with any medical condition, treating hair loss depends on the cause of the hair loss, so step one is always to determine what the cause is for your particular hair loss.
Is Hair Loss Dangerous?
Before we dig in, first let's talk about the possible dangers of hair loss. Is hair loss dangerous? In most cases, no, it's not dangerous to your health at all. It may be harmful to your self-esteem if you pride yourself on your appearance. A significant loss of hair might result in sunburn on the scalp, which can be irritating or painful. Extremely prolonged sun exposure on the scalp can lead to skin cancer, but saying "hair loss causes skin cancer" is disingenuous at best.
There are, however, some rare occasions where hair loss may be dangerous. Rather, the hair loss itself is not dangerous, but the symptom of losing hair may be tied to some more underlying condition that is itself dangerous. For example, hormonal changes can cause hair loss, and a skin infection like ringworm in the scalp can cause localized hair loss until it is treated.
What Causes Hair Loss?
Did you know that everyone is losing some hair every day? The average person loses around 100 hairs every day, but it's not something you often notice, because your body is growing new hair to replace it at about the same rate.
Hair loss can be caused by a variety of different factors, which affect some people more than others. Sorry, but you may simply have lost the genetic lottery in this case.
Heredity and genetics can cause hair loss. Typically this is called either male-pattern or female-pattern baldness. Such hair loss is more or less inevitable for those who are genetically predisposed to it. In men, this kind of hair loss comes in the form of a receding hairline and bald spots, while in women it's more often thinning hair.
Stress is a common cause of hair loss. A single large stressful event, such as a surgery, a car accident, or an illness can cause hair loss. This type of hair loss is typically delayed; you'll find yourself losing hair weeks or months later. Losing hair like this can itself be stressful and can exacerbate the cycle, but don't be too concerned. Stress-related hair loss is temporary, so long as you alleviate the source of stress.
Fun fact: dramatic weight loss can cause hair loss due to stress. Even if weight loss is ultimately good for your body, a dramatic change is stress on the body while it struggles to adapt. You may experience temporary hair loss while your body reconfigures itself.
Smoking also causes hair loss, particularly in men. Smoking has a trillion different negative effects on the body, so it's no surprise that it can also cause hair loss.
Pregnancy can cause hair loss temporarily, both during and after. This kind of hair loss actually has three causes.
- While pregnant, your body is undergoing a lot of changes, including wild changes to your hormones. Hormonal changes are a common cause of hair loss, which is often temporary.
- The act of delivery is a traumatic experience for the human body and thus puts the body under a lot of stress. This large, singular stressful event causes temporary hair loss, as mentioned above.
- The act of caring for a child often means that child is pulling your hair or even playing with scissors while you nap on the couch, leading to hair loss.
Pregnancy-related hair loss is generally temporary, though of course the stress of raising a child or several children can be long-term.
Other hormone changes can also trigger hair loss. Birth control is one common example, but also the hormones used in gender reassignment therapy can trigger it as well. Hormone changes that may be triggering hair loss can also be a sign of issues with your thyroid.
Excessive Vitamin A is a cause of some kinds of hair loss. Believe it or not, even healthy vitamins can be detrimental when you take too much of them. Ever heard the phrase "too much of a good thing"? Vitamin A stimulates the hair growth cycle. The trouble is, part of that cycle is the natural shedding of hair to make room for new hair. Too much Vitamin A stimulates that cycle into overdrive, causing your hair to reach the "shed" phase much faster.
Now, obviously you should not try to cut out Vitamin A entirely when you're afraid of hair loss. Not having essential vitamins in your diet is very detrimental to your health. However, if you're experiencing hair loss and you're taking supplements, check if any of them have good old A in them. If so, discontinue those supplements.
Insufficient nutrient intake is another cause of hair loss. Your body needs nutrients to survive, and if you aren't getting enough of them, your body will adjust by reducing the expenditure on non-critical things like hair. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, hair loss can occur 2-3 months after a drop in protein intake. Iron deficiency can also lead to hair loss, particularly in women due to anemia. Low levels of Vitamin B can cause hair loss as well.
Other medications and supplements can have an adverse effect on hair growth as well. While Vitamin A is one of the primary causes, other medications can have hair loss as a side effect. This hair loss is typically temporary once you stop the medication, but consult your doctor before ceasing any treatment. Other drugs that lead to hair loss can include blood thinners, antidepressants, and NSAIDs.
The autoimmune disease Alopecia Areata is a hair loss disease. In it, your body's immune system goes into overdrive and mistakes hair as a foreign body, attacking it until it falls out. This can be treated via certain drugs but very much requires a consultation with your doctor.
Extreme issues such as cancer or radiation therapy lead to hair loss as well. Hair loss is a key characteristic of chemotherapy-based cancer treatments, and is typically temporary as long as you survive the therapy.
Finally, excessive treatments can lead to hair loss. We don't tend to think of our hair as alive, but it's a living part of our bodies, and excessive styling or treatments can damage it. Chemical treatments like bleach can damage hair, as can tight styles like weaves, corn rows, and tight braids.
Natural Remedies for Hair Loss
All of the above types of hair loss can fall into one of a few basic categories. Treatment for these categories of hair loss varies.
The first category is the hereditary hair loss. This is a very common age-related kind of hair loss, and while some treatments can delay it, it's difficult or impossible to stop completely. Refer to the natural remedies below for ideas you might be able to pursue.
The second category of hair loss is nutrient-based. Too much or too little of certain nutrients makes your body ignore your hair, causing it to fall out. Figure out what kinds of nutrients you're consuming with your diet and any supplements you're taking. A fitness or diet tracking app can help by recording nutrient values, so you can see if you're going under or over the recommended daily values.
The third category of hair loss is medication-related. Some prescription medications and even some over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen in high doses can cause hair loss. If a prescription medication may be causing hair loss, consult your doctor about alternatives. Never cease treatment without talking to your healthcare professional first, or the consequences may be far worse than just hair loss – and the stress can lead to hair loss anyway!
The fourth kind of hair loss is related to underlying medical conditions. Hormonal changes, pregnancy, autoimmune diseases, and other issues can all lead to hair loss. If your hair loss is sudden and you have not experienced any stressful events, dietary changes, or other major changes, talk to a doctor in case something deeper is going wrong.
So what kind of natural remedies might be available for hair loss?
A balanced diet is one of the best things you can do to help with your hair loss. Again, monitor what you're eating and what supplements and medications you're taking, and look for excesses or holes in your nutrients. In some cases, simply eating foods higher in protein, lower or higher in Vitamin A, or higher in Vitamin B and Iron can slow or reverse hair loss. Most forms of nutrient-related hair loss are temporary and last only as long as your diet is imbalanced, so long as you aren't also damaging your scalp physically as well.
What kinds of foods, specifically, can you consider eating more of? Dairy, fish, flaxseed, many vegetables, and other such foods are all good options.
Collagen supplements may have an impact on hair loss. Collagen is a type of protein with a lot of benefits throughout the body, but in particular it can help with hair growth, strength, and resilience.
Consider an iron supplement or a vitamin supplement if you may have low levels of relevant vitamins. Avoid taking Vitamin A supplements without testing, since an excess of Vitamin A can exacerbate hair loss.
A doctor can perform a simple blood test to check for things like an iron deficiency, and can prescribe precisely the right amount of a supplement to help restore balance in your body rather than going at it blindly with multivitamins. That said, a small dose multivitamin might be beneficial, as other minerals – like calcium, magnesium, and zinc – are all useful for hair health as well.
Stress-reduction techniques can be surprisingly effective for hair loss as well. Since stress is a primary cause of some types of hair loss, relaxation can help. Some people find simple exercise like Yoga to be helpful, while others might prefer aromatherapy and meditation. Find what works for you to reduce your own personal sources of stress.
Some people swear by certain natural treatments, though they seem to vary from person to person in how effective they can be. Here are some things you can rub into your hair and scalp for a few weeks or months to see if they help you specifically:
- Onion juice contains some nutrients, though you may want something to mask the smell.
- Biotin is full of vitamins and other healthy nutrients and can be found in both eggs and mushrooms. You can also try eating them for a tasty treat.
- Saw Palmetto is a fruit from a small palm tree that some people consider a hair loss wonder drug.
- Melatonin cream. Melatonin is a sleep aid when ingested, but when rubbed into the scalp may have some ability to delay hair loss.
- Various essential oils rubbed into the scalp can have a beneficial effect, though whether it's the oils or the massage is up to debate. Try pumpkinseed oil, lavender oil, thyme oil, or rosemary oil. As a bonus, you'll smell great too.
Regardless of what you're rubbing into your scalp, keep in mind that it takes as much as 2-3 months for your hair growth cycle to be altered in any way by anything from your diet to your treatments. Whatever you try, keep at it for at least that long.