There are several components of our body that subtly add to its aesthetics, and we cannot talk about this without mentioning the skin and hair. Human hairs are strands of non-living biological materials that cover our skin’s surface. It is not evenly distributed throughout the skin, which is why there are more in some areas than the others. Hairs can vary in color, texture, distribution, and quantity in different or even the same individuals. These attributes are usually determined by a person’s race, gender, age, and environment.
This part of our body that, depending on the individual, can be the most pampered or the most mistreated is essential and can critically influence our physical appearance and facial expressions, thereby affecting our daily choices. Outside aesthetics, our hairs are also important in other variety of ways, like the following:
Our hairs are generally protective–adding one more layer of a protective coat over the skin. Also, the eyelashes essentially protect the eyes, shielding them from too much exposure to sunlight, dust particles, and sweat.
The fine hairs covering most parts of our body give us an extra tactile perception. On the other hand, the wooly ones on the head can reduce the pain and force of impacts of objects to our head.
Body temperature regulation:
When we are cold, the piloerector muscles beneath our skin are stimulated to contract, thereby raising the hairs superficially and allowing them to trap air in-between their spaces. This trapped air acts as an insulator to prevent heat loss. When we are hot, the hairs go flaccid, allowing heat dissipation.
Medical reasons why you may lose your hair
Via the hair cycle, it is healthy to regenerate and lose between 50-100 strands of hair daily out of the over 100,000 hairs on our head. However, in some medical conditions, the balance might tilt towards more hair losses than regeneration, creating either a localized or generalized sparsity of hair that can be gradual or abrupt.
Some of these hair losses may be temporary or gradual, depending on the cause, and are unlikely to be noticed until a significant amount of hair has been lost.
Here are some of the common medical causes of hair loss:
This is the most common cause of non-scarring hair loss, occurring in predisposed people who experience a particular configuration of hair loss due to their genetic makeup. This gradual and mannered erosion of hair is more common in males, which is referred to as Male Pattern Baldness–a sex-linked inherited disorder that manifests itself only in males, leaving out females as carriers.
Male Pattern Baldness manifests in young males as a permanent and gradual loss of the frontal hair, especially at the sides. However, it can also be seen in females where it is milder and occur at a later age. Fortunately, the process can be slowed in both males and females.
Drugs and Radiation Therapies:
One of the side-effects of many drugs of important therapeutic usage can include hair loss, which is reversible and not localized. Some of these drugs include antiviral agents (pegylated interferon) anticoagulants (heparin), and antiepileptics (valproate).
This is an exfoliative redness of the skin, giving it the name “Pink disease.” It is often immune-mediated or drug-induced, causing a non-scarring generalized hair loss due to the weakness of the hair follicles and subsequent detachment of hairs.
Trauma to the scalp:
A severe injury to the scalp may lead to edema and inflammation of the scalp, weakening hair follicles and causing the detachment of hair. If the injury is penetrative and causes a wound, the wound may heal with a scar, leading to a permanent loss and inability to grow hair on the affected area.
Poor or irregular consumption of diets rich in protein and minerals, like Zinc, is medically known as kwashiorkor and acrodermatitis enteropathica respectively. Both of these health conditions are more common in children. It can be resolved by proper nutrition.
Aberrant endocrine conditions, like gonadal deficiency, as well as hyper- and hypothyroidism, are also known to cause hair thinning due to the inadequate stimulation of hair growth. Therefore, people experiencing these conditions lose the ability to replace the normally lost hairs.
This is an autoimmune disease that can occur due to the disorders of other body organs. It is usually seen in children and young adults with a characteristic pattern of hair loss and regrowth.
It is caused by an immune attack on hair follicles, causing the loss of all body hairs, including the eyebrows. The other form of alopecia is traction alopecia.
Infections of the scalp:
When foreign organisms invade the hair follicles (as in bacteria or fungal folliculitis) or the scalp (as in tinea capitis), it can cause scaling of the affected scalp, leading to hair loss in the area. It appears to be common in children and Africans due to their higher prevalence of these infections. Hair growth can be restored after the infection has been treated and the inflammation regressed.
Pregnancy and chronic illness:
Pregnancy and many chronic ailments, like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), psoriasis, and dermatitis, can cause a one-time generalized hair loss. This occurs due to the stressful nature of these events, making the body shed off most of its hair, which regrows later.
Aging and menopause:
Loss of hair, especially in genetically predisposed persons, generally increases with age. Women in the postmenopausal state also experience a gradual recession of their hairline due to changes in hormonal levels.
This is a non-infective dermatological condition, which is usually secondary to a primary cause such as hepatitis C virus, drug reaction, and autoimmunity. It manifests as a red appearance, itchy bumps on the skin causing thinning of the hairs, and loss of hair in patches.
Discoid Lupus Erythematosus:
Named after the characteristic shape of skin lesion it produces, it is an autoimmune disease, just like Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), that affects the skin, causing severe rashes that are sensitive to sunlight. It leaves the skin with a permanent scar that effectuates an irreversible loss of hair.
This is a psychiatric disorder characterized by an excessive urge to pull out one’s hair, usually the hairs of the head, like the eyebrows, eyelashes, and especially the hair on the scalp. Patients with this condition appear to pull out patches of hair from a particular spot. It is more common in children and women at the start of their menstrual cycle.
What to do
It may be difficult to notice when your hair starts thinning or falling off, and you may first notice it only by the presence of unusual chunks of hair on your comb or by observing your hair thinning while looking at your mirror. In any of these cases, visit a health provider so they can do a proper examination on you to discern the cause. They can then model your treatment according to the cause.
According to Dr. Andrew Kwak, who runs a Philadelphia hair restoration clinic, the goal is to treat the underlying cause and allow the hair some time to regrow or to give hair growth-inducing medications, like minoxidil. This is usually applicable in cases of reversible hair losses. However, if it is irreversible hair transplant or scalp reduction surgery may be done.
Hair is a basic part of our aesthetics and daily life. Keeping it fresh, full, and healthy remains of utmost importance in ensuring that its integrity is maintained. Here are several easy dos and don’ts that can help maintain your hair’s health.
- Having a regular balanced diet rich in proteins, fatty acids, and minerals will keep your hair full and shiny. This is because it’ll always make the micro-elements necessary for hair growth to be readily available. It’ll also avoid nutrition deficiency-induced hair loss.
- Keeping the hair hydrated, safe, and infection-free is another secret to healthy hair. This will help you avoid hair loss due to folliculitis and fungal infestations.
- Using the proper hair care products that best suit your hair is also necessary to safeguard your hair. Avoid using corrosive or reactive chemicals on your hair as they can cause scaling and irreversible hair loss.
- Other routine hair care habits include washing, combing, and brushing the hair regularly, keeping it dry to prevent the breeding of microorganisms. Also, get a regular haircut.
Good-looking hair is a mark of beauty. Though some medical causes of hair loss are genetic and irreversible, the process of hair loss can be slowed down to the minimum in these persons. Advances in science and technology have also given us a glimpse of hope in the treatment of medical conditions that cause irreversible hair loss. More effective drugs that can handle endocrine and autoimmune causes of hair loss are also being developed and tested.