Hair Loss: An Overview

Everything you need to know about hair loss, including what causes it and what treatment and support options are available for those affected by it.

What causes hair loss?

There are a number of causes of hair loss including ageing, illness and genetics. Hair loss is a normal part of daily life, with people losing between 50 and 100 hairs a day on average.

Some types of hair loss are permanent, as you will find below, though other instances of hair loss are temporary, triggered by factors such as stress, illness, weight loss or even an iron deficiency.

How can hair loss look?

Hair loss takes a number of different forms, depending on the root cause of it:

  • Gradual thinning on the top of the head. Can affect both men and women as they age, making it one of the most common forms of hair loss. In men, the thinning takes the form of a receding hairline from the forehead backwards. In women, thinning takes the form of a broadening outwards from the hair parting.
  • Circular or patchy bald spots. Coin-sized bald spots, usually just on the scalp, but occasionally affecting the eyebrows or beard. The skin can become itchy or painful before the hair falls out.
  • Sudden loosening of the hair. Handfuls of hair may come loose when combing, washing the hair or even as you run your fingers through it. Hair loss of this kind generally causes hair thinning rather than the bald spots described above.
  • Full body hair loss. The result of medical treatments or conditions, full body hair loss results in the loss of hair from all over the body, not just the head. This hair generally tends to grow back after the treatment is completed or the worst of the condition has passed.

What mental health support can I get if I develop hair loss?

If your hair loss is causing you distress, speak to a doctor to be put into contact with a counsellor, or support group comprised of people in the exact same situation as you.

How can I avoid hair loss?

There are a number of strategies you can implement to reduce your risk of developing hair loss, or at the very least prevent further hair loss:

  • Avoid hairstyles that put too much strain on your hair like braids, ponytails and buns
  • Avoid pulling, twisting or rubbing your hair unnecessarily
  • Eat a balanced diet with plenty of iron and protein
  • Use a gentle shampoo, and unless your hair is particularly oily, consider only washing your hair every other day

Avoid, or at least limit your usage of the following if hair loss is a concern for you:

  • Hair dryers
  • Colouring
  • Hair straighteners
  • Bleaching
  • Perms
  • Relaxers
  • Heated combs

The damage from hair styling products like straighteners is limited somewhat if the hair is dry when they are used, and if they are used on the lowest heat settings possible.

How common is hair loss?

One of the UK’s leading hair loss clinics reports that 40% of women and a third of men aged over 25 struggle with hair loss. As hair loss generally increases over time, these percentages rise to 70% prevalence in men aged 70 or over. In fact, 39% of men lose their hair altogether.

With all of this in mind, it is no wonder that surveys have shown that British men fear losing their hair more than they fear losing their job.

What types of hair loss are there?

Some of the most common causes of hair loss in the UK today.

Your hair loss questions, answered

Illustration of a consultation between patient and doctor

With a physical examination, doctors and dermatologists can often determine the root cause of your hair loss. From here, they may be able to suggest dietary changes or prescription medications that should help.

It may take time to determine the exact cause of your hair loss, however. When autoimmune or skin disease is suspected, a biopsy may need to be obtained – that is, a small section of skin will need to be collected and sent to a laboratory for testing. More often than not, a physical examination is all that is needed, but it is worth being aware of the alternative diagnostic approaches if they do become relevant for your case of hair loss.

Medication is usually the first port of call in cases of hair loss. Over-the-counter solutions are available in the form of topical creams and gels applied directly to the scalp. Prescribed oral solutions are available too, though it is worth paying close attention to the side effects of these medications (examples include a change in libido) – as some patients may not feel strongly enough about their hair loss to tolerate the side effects that come with prescribed hair loss medications.

Hair transplant surgery is another option available to patients, moving small plugs of skin, with a few hairs in each, to bald parts of the scalp. This procedure is expensive, however, and carries risks of scarring and patchy hair growth. Micropigmentation is another option, which is essentially a tattoo designed resemble a shaved or closely clipped hairstyle.

As long as your hair loss isn’t hereditary, in which case it is more difficult to treat, hair loss can be halted or even reversed with the correct courses of treatment.

Illustration of a consultation between patient and doctor