Hair loss is a big worry to many people, both male and female. If you have a worrying amount of hair in the basin after shampooing, you may think you are on the way to baldness, but this is not usually the case. The 50–100 hairs that everyone loses each day often become tangled with the rest of the hair, but are washed out when we shampoo. So we see what seems like a lot of hair in the basin after shampooing, but in reality these hairs have been shed earlier.
Of course, bald areas are an obvious sign of hair loss, but otherwise it can be difficult to tell whether your hair is getting thinner. To find out, try the tug test. Hold a small bunch of hair – about 15 or 20 hairs – between the thumb and index finger. Pull slowly and firmly. If more than six hairs come out there may be a problem.
How hair grows
Stages of hair growth
- The first phase is the growing stage. Hair grows at about 1 cm each month, and this phase lasts for anything between 2 and 5 years.
- This is followed by a resting stage, during which there is no growth. This phase lasts about 5 months, and is called telogen.
- At the end of the resting phase, the hair is shed and the follicle starts to grow a new one.
- At any moment, about 90% of the hair follicles of the scalp are growing hairs in the first phase; only about 10% are in the resting phase.
- If a follicle is destroyed for any reason, no new hair will grow from it.
What happens to cause baldness
Common beliefs about hair loss – true or false?
True. Styles that put tension on the hairs – such as tight ponytails, plaits or corn-rows – can cause hair loss. Winding hair tightly onto rollers (particularly heated rollers) can have the same damaging effect.
True, if not done properly. If the hair extensions are too tight, they can pull on the hairs and cause bald patches (which in severe cases could be permanent).
False. Vigorous brushing is more likely to injure the hairs and make the problem worse.
False. Hair does not need to breathe. Only the root of the hair is alive and this gets its oxygen from the blood in the scalp. Wigs and hairpieces will damage hair only if they are too tight.
False. Shampooing simply gets rid of the hairs that have already fallen out.
True. The reason is that extreme heat damages the proteins in the hairs, making them fragile and liable to break off. Brushing the hair during blow-drying causes more damage. Careless use of heated brushes or heated hair straighteners can even burn the scalp, so that the hair follicles are permanently damaged in that area.
False. Protein-containing conditioners only temporarily fill in defects on the surface of the hair shaft, making it smoother and thicker.
False. Hair dyes, perms and hairsprays do not affect thinning hair. Perms and hairsprays can help to disguise the problem.
False. A tendency to baldness is inherited and probably involves a combination of genes. So you are not automatically in the clear even if your father has a full head of hair. It is not true, as sometimes claimed, that only genes from the mother’s side are involved.
True to some extent. A study has found that men who had lost hair at the crown of the head had a 40% increased chance of coronary heart disease. Hair loss at the front of the head (a receding hairline) increased the risk by 28% (American Journal of Epidemiology 2008;167:676–83). So if you have male pattern baldness you should stop smoking, eat healthily, have your blood pressure checked and do some exercise.
Probably false. There is no evidence that low zinc levels cause hair loss in people taking a balanced diet or that zinc supplements reduce hair loss.
True. Scientists have now identified some chemicals that are produced in the body during periods of stress, which can affect hair growth (Journal of Investigative Dermatology 2004;123:455–7).
True. A person aged 20–30 years typically has 615 hair follicles per square centimetre. The number falls to 485 by 50 years of age and to 435 at 80–90 years of age. Also each hair is thinner. So, with ageing, hair becomes both finer and sparser.
Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Wednesday, October 5th 2011
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We each have about 100 000 hairs on the scalp
It is normal to lose 50-100 hairs from the head each day
Each hair on the head grows for about 5 years before being shed
Eyebrow hairs grow for only 10 weeks
Scalp hair grows at a rate of about 1 cm (just under half an inch) a month
A survey has shown that about 7.9 million men and 1.6 million women in the UK have hair loss problems
Each year, American men spend about $900 million on efforts to regrow hair
In the USA and UK, there has not been a bald President or Prime Minister since the television age began
In Old Master paintings, saints are often depicted as bald