There are a number of hair loss causes that may be affecting you and here we'll help you identify which one is the culprit. This, of course, is the most important step in dealing with the problem and finding the best way to either stop it, or minimize the damage.
Important note: It's always a good idea to speak to your doctor if you're losing your hair, as he or she is both familiar with your medical history and is the best person to offer you medical advice. The information presented here, whilst extensively researched and supported by links to appropriate medical sources, is NOT intended to replace professional medical advice.
According to the experts, we all lose somewhere between 50 to 100 hairs every day. Some days we may notice it more than others (when we've just washed our hair, for example) but that rate of hair loss should not cause our hair to become noticeably thin (particularly when you consider that there are around 100,000 hairs in the average scalp).
Source: Mayo Clinic
That being said, hair DOES thin as we age (known rather charmingly as senile alopecia!), but this is still considered within the realms of 'normal' hair loss.
You may be losing more hair than normal if...
Sometimes, the signs are just unmistakable, particularly with some types of alopecia that may leave distinct, round bald patches.
Female pattern baldness is a hereditary condition that - according to the American Academy of Dermatology - is the most common cause of hair loss in women. In fact, about 30 million women in America are affected right now - so if you suspect you're one of them, or if you've already been diagnosed with the condition, then you are most certainly not alone.
Female pattern baldness - also known as androgenetic alopecia - is most common in women in their 50s and 60s, but it CAN happen at any time... even as early as puberty.
If you're affected by female pattern baldness, you might have noticed that your hair has been thinning steadily over time, particularly at your hairline behind your bangs (fringe), or all over your scalp (this is called diffuse hair loss).
The condition can be passed down by one or both parents and it gets its name from the fact that it causes a 'pattern' of hair loss which may be permanent.
This is because the condition causes the hair follicles to shrink over time. In a normal situation, hairs that fall out are replaced with hairs of equal size - but with female pattern baldness, the shrinking follicles cause each new hair to be thinner and thinner. Eventually, the hair follicles just stop growing at all.
This damage to the follicles can be caused by their sensitivity to DHT (dihydrotestosterone). Yes, it's made from the male sex hormone testosterone, but it's present in our female bodies, too - and if we've inherited the susceptibility to it, then excessive hair loss is the result.
If your female relatives - mother, grandmother, aunts etc - suffered from female pattern baldness, then there's a good chance that the condition is what's causing YOUR hair loss. It's important to discuss this with your doctor, who will go over your family history with you.
Your doctor or dermatologist may examine your scalp using
magnification to take a closer look at your hair follicles, in order to
determine whether or not the follicles vary in size (a factor that
strongly indicates female pattern baldness as the cause of your hair
loss). On some occasions a scalp biopsy is used to examine the follicles
and you may be given a blood test to rule out any other possible hair
It's not possible to prevent androgenetic alopecia, although some women feel theirs was triggered by taking birth control pills, perhaps by the changes in hormones caused by the pills themselves. If pattern baldness runs in YOUR family, we feel it's worth mentioning to your doctor when birth control pills are prescribed.
Female pattern baldness is not damaging to your health... but there's no doubt it's damaging to your confidence.
If it's been determined as the cause of your hair loss, then talk to your doctor about treatments like minoxidil, which can slow down the rate at which the hair falls out. There are also lots of cosmetic options available to help you hide your hair loss altogether.
Not to be confused with androgenetic alopecia (above), alopecia areata is a condition where the body's immune system - which usually protects the body from infection - actually ATTACKS the hair follicles.
If you're finding smooth, roundish bald patches on your scalp, then alopecia areata is the likely cause.
According to the NHS, up to 1 in 5 cases of alopecia is due to a genetic predisposition to the condition - in other words, if one or both of your parents had it, then this may make you somewhat more likely to develop it too.
It may also be more likely to occur if you have an existing autoimmune condition like diabetes or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).
The good news is that alopecia areata is treatable - your doctor may prescribe cortisone creams or injections, which are often effective in mild cases, or you may be offered oral tablets if your case is more severe. In some cases, the hair may even grow back by itself.
Occasionally, however, getting the hair to regrow can present a real challenge and the best option is to consider cosmetic ways of hiding the problem.
Only your doctor can give you a firm diagnosis of alopecia, which is reached after tests which may include a scalp biopsy, examination of the hairs themselves or - in some cases - blood tests.
Hormones have a lot to answer for... and hair loss is another problem in which they can play a part!
you're very likely aware, your hormones can be 'all over the place'
when you're pregnant and after having a baby. And many women notice that
- within 2 to 3 months of giving birth - they begin losing copious
amounts of hair.
So is this something to be concerned about?
answer is no - it may common, but this type of hair loss (called telogen effluvium) is temporary
and is caused by the hair moving too quickly through its growing phases,
arriving at the 'shedding' stage far more quickly than usual.
Although you might find yourself losing an alarming amount of hair while it lasts, things DO correct themselves and your locks WILL grow back.
Some women experience hair loss around the time of menopause. Whilst some medical sources suggest this is due to the hormonal imbalance, others feel there is no direct link between menopause and hair loss... it's simply the natural thinning of hair that comes with age.
changes may also trigger temporary hair loss in teenagers, which can be
quite devastating at a time when they are already insecure about their
If your doctor suspects telofen effluvium - one of the most common hair loss causes - he or she may be able to diagnose it by simply discussing recent life events with you. This often turns up the cause! Alternatively, (s)he might examine fallen hairs, looking for club-shaped bulbs on the roots. This can show that the hair has been through a full - but rather too speedy - cycle of growth.
Telogen effluvium causes an overall thinning of hair, rather than actual bald patches. Whilst we consider that to be a good thing, in our experience it can sometimes make it more difficult to persuade your doctor that you're actually experiencing hair loss at all... you may be written off as 'over anxious'. So prepare to defend yourself and fight your corner!
Pregnancy, childbirth and menopause are not the only conditions that can cause temporary hair loss like this... it can also be triggered by:
Another of the more common hair loss causes is medication! Yes, the sad fact is that whilst you may be prescribed a course of drugs to help you overcome one condition, that same medication can create a whole new problem for you.
The types of medication and treatments most commonly found to cause hair loss are...
With the exception of chemotherapy and radiotherapy - which trigger a type of hair loss called anagen effluvium, where the hair shaft is broken at scalp level and the hair loss is more extensive - these medications generally cause telogen effluvium. This means that the hair loss is temporary and your hair will grow back once the medications are stopped, or if your doctor recommends switching to a different drug.
Learn more and see our list of medications that cause hair loss
Note: Never stop taking prescribed medicine unless advised to do so by your doctor!
Whilst round, bald patches on the scalp often indicate alopecia areata, there could be another culprit... ringworm!
Learn more about scalp ringworm, also known as tinea capitis
Other hair loss causes include skin conditions like seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis.
Often these can be treated and the hair grows back - however, there are some skin conditions, like lupus and lichen planus, that cause scarring. The hair loss caused by the scarring is - unfortunately - permanent, so the best solution in this case is to look for a cosmetic way to cover the problem.
You are what you eat... and your diet can affect your hair, too. Although it may not be one of the more common hair loss causes, some people do find that nutritional factors most certainly play a part and that better nutrition improves their hair.
Factors that may contribute to loss of hair include...
*The Cotswold Trichology Centre in the UK actually suggests that low iron is one of THE most common hair loss causes, revealing that a study conducted on 1000 women showed 33% suffered from hair loss, with only 10% caused by female pattern baldness and a staggering 90% caused by low iron.
Sometimes, the things we do to make ourselves more beautiful become the source of our hair loss problems!
Traction alopecia is the name given to the condition where the hair falls out because it's under too much strain! This can be caused by tying it back too tightly on a regular basis or braiding it tightly into cornrows.
Learn more about traction alopecia
Weaves, too, place the hair follicles under constant strain, so it's best NOT to wear a weave all the time and to ensure that whoever applies your weave is properly trained to do so.
There are lots of other things we do in the name of beauty that can have a negative impact on our hair, including blow drying, straightening with flat irons, curling, dyeing etc. These tend to cause hair breakage rather than loss... the hair might FEEL a lot thinner, but the roots are undamaged. The good news is that this type of hair thinning is superficial - start taking care of your hair and treating it with respect and you'll see a big difference!
Allow your hair to dry naturally whenever possible and be careful of harsh hair clips, hair pins and - a big no-no - rubber bands with no fabric coating, which tend to tear the hair to pieces!
Avoid brushing your hair too much when it's wet (it's weaker then) and choose a good quality hairbrush.
If you're in a dry climate - or your air is dry because of indoor heating - try using a humidifier. It can make a HUGE difference to the strength of your hair.
If none of the conditions above apply to you, then here are a few more possible hair loss causes that you may wish to discuss with your doctor...
There are all sorts of myths about what can make your hair fall out... the most common being that hats are responsible! Your hats should be kept clean, of course, otherwise you may find yourself dealing with falling hair due to a skin infection... but that's about the only 'danger' they present.
Neither do shampoos, hair spray, hair gels or dandruff cause hair loss... although some cosmetic products may cause superficial damage to the hair shaft, as discussed earlier.
Other sources and references for more information:
We hope that this summary of hair loss causes has helped you identify which issues may be affecting you. That's an important first step in restoring or enhancing your hair and giving your confidence a boost.