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common conditions

Does hair loss treatment work?

Hair loss in women is less common but, as with men, it’s a normal part of the ageing process.

By the age of 50, most of us will have experienced some hair loss. Hair density decreases over the decades – and for some it’s so gradual we don’t even notice it.

Here are the facts about hair loss in men and women, hair loss treatment and, importantly, how to slow down or prevent hair loss.

Does hair loss happen for both men and women?

“Noticeable hair loss normally begins in the late teens or early 20s for men, but in either sex, thinning can start as early as age 15,” says Kay Fitzgerald, a trichologist – a specialist who focuses on hair loss and the diagnosis and support of conditions relating to it.

A trichologist can help with conditions related to hair dryness, breakage and loss. If your concern is related to skin on the scalp – like alopecia, scarring, parasites and potential malignancies – see a dermatologist.

Hair loss in men

By the age of 50, half of all men will have developed what’s called ‘male pattern baldness’, which is the most common form of baldness.

Male pattern baldness first appears as a receding hairline or a bald spot on the crown of the head, which then progresses all over the top of the head.

“The thinning of hair with men can occur quickly or slowly and is a result of the length of the hair-growth cycle becoming shorter,” says trichologist David Salinger.

“Eventually, the hair follicle may stop producing any hair.”

Hair loss in women

About 20% of women will experience moderate to severe hair loss over their lifetime.

Female pattern thinning tends to be widespread on the scalp, with thinned areas at the crown and part-line becoming more noticeable over time.

Fewer than 5% of women will go on to experience what we know as baldness – and for those people, there can be serious psychological impacts.

“While men are more affected because their hair loss is more severe and noticeable, women form the majority of patients who see a trichologist because men are conditioned to accept it more,” says David.

“Hair loss can be traumatic for women, resulting in self-consciousness and isolation.”

What causes hair loss and baldness?

The main cause of hair loss and baldness, according to experts, is the interplay between genetics and ageing. Some people are simply more susceptible to baldness because of genes they inherit from their parents. So powerful is this relationship that identical twins can lose hair at the same age, in the same pattern and at the same rate.

And as we get older, the rate of hair growth slows.

“It’s the same phenomenon as going grey,” says Kay. “Hair growth slows down as we age, just as melanin [a natural pigment responsible for determining hair colour] production slows. It’s rare that an older person will have a full head of hair, or no greys.”

As for the differences between the sexes, “the higher levels of male sex hormones in men, as compared to women, explain why men can eventually go bald”, says David.

“Women have both female and male sex hormones. In a simplistic sense, oestrogen is good for the hair, and the male hormones are detrimental to it.”

This is why hair loss might happen at the end of a woman’s menstrual years. “Hair thinning during menopause is due to decreased oestrogen, which allows the male hormones to have a greater influence on the hair,” says David.

Kay says life events may also cause women to shed hair, like:

“Generally, hair tends to grow back after these episodes, though a large shed of hair may expose female pattern hair loss.”

Women can inherit the genes for female pattern hair loss.

If you’re concerned about hair loss or baldness, a trichologist can examine your hair and scalp, and talk you through treatment options.

Hair loss treatment

There’s no cure for the condition but hair loss treatment can sometimes slow or reduce the condition.

“Prescription medication is the most effective route for hair regrowth if the problem is caught early,” says Kay.

“Remember some heavily marketed products don’t work – shampoos and potions are unlikely to help with regrowth, though topical serums can help in mild cases.”

Hair transplant surgery can work for male pattern baldness, but there are potential risks to be considered.

How to reduce the risk of hair loss

Here are practical tips to try to keep your hair for longer:

  1. Avoid overheating and styling
    “And the overuse of products, which can fracture the shaft and cause hair to break off easily,” says David.
  2. Protect your hair from the sun
    UV damage from the sun can cause hair breakage. Wearing a hat is both a prevention and a way to manage hair loss.
  3. Try to get enough sleep
    “When we sleep we produce more melatonin [a hormone that increases with evening darkness], which is beneficial for the hair because it prolongs the growth phase of the hair,” says David.
Words by Susanna Nelson
This article first appeared in the July 2021 edition of Health Agenda magazine

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