What Causes Alopecia?

What causes Alopecia or hair loss and what alternatives are there?

The human hair varies widely in its color and texture. Also thickness and the amount of body hair a person has depends on age, sex, race and their genetic makeup. Hair grows everywhere on the body except the palms of our hands and soles of our feet. Many hairs are so fine they are vitually invisible, while others are so course that we relax, bleach, dye or remove them to achieve a smoother look. Whether it is course, fine, thick, wavy, curly or straight, it is the hair on our heads that causes us the most concern. When we start to lose it there, it is considered alopecia.

Basically hair is made up of a protein called keratin, the hair you can see above the skin level is a string of dead keratin cells. The average adult loses up to 100 of them a day. This is normal and even losing up to 300 a day can be alright, if the person has thick hair.

A gradual thinning of the hair is natural in both men and women with aging. This is known as involutional alopecia. The hair follicles go into a telogenic or resting stage. The remaining hairs become shorter and fewer in number. Androgenic alopecia is a genetically predisposed condition that affects both men and women. Men can begin losing their hair as early as their teens or early 20's. A receeding hairline and gradual disappearance of hair from the crown is called male pattern baldness. Most women don't have noticable thinning hair until their 40's or later. In women, female pattern baldness is typically a general thinning over the entire scalp, with the most hair loss at the crown.

Patchy hair loss in children and young adults, is called alopecia areata and is usually sudden in onset. This sometimes results in complete baldness, but in 90% of cases the hair returns within a few years. Alopecia universalis results in all the hair on the body falling out (including the eye brows and lashes) with a slight chance of regrowth, especially when it occurs in children. It is currently unknown why alopecia areata and alopecia unversalis occur. Although most cases of alopecia areata are resolved naturally, some doctors may try to speed recovery with hormone therapy or corticosteroid therapy. The treatment can be long and painful and may cause permanent scarring on the scalp brought on by atrophy.

There are many unatural causes for premature hair loss. Bleaching, dyeing, permanent waves, tight brading, blow drying, hot curlers, using hair picks and other chemical preparations can contribute to overall thinning by making hair weak and brittle and by causing the hair follicles to scar. In most cases the hair grows with proper care when the the source of the damage is removed. But severe damage to the scalp or follicles can cause permanent bald patches.

Temporary hair loss can be caused by a high fever, severe illness, thyroid disorders, vitamin deficiencies, drug treatment (like chemotherapy, anticoagulants and retinoids), beta blockers (to lower blood pressure)and oral contraceptives. It also can be caused by x-rays, scalp injuries and exposure to chemicals (including those to purify pool water, cleaning supplies and other chemical agents).

Remedies that promise to restore hair to a balding head have been around for centuries. Very little can atually be done to reverse the process. Preparations containing minoxidil appear to to provide moderate regrowth on balding spots, it seems to work better in younger people that have just started to lose their hair. More than 50% of minoxidil users claim that it thickens hair and slows future hairloss, but the one drawback is you must continue to use it or hair loss will continue. Some users experience skin irritation, resulting in further hair loss. A new oral drug called Propecia is currently on the market. It has shown marked success but with all medications, there are side effects and should be discussed with your doctor before being taken.

Hair transplantation involves the relocation of plugs of skin from parts of the scalp containing active hair follicles to bald areas. A form of cosmetic surgery called scalp reduction involves tightening the scalp so that hair-bearing skin from the back and sides of the had is pulled toward the crown. Like hair transplants, the process is both painful and expensive, it also does nothing to stop genetic or age-related hair loss.

For cosmetic reasons, many people turn to wigs, hair pieces and weaving or even tattooing to replace lost eye brows and eye lashes. You cannot reverse natural balding, but you can protect the hair you do have from damage that can lead to thinning. People who leave there hair its natural color and texture will end up with healthier hair. By using shampoo designed for your hair type and taking care of your hair you can help to keep the hair you have. Proper brushing can help to condition your hair by distributing its natural oils and protecting the hair follicles. Never brush your hair when it is wet, this put too much stress on the hair and can cause it to break or splinter. Remeber, because hair is not living tissue it cannot repair itself.

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