Causes of Hair Loss and Breakage

By Venice Kichura

  • Overview

    Causes of Hair Loss and Breakage
    Losing hair is normal, with an average person shedding about 100 to 150 hairs daily (see Resources). Ironically, people with thick hair lose more than those with thin hair. However, some people have more hair fall out than normal, causing them no small amount of concern. Via aging, hormonal changes, genetics and other internal and external causes, hair can thin and baldness can even set in. Hair breakage can be just as devastating, with 41 percent of American women battling this problem daily.
  • Identification

    Hair loss (alopecia) can either be a small loss or total baldness. The term alopecia refers to any hair loss, rather than a particular form. Although a Latin word, alopecia comes from the Greek word "alopkia," meaning "fox." Interestingly, alopecia is mange in foxes. The cuticle (outer layer of hair) is composed of dead cells, which protect the middle layer (cortex), making up most of the hair. When cuticle protection weakens, breakage and split ends result. Most often, this happens when hair is dry or over-processed.
  • Causes of Hair Loss in Women

    Acute telogen effluvium is caused by stress, such as childbirth, resulting in the roots of the hair being pushed prematurely into a resting state. This can also occur when a women goes off birth-control pills. Other causes include severe illnesses such as thyroid disorders (either under- or overactive), major surgery, high fevers, diets lacking in protein, various medications and severe physical illness. If the cause is unclear, a blood test should be done to find shortages, such as a lack of iron. Chronic telogen effluvium, which is usually seen in women between 30 and 60 years old, also often happens to women in their teens and 20s who have thick hair. For unknown reasons, their entire scalp is affected. Although there's much initial shedding, it levels off without causing complete baldness. Areata hair loss refers to the phenomenon of round patches of hair falling out unexpectedly. Again, for unclear reasons, someone immune cells invade hair-growing tissue. Although hair falls at first, new hair does grow back. Hair loss as a result of rare diseases is hard to treat because of a lack of research. Even if a cause is found, dermatologists usually can't treat it.

  • Causes of Male Hair Loss

    The most common reason for men to lose their hair is hereditary: a condition known as male-pattern baldness. This condition usually involves a receding hairline, with baldness on the top of the head. The condition is more extensive for men who begin losing hair earlier in life. About half of all men are affected, while around q/3 of women have it--most often following menopause, when it's predominately seen over the front and top of the head. When a hair is shed, a root grows in its place, although shorter. That's why it eventually appears as invisible peach fuzz. This hair loss is sometimes genetic. Although genetic reasons are usually the cause, environmental issues can also be a factor.
  • Extenal Causes

    Weathering, mostly seen in the split ends of longer hair, is caused by overexposure to external elements for a long time, such as too much sun. Another example is over-washing hair, which can dry it out and cause breakage. Cosmetic over-processing, such as over-coloring, can cause hair to break off or split. Overuse of hair relaxers can be another cause. Internalized grief over external circumstances can cause hair loss, as can ringworms.
    Split Ends
  • Medicines That Cause Hair Loss

    Besides chemotherapy, which causes hair loss when used to treat cancer, other medications can also make you lose hair. These include blood thinners (anticoagulants), gout medicines, antidepressants, birth-control pills and vitamin A (when taken excessively). The good news is that hair can grow back when the medications stop.
  • Misconceptions

    There are many myths related to hair loss. For example, it's believed that wearing tight hats will cause baldness. Mostly likely, this misconception began because young men who had to wear headgear to participate in the military looked like they were going bald. Interestingly, the age at which men begin serving in the military matches the age of beginning male hair loss. Rather than the wearing of tight hats, hair loss and breakage are due to hydrotestoterone.
  • Warnings

    Don't over-comb wet hair, as this can cause breakage and hair loss. Also, be careful about overusing hair curlers and curling irons, which can also result in split ends.
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