21 Causes of Hair Loss—And What You Can Do About It
What causes hair loss?
It's true that men are more likely to lose their hair than women, but thinning hair and hair loss actually affects both sexes—and it's no more or less demoralizing for either. But here's the thing: There's no one reason behind hair loss—causes can range from the simple and temporary (like a vitamin deficiency) to the more complex, like an underlying health condition.
Luckily, there are also many ways to treat hair loss in both women and men (cause-dependent, of course) Here are some common and not-so-common reasons why you might be seeing less hair on your head—and what you can do about it.
You're super stressed out.
Any kind of physical trauma—surgery, a car accident, or an illness like the flu—can cause temporary hair loss; more specifically, a type of hair loss called telogen effluvium, which, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, occurs when stress causes hair roots to be pushed prematurely into their resting or shedding states.
See, hair has a programmed life cycle: a growth phase, an rest phase and a shedding phase. “When you have a really stressful event, it can shock the hair cycle, (pushing) more hair into the shedding phase,” explains Marc Glashofer, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. Hair loss often becomes noticeable three-to-six months after the trauma.
Again (luckily), this is only temporary and hair will start to grow back as your body recovers from the stressors in your life.
RELATED: 7 Easy Ways to Manage Stress
Pregnancy is one example of the type of physical stress that can cause hair loss (that and hormones). Pregnancy-related hair loss is seen more commonly after your baby has been delivered rather than actually during pregnancy. “Giving birth is pretty traumatic,” says Dr. Glashofer.
If you do experience hair loss after pregnancy, rest assured that your hair will grow back in a couple of months. “It’s a normal thing and it will work its way out,” Dr. Glashofer says.
You're getting too much vitamin A
Overdoing vitamin A-containing supplements or medications can trigger hair loss, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Just FYI: The Daily Value for vitamin A is 5,000 International Units (IU) per day for adults and kids over age 4; supplements can contain 2,500 to 10,000 IU. So any more than that and you could risk some strands falling out.
The good news: This is also a reversible cause of hair loss, and once the excess vitamin A is halted, hair should start growing normally again.
You're not eating enough protein.
If you don't get enough protein in your diet, your body may ration protein by shutting down hair growth, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. This can happen about two to three months after a drop in protein intake.
This type of hair loss, too, is totally temporary can can be remedied by increasing your protein intake. And, good news: There are many great sources of protein, including fish, meat, and eggs. If you don't eat meat or animal products, there are also tons of vegan and vegetarian protein sources.
You have female– or male–pattern baldness.
You might already know about male–pattern baldness, a type of hair loss caused by a combo of genes and male sex hormones that usually makes the hair on a man's head recede at the temples, leaving an M–shaped hairline.
But hormone-related hairloss for females—or female–pattern baldness—is also a thing, according to the US National Institute of Health. This type of hair loss occurs (in both men and women) when the hair follicle shrinks so much over time that it doesn't grow new hair. In women, the symptoms of female–pattern baldness includes a widening of the center hair part, and, sometimes, coarser hair on the face.
The only FDA–approved treatment for female– and male–pattern hair is minoxidil (Rogaine; $45 on amazon.com), but if that doesn't work, your doctor may prescribe oral medications such as finasteride (Propecia) that can halt hair loss or even cause some to grow; surgery to transplant or graft hair is also an option.
Your mom lost her hair, too.
“If you come from a family where women started to have hair loss at a certain age, then you might be more prone to it,” says Dr. Glashofer. Unlike men, women don't tend to have a receding hairline, instead their part may widen and they may have noticeable thinning of hair. This is also known as female–pattern baldness.
Women may benefit from minoxidil (Rogaine) to help grow hair, or at least, maintain the hair you have, Dr. Glashofer says. Rogaine is available over-the-counter and is approved for women with this type of hair loss.
Your hormones are changing.
Just as pregnancy hormone changes can cause hair loss, so can switching or going off birth-control pills. This can also cause telogen effluvium, and it may be more likely if you have a family history of hair loss. The change in the hormonal balance that occurs at menopause may also have the same result. “The androgen (male hormone) receptors on the scalp becoming activated,” explains Mark Hammonds, MD, a dermatologist with Scott & White Clinic in Round Rock, Texas. “The hair follicles will miniaturize and then you start to lose more hair.”
What to do: If a new Rx is a problem, switch back or talk to your doctor about other birth control types. Stopping oral contraceptives can also sometimes cause hair loss, but this is temporary, says Dr. Hammonds.
Your emotions are at an all-time high.
Emotional stress is less likely to cause hair loss than physical stress, but it can happen, like after a divorce or the death of a loved one. More often, though, emotional stress won't actually precipitate the hair loss. It will exacerbate a problem that's already there, says Dr. Glashofer.
Luckily, as with hair loss due to physical stress, this shedding will eventually abate. While it's not known if reducing stress can help your hair, it can't hurt either. Take steps to combat stress and anxiety, like getting more exercise, trying talk therapy, or getting more support if you need it.
RELATED: 25 Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health
Almost one in 10 women aged 20 through 49 suffers from anemia due to an iron deficiency (the most common type of anemia), which is an easily fixable cause of hair loss. You doctor will have to do a blood test to determine for sure if you have this type of anemia.
A simple iron supplement should correct the problem. In addition to hair loss, other symptoms of anemia include fatigue, headache, dizziness, pale skin, and cold hands and feet.
You have hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is the medical term for having an underactive thyroid gland. This little gland located in your neck produces hormones that are critical to metabolism as well as growth and development and, when it’s not pumping out enough hormones, can contribute to hair loss. Your doctor can do tests to determine the real cause
Synthetic thyroid medication will take care of the problem. Once your thyroid levels return to normal, so should your hair.
You have a vitamin B deficiency.
Although relatively uncommon in the US, low levels of vitamin B are another correctible cause of hair loss.
Like anemia, simple supplementation should help the problem. So can dietary changes. Find natural vitamin B in fish, meat, starchy vegetables, and non-citrus fruits. As always, eating a balanced diet plentiful in fruits and vegetables as well as lean protein and “good” fats such as avocado and nuts will be good for your hair and your overall health.
You have alopecia areata.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease, or the result of an overactive immune system. “The body gets confused,” says Dr. Glashofer. “The immune system sees the hair as foreign and targets it by mistake.” Attacking the hair follicles, then, makes the hair fall out.
Steroid injections are the first line of treatment for alopecia areata, which appears as hair loss in round patches on the head. Other drugs, including Rogaine, may also be used. The course of the condition can be unpredictable, with hair growing back then falling out again.
You lost a lot of weight very quickly.
Sudden weight loss is a form of physical trauma that can result in thinning hair. This could happen even if the weight loss is ultimately good for you. It’s possible that the weight loss itself put unnecessary stress your body, or that not eating right can resulted in vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Loss of hair along with noticeable weight loss may also be a sign of an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.
This type of hair loss, too, will correct itself once after a while. "Sudden weight loss seems to shock the system and you’ll have a six-month period of hair loss and then it corrects itself,” says Dr. Hammonds.
You're undergoing chemotherapy.
Some of the drugs used to beat back cancer unfortunately can also cause your hair to fall out. “Chemotherapy is like a nuclear bomb,” says Dr. Glashofer. “It destroys rapidly dividing cells. That means cancer cells, but also rapidly dividing cells like hair.”
Once chemotherapy is stopped, your hair will grow back although often it will come back with a different texture (perhaps curly when before it was straight) or a different color. Researchers are working on more targeted drugs to treat cancer, ones that would bypass this and other side effects. Luckily, there are a few ways to deal with hair loss during chemotherapy, like shaving it or covering it up with a scarf.
You have polycystic ovary syndrome.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is another imbalance in male and female sex hormones. An excess of androgens can lead to ovarian cysts, weight gain, a higher risk of diabetes, changes in your menstrual period, infertility, as well as hair thinning. Because male hormones are overrepresented in PCOS, women may also experience more hair on the face and body.
Treating PCOS can correct the hormone imbalance and help reverse some of these changes. Treatments include diet, exercise, and potentially birth control pills, as well as specific treatment to address infertility or diabetes risk.
Your medication is to blame.
Certain other classes of medication may promote hair loss. More common among them are certain blood thinners and the blood-pressure drugs known as beta-blockers. Other drugs that might cause hair loss include methotrexate (used to treat rheumatic conditions and some skin conditions), lithium (for bipolar disorder), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including ibuprofen, and possibly antidepressants.
If your doctor determines that one or more of your medications is causing hair loss, talk with him or her about either lowering the dose or switching to another medicine.
You're styling your hair a little too much.
Vigorous styling and hair treatments over the years can cause your hair to fall out. Examples of extreme styling include tight braids, hair weaves or corn rows as well as chemical relaxers to straighten your hair, hot-oil treatments or any kind of harsh chemical or high heat. Because these practices can actually affect the hair root, your hair might not grow back.
In addition to avoiding these styles and treatments, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using conditioner after every shampoo, letting your hair air dry, limiting the amount of time the curling iron comes in contact with your hair and using heat-driven products no more than once a week.
You're compulsively pulling your hair out.
Trichotillomania, classified as an “impulse control disorder,” causes people to compulsively pull their hair out. “It’s sort of like a tic, the person is constantly playing and pulling their hair,” says Dr. Glashofer says. Unfortunately, this constant playing and pulling can actually strip your head of its natural protection: hair. Trichotillomania often begins before the age of 17 and is four times as common in women as in men.
Some antidepressants may be effective, but behavioral modification therapy is another option.
You're just getting older.
It’s not uncommon to see hair loss or thinning of the hair in women as they enter their 50s and 60s, says Dr. Glashofer. Experts aren’t sure why this happens.
Experts don't recommend that this condition be treated, says Dr. Hammonds. That leaves women with cosmetic approaches such as scarves, wigs and hair styled so as to cover up thin spots. That said, there are also plenty of tricks to prevent hair breakage and ways to keep your hair looking shiny and healthy in your 50s and above.
You're taking anabolic steroids.
If you take anabolic steroids—the type abused by some athletes to bulk up muscle—you could lose your hair, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Anabolic steroids can have the same impact on the body as polycystic ovary disease (PCOS), as the mechanism is the same, says Dr. Hammonds.
Hair loss should improve after going off the drug.