In this month’s journal I discuss an issue that affects many of us at some stage in our life, hair loss, and how a visit to a medical dermatologist can be a first step to understanding and treating the problem.
Hair loss can be an embarrassing and upsetting condition affecting your self-confidence and mental health. An accurate diagnosis of the causes of your hair loss is key to developing the best treatment plan.
Most of us normally shed 50 to 100 hairs a day. This level of hair loss doesn’t generally cause thinning of hair because at the same time new hair is growing. However, sudden hair loss is something to take seriously.
Our hair condition changes as we go through major life stages and as we age. If you have a family history of hair loss or balding, you may be more likely to experience these issues as genetics play a big part. Hair loss can occur due to changes in hormones, for instance during pregnancy and menopause. Stress may also play a factor in hair loss, as can thyroid issues.
Medical conditions have been linked to certain types of hair loss. Alopecia areata is often associated with an autoimmune disease. Diabetes and lupus are two autoimmune diseases that can result in hair loss.
Infections can have an impact on your hair health. Ringworm, a common fungal infection, can cause your scalp to become scaly and your hair to fall out, usually in patches. This fungal infection is easily treated with anti-fungal medication, which will stop the loss of hair.
Hair loss could be a side effect of taking medications for conditions such as depression, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Blood thinners, vitamin A supplements, some arthritis drugs, antidepressants, gout medication, medication for certain heart problems, blood pressure medication, and birth control pills can all potentially cause hair loss. It’s important to talk to your doctor about any concerns.
How can a medical dermatologist help treat hair loss?
When a client comes to me with concerns about hair loss I like to have a detailed conversation about their overall health, current or recent medication and any family history of hair loss.
The health of nails and scalp might provide clues to a diagnosis. The pattern of hair loss can also be indicative. In some case I’ll ask for blood tests and or a scalp biopsy to be undertaken. These help check for medical conditions that might cause hair to fall out.
What treatments options as available for hair loss?
There are a range of treatments that can either help hair regrow more quickly or slow future hair loss.
These treatments can include corticosteroid injections, laser therapy, and platelet-rich plasma therapy.
Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) is an effective and natural skin rejuvenation therapy which harnesses the power of your own blood plasma to stimulate growth factors within the skin responsible for healing and collagen and elastin production.
Lifestyle changes can also prevent future hair loss. When you don’t get the right balance of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that your body needs from your diet, it can cause a loss of hair. For instance, too little protein in your diet can damage healthy hair and inhibit your body’s ability to build new hair follicles. Very strict weight loss diets can also cause noticeable hair loss.
I’m a big advocate of making sure you have sufficient Vitamin D all year round. Vitamin D is most commonly associated with mood, bone health and the immune system, yet it also plays a crucial role in hair health. Vitamin D is produced by our bodies via direct UV light on our skin. In the colder, winter months, many of us struggle to produce enough vitamin D, and both fortified foods and supplements can help.
Vitamin D is metabolised by keratinocytes, which are the skin cells that produce keratin, the protein found within hair, skin and nails. If the body doesn’t have enough vitamin D, keratinocytes within hair follicles struggle to support the natural cycle of hair growth, in turn resulting in shedding and hair loss. Vitamin D also stimulates new and old hair follicles so a lack of the vitamin can translate into less new hair growth.
If you think that a vitamin D deficiency could be the cause of your hair loss, the first step is confirming your suspicions with a healthcare professional, who can check your levels and see if there may be other factors at play. If you are vitamin D deficient, taking a fresh look at your diet can be helpful to ensure it is balanced and full of vitamin-rich foods.
Not all forms of loss of hair are due to loss of the entire strand of hair. Some forms may result from hair damage that causes strands of hair to break. Certain hair appliances that use high heat to help style your hair can lead to damaged hair and breakage, which can look like baldness.
Damaging hair appliances that cause sudden hair loss include blow-dryers, flat irons, curling irons, and other devices that apply heat to your hair. These hot hair appliances cause the most damage to your hair when you use them on wet hair, since they can ‘boil’ the water in your hair shaft, leaving your hair brittle.
Don’t ignore your hair loss issues if they are affecting how you feel about yourself or if you are concerned about the cause.
Speak to a dermatologist about developing a treatment plan tailored specifically to your needs.