Hair loss is a common concern that affects millions of people worldwide, transcending age, gender, and ethnicity. While it is often viewed as a cosmetic issue, hair loss can profoundly impact an individual's self-esteem and overall well-being. To address this concern, we need to understand how hormones cause hair loss and explore possible solutions.
The Basics of Hair Growth
The hair growth cycle consists of several distinct phases, each with a specific function. Understanding these phases is essential for comprehending how hair grows, sheds, and regenerates. The hair growth cycle typically comprises three primary phases:
Phase 1: Anagen (Growth Phase)
The anagen phase is the active growth phase of hair follicles. During this phase, cells in the hair follicle rapidly divide, and new hair cells are formed. Hair grows approximately 1 cm (0.4 inches) every 28 days, although the rate can vary depending on genetics and other factors.
The duration of the anagen phase varies among individuals. Scalp hairs typically have a longer anagen phase (2 to 6 years) compared to body or facial hairs (several weeks to a few months). At any given time, around 80-90% of the hair on the scalp is in the anagen phase.
Phase 2: Catagen (Transitional Phase)
The catagen phase is a transitional phase that follows the anagen phase. It is a relatively short phase lasting about 2-3 weeks. During catagen, the hair follicle begins to shrink, and hair growth stops. The hair detaches from its blood supply, and a club hair, which is a non-growing hair, forms.
Phase 3: Telogen (Resting Phase)
The telogen phase is a resting phase that follows the catagen phase. During this phase, the hair follicle remains dormant. Telogen hairs are not actively growing, and they are firmly anchored in the follicle. About 10-15% of the hair on the scalp is in the telogen phase at any given time. The duration of the telogen phase can vary from several weeks to several months. After the telogen phase, the hair follicle re-enters the anagen phase, and the cycle begins anew.
Phase 4: Exogen Phase (Shedding Phase)
Some sources include an additional phase called the exogen phase, which is the shedding phase. During exogen, the old hair shaft is shed to make way for new hair growth. Shedding is a natural part of the hair growth cycle, and it's normal to lose 50-100 hairs per day. Factors such as genetics, health, and environmental conditions can influence the rate of shedding.
It's important to note that hair follicles on different parts of the body may have varying growth cycles. For example, scalp hair typically has a longer anagen phase and a shorter telogen phase compared to body or facial hair. The length and characteristics of the hair (e.g., texture and color) are also determined by genetics and the duration of the anagen phase.
Hair loss or thinning can occur when there is a disruption in this natural hair growth cycle. Several factors can affect the hair cycle and cause hair loss, such as hormones, genes, health issues, drugs, and stress. To identify and address the causes of hair loss and promote healthy hair growth, you must understand the hair growth cycle.
Hormones and Hair Loss
Hair loss is often linked to hormonal imbalances. Key hormones include dihydrotestosterone (DHT), estrogen, and thyroid hormones. Understanding their roles is essential in comprehending hair loss causes and potential treatments.
Testosterone is a male sex hormone, though it is also present in smaller quantities in females. It plays a crucial role in the development and maintenance of male sexual characteristics, such as deepening of the voice, muscle growth, and the growth of facial and body hair. Testosterone is produced primarily in the testes in men and in smaller amounts in the ovaries in women, with smaller quantities produced by the adrenal glands in both genders.
Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone. It supports hair growth by prolonging the anagen (growth) phase of the hair growth cycle, resulting in longer and thicker hair. When you're pregnant, higher estrogen levels make your hair look shiny and reduce hair loss. Women may notice hair thinning or shedding after giving birth or during menopause. This happens when estrogen levels drop. Low levels of estrogen and progesterone means your hair may start to fall out sooner and grow more slowly.
Thyroid Hormones (T3 and T4)
Thyroid hormones are crucial for overall metabolic function, including hair growth. Hyperthyroidism can accelerate the hair growth cycle, leading to excessive shedding and thinner hair. Conversely, an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can slow down the hair growth cycle. This results in hair loss and dry, brittle hair. Taking thyroid medication can help balance hormones and treat hair loss caused by thyroid disorders.
Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1)
IGF-1 is a hormone that supports cell growth and division, including hair follicle cells. It promotes the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle, leading to increased hair growth. Insulin resistance, a condition where cells don't respond well to insulin, can affect IGF-1 levels and may contribute to hair loss.
Cortisol (Stress Hormone)
Chronic stress can lead to elevated cortisol levels, which can disrupt the hair growth cycle. High levels of cortisol can cause hair follicles to enter the resting phase, leading to excessive hair shedding. Stress management techniques can help mitigate the impact of cortisol on hair loss.
Progesterone, another female sex hormone, can affect hair growth. Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can influence progesterone levels. In some cases, it can contribute to temporary hair thinning. Hair loss caused by progesterone typically goes away and gets better when hormone levels return to normal.
Hormones affect hair growth and loss, but their interaction can vary in different people. Hair loss can be caused by genetics, hormones, or medical conditions. If you're losing hair or worried about hormones, see a healthcare professional or dermatologist for a thorough assessment and personalized treatment advice.
Hormonal imbalances can disrupt the natural hair growth cycle. Excess DHT, for instance, is associated with male and female pattern baldness. For people who are genetically prone to hair loss, DHT can attach to receptors in hair follicles. This causes the follicles to slowly shrink and they produce thinner and shorter hair until they stop growing completely.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects women and can lead to higher levels of androgens, insulin resistance, and irregular menstrual cycles. These hormonal imbalances can result in hair thinning and excessive hair growth in unwanted areas.
The relationship between hormones and hair loss can be complex, and not all cases of hair loss are solely due to hormonal imbalances. Genetic factors, aging, and environmental influences also play significant roles in hair loss.
How to Know If Your Hair Loss is Related to Hormones?
Maybe your hair isn't falling out, but it's thin, brittle, or otherwise not as healthy as it could be. If your hair is thinning, a hormonal imbalance is most likely to blame, though other variables such as nutrition and stress should also be considered.
Because hormones and their functions are so diverse, there is no single method for detecting a hormonal imbalance. A variety of symptoms can indicate that something is wrong with your hormones. This is one of the reasons why getting checked on a regular basis is a good idea, especially if you start experiencing unusual symptoms.
A blood test is one of the most used methods for determining hormone levels. This test can detect levels of testosterone, estrogen, cortisol, and thyroid. You should have a gender-specific test since a women's hormone test will look for different levels of sex hormones than a men's test. A simple saliva test can also identify a variety of hormones. You may check your estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone levels with a saliva test.
How to Treat Hormonal Imbalance
The treatment for a hormonal imbalance will be determined by the cause.
Hormone replacement therapy is the primary treatment if your hormone levels are lower than normal. You can take either oral (pills) or injectable therapy depending on which hormone is insufficient.
If you have low thyroid hormone levels (hypothyroidism), for example, your provider may prescribe synthetic thyroid hormone pills. If you have a growth hormone shortage, you will most likely need to take synthetic growth hormone injections (shots).
There are numerous therapeutic options available if you have higher-than-normal hormone levels, depending on the cause. Medication, surgery, radiation therapy, or a combination of these are all options.
Solutions for Hormonal Hair Loss
Lifestyle and Dietary Changes
Balancing hormones through lifestyle and diet modifications can positively impact hair health. Incorporating nutrient-rich foods and managing stress can help stabilize hormonal levels.
Medications and Treatments
Several medications and treatments are available for hormone-related hair loss. They include minoxidil, finasteride, and hormone replacement therapy. To find the best option, talk to a doctor or dermatologist.
Natural Remedies and Alternative Therapies
Some people like using natural remedies such as acupuncture, herbs, and scalp massages. While these methods may offer benefits, their efficacy varies, and results are often subjective.
Toppers and Hair Extensions
Toppers and hair extensions can be valuable solutions for those experiencing hair loss or thinning. These hair additions can boost volume, cover bald spots, and create different hairstyles. Consider your hair type, lifestyle, and personal preferences. Choose high-quality products and consult with a professional stylist or hair loss specialist to help you make informed choices based on your unique needs.
Losing hair can be upsetting, but it's important to understand how hormones affect hair. Whether you're dealing with female pattern baldness or other forms of hair loss, there are treatments and lifestyle adjustments that can help. It is important to consult with a professional to find the best solution for your situation. With a holistic approach to hair health, you can regain confidence and embrace a fuller, healthier head of hair.
If you want to know what's causing your hair loss, take this quiz and find out.