We all want our hair to be healthy, thick, and beautiful. When people say they have a ‘bad hair day’, it is more than just an expression. When your hair looks its best, your whole day suddenly gets brighter. When it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
And we all often find ourselves thinking our hair could be shinier, softer, more voluminous… But it is a quite different story if you have a more serious reason to worry about your hair.
If you suddenly started to notice your hair is shedding more than it should, that can send you straight into a state of panic. There are not many cosmetic issues scarier than that. Not only hair loss is a pretty significant beauty problem, but it also has to make you think about what might be behind it.
However, we do live in the 21st century and most cosmetic and even health issues can be tackled one way or another. So, here’s a little more on what might be causing your hair to shed more, what you can do about it and when is the right time to visit a dermatologist.
Common Hair Loss Patterns
Not every hair loss is equal and the way your hair sheds can tell you more about the probable cause of your hair loss:
Even Hair Loss
Your hair is thinning evenly all over the scalp. You can notice larger amounts of hair on your hairbrush or after you wash your hair, but there are no parts of your scalp that lose hair faster than others.
Androgenetic Hair Loss
This type of hair loss is mostly genetically determined. In man, the hair usually starts to fall out around the forehead and above both temples. In time, it can progress to partial or complete baldness. In women, androgenetic hair loss is usually more even, although it can be more pronounced around the head crown.
Patchy Hair Loss
Alopecia Areata is definitely a type of hair loss that requires a visit to an expert. It is a condition affecting the autoimmune system causing the body to attack your own hair follicles. It appears patchy, with coin shaped areas with little or no hair.
Common Causes of Hair Loss
Stress is one of the most common factors behind many medical and cosmetic conditions, including hair loss. What is interesting about it is that a major stressful event (positive or negative) doesn’t cause the hair loss right away, but after a few months you can suddenly notice a huge number of hairs on your hairbrush or after washing your hair. This type of hair loss is usually even (all over the scalp) and it is most often temporary.
This includes male and female pattern baldness. This condition can significantly worsen with age.
Low quality food and specifically low intake of protein and iron can cause the hair to shed faster than normal. Since the hair is made up of mostly protein, not eating enough food rich in protein can make the hair brittle and increase hair loss.
Significant hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy and menopause, can cause your hair to shed more. In some cases, the problem resolves on its own; in others it can become permanent.
Certain illnesses, infections, thyroid disorders, anemia, skin conditions (such as seborrheic dermatitis or psoriasis) and even significant weight loss over a short period of time might all be a reason behind increased hair loss.
Many medications can cause temporary hair loss that can last either until you adjust to the medicine or until you stop taking it.
Improper Hair Care
Some low-quality products, shampooing your hair every day, pulling on hair while blow-drying it, frequent styling using heated tools or too-tight ponytails can all damage the hair and lead to hair loss. This type of hair loss is usually only temporary, and it can easily be fixed by avoiding the damaging techniques and providing your hair with some gentle nourishment.
When to See a Dermatologist for Hair Loss
In a large number of cases the loss of hair is just temporary. This especially happens if the cause was acute, such as childbirth, a medical condition or stressful event. When the cause is removed, the hair also starts to get better.
In these cases, the hair gets into the so-called resting phase. It can take 6 – 9 months for the hair to recover, but it does get better after a while without any special treatments.
You can help your hair to regain its previous glory by using special oils and over the counter hair products formulated to help with hair loss. And, of course, try to avoid stressful situations as much as possible and eat diverse, protein-rich food.
More Serious Hair Loss
In other cases, such as alopecia, the problem can be way more stubborn and a visit to a dermatologist might be required. As an expert trained to diagnose and treat conditions that affect the skin, hair and nails, a dermatologist can get to the root of the problem and propose the best course of action.
Some of these more permanent hair loss causes are completely curable, others are not. But in any case, a dermatologist can properly diagnose the problem, explain to you why your hair is falling out and what you can expect in the future and suggest the best treatment.
Whatever is causing your hair loss and no matter how serious the condition is, if you are stressing about it, that is a good enough reason to just go to a dermatologist and see what is going on. Especially if the hair loss is sudden or patchy, it could be a symptom of an underlying medical condition.
Plus, in many cases, an early treatment could prevent hair loss from worsening and even regrow the lost hair.
How a Dermatologist Can Diagnose Hair Loss
One of the main reasons you’d want to visit a dermatologist if you are experiencing hair loss is that they have the knowledge and access to technology that can quickly lead them to the very cause of the problem.
They may start the appointment by asking you a variety of questions about your medical history and lifestyle in general. They will want to know when you first noticed that your hair is falling out more than usual, as well as if you have noticed any triggers that may have caused it.
Remember to mention if there is anyone in your family who had similar problems, if the hair loss happens occasionally or it is continuous, as well as if there is anything that makes it better or worse.
You can also help your dermatologist by enlisting the various supplements and/or medications you may be taking. And expect questions about your diet, what kind of hairstyles you wear most often and any stressful event from the past that might be the cause of the hair loss.
Hair Loss Tests and Diagnosis
After the conversation with you, the dermatologist may recommend you do some blood tests. This is usually done to check whether the hair loss is somehow connected with any mineral or vitamin deficiency, hormonal imbalance or if they suspect that the cause might be some underlying medical condition.
They will also probably want to physically examine your hair and scalp, as this is one of the easiest, fastest, and most reliable diagnostic methods. Your scalp might be showing signs of scarring, inflammation, irritation, sores, or injury. And even the pattern of the hair loss can offer valuable insights.
The pull test and the tug test can tell them more about whether your hair loss is active or not, as well as the general quality and condition of your hair. They will select a few hair sections from different parts of the scalp and tug gently. If six or more strands fall out of a section of approximately 40 strands, that is usually considered to be an active hair loss.
For an even closer inspection, the dermatologist can also use a computerized measurement tool which takes pictures of the scalp and hair and displays them magnified up to 100 times on a computer monitor.
Scalp biopsy is another diagnostic procedure your dermatologist may require. It is typically performed only if the physical examination gives inconclusive results. In that case, the doctor may take a small tissue sample from your scalp and send it for additional testing.
If they suspect that scalp ringworm, a fungal infection, is causing your hair loss, your dermatologist can also take a small sample of the scalp skin and hair and send it to laboratory testing.
And as a way of tracking the efficiency of the treatment, the dermatologist may take photos of your hair and scalp from many different angles during your first and all follow-up appointments.
Hair Loss Treatments Your Dermatologist May Recommend
Sometimes, such as if the hair loss is age related or hereditary, there is a possibility that it cannot be reversed. In most other cases, though, there are a variety of options that could help to prevent the future hair loss and to regrow the hair more quickly.
After diagnosing the exact cause behind your hair loss and keeping in mind your lifestyle and other circumstances that may play a part, your dermatologist can explain to you what options you have available and which one might be the best solution for you.
Corticosteroids for hair loss can be applied topically, taken orally or your doctor may inject them directly into the affected patches of the scalp. They give results in only a few weeks; however, those results are often only temporary. There are also a few side effects connected with the usage of corticosteroids, so make sure to ask your dermatologist about that.
Topical immunotherapy uses contact sensitizers such as diphencyprone. These chemicals are being applied directly to the skin in order to irritate it and cause an allergic reaction. The goal is to divert the immune system away from the hair follicles and that way reduce the hair loss. However, this treatment can be very sensitizing to the skin.
Rogaine (or more specifically its active ingredient minoxidil) is an FDA-approved medication that can be used to elongate the growth phase of hair and enlarge hair follicles. It is most often used in the form of topical treatments. However, these products won’t work for everyone and their effects last only while you keep using them, so you would have to use them indefinitely to maintain the results.
Laser therapy is another option that won’t work for everyone, but for the right candidates it can show significant improvement. Low-level lasers stimulate the blood flow to the hair roots, improve the nutrition of the hair follicles and that way stimulate the hair growth. It is a safe and painless procedure.
Platelet-rich Plasma Therapy
Platelet-rich plasma therapy, as a treatment that is used to accelerate healing, may also be effective when it comes to hair loss. For this procedure, growth factors and proteins are being extracted from your own blood, then injected directly into your scalp to help regrow the hair.
Hair transplants are done literally by taking hair from other parts of the scalp and grafting it to the section of the scalp most affected by hair loss. This method is typically more successful than most other treatments. However, even the transplanted hair can start thinning over time.
Losing 50 – 150 hairs a day is completely normal. But, if your hair is falling out more than usual or you have any other reasons to worry about your hair loss, asking an expert for help might be a good idea. Now you know when you should visit a dermatologist for hair loss and how they can help and what to expect from the appointment.
About the Author
Dustin Flick is an aspiring coach that has had his own battle with hair loss and male pattern baldness. He’s even developed his own hair loss treatment which helped him stop and reverse thinning hair and a receding hairline.