Ditch the lotions and potions in order to get to the root cause of your hair loss
For centuries, men and women struggling with hair loss have been lured by a dazzling array of pills, potions and lotions, all promising a cure that will restore their crowning glory. But what really works
Many people fall for the many drugs sold to cure alopecia but these few tips will help you keep your hair glossy
As a trichologist – a specialist in the treatment of alopecia, the medical term for hair loss – I am concerned that there is so much misunderstanding around what can be done for this common problem.
It is this confusion that means sales of many expensive so-called treatments are booming, despite the fact that most don’t actually work.
When I see patients, after ruling out any underlying illness or other causes, I tell them there are some simple steps to help give hair a chance to shine again, without having to take out a second mortgage on your home to pay for them.
Why does it happen
There are many reasons why we lose hair: hormone changes during pregnancy or the menopause, nutritional factors such as crash-dieting or periods of illness, medication, and scalp damage or disease.
In men, hair loss is commonly genetically inherited, known as androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness.
Hair disappears from the temples and crown of the head, usually when men are in their 20s and 30s. It is caused by the conversion of the male sex hormone testosterone to another hormone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which causes the hair follicles to make thinner and thinner hair.
Women are also affected, with 40 per cent showing signs of thinning by the age of 60. Generally, hair is lost all over the front of the scalp and the sides of the head, but remains thick at the back.
Alopecia areata is a patchy scalp hair loss which affects one in 1,000. It is an autoimmune condition in which the body thinks the hairs are foreign objects and attacks them. Sometimes the condition becomes severe and the patient may lose eyebrows and lashes (alopecia totalis) or all their body hair (alopecia universalis).
The most important thing is to find a specialist who can help you determine what is causing your hair loss, and only then can the right advice be given.
Be wary of pills and shampoos
Hair grows at about half an inch a month. A hair lives on average for five years in Caucasians, three in Africans and eight in Asians. When it comes to the end of its life, it falls out, but this doesn’t happen instantly. A dead hair will shed at some point within three months.
We typically lose 100 hairs a day. However, if we have a high fever for 24 hours or more as a result of a tummy bug or flu, the number of hairs that die rises. So, three months later the hair appears to fall out dramatically. That is when people resort to supposedly magic restorative pills, shampoos and gadgets. A few months later, the hair appears fuller. The trouble is, it would have done anyway.
I won’t mention the endless numbers of products I wouldn’t recommend – just the over-the-counter medicines I do.
Regaine contains minoxidil, originally used to treat high blood pressure. The treatment is applied to the scalp twice a day and is available in two per cent solution for women and five per cent for men. This drug has been clinically trialled and shown to work.
It stimulates hair follicles and increases blood flow to them, leading to hair growth. It won’t work if someone is already bald, but is good for early male and female pattern baldness.
Women who have experienced hair falling out after the menopause may be able to use a combination of Regaine and hormone replacement therapy to rectify the condition, under guidance from a doctor.
Doctors can also prescribe a tablet, Finasteride, which in clinical trials showed 68 per cent of men with mild to moderate male pattern hair loss maintained or improved their hair count.
But when patients stop using either of these medications, the hair loss can return, so it is still important to find the underlying cause. A trichologist can tell from taking a history of the patient, and looking at their diet, what the problem might be. Blood tests can also reveal what might be responsible.
What we eat is important
I’ve seen women who’ve crash-dieted and as a consequence lost more than 50 per cent of their hair. In fact, it was still dropping as I touched it. Obese people are equally vulnerable because of their poor quality diet.
Thirty per cent of the cases I see in my practice are children who are picky eaters, university students who have limited funds or are spending their money on alcohol rather than a decent meal, and elderly pensioners who are unable to cook or shop for themselves.
These are the most easily cured. It is important to ensure there is a good mix of protein, iron and vitamins in your diet. Hair is made up mainly of the protein keratin, so foods high in protein will promote growth. Red meat twice a week is one of the best ways of getting adequate protein and iron, which aids scalp health. Salmon and eggs are good sources too.
Vegetarians can be vulnerable to general hair loss unless they eat a lot of watercress. It’s a good idea to take an iron supplement – start with a low 15mg dose; any higher and you should seek medical advice.
Remember, the body can’t absorb proteins properly without carbohydrates to break them up, so adding rice, potatoes, pasta and bread is vital (you need only a little if you are watching your weight).
How to make thin hair look thicker
Having fine hair myself, I wanted to see if shampoos, conditioners and mousses designed to make hair look thicker actually work – and they do.
Most contain silicone, a transparent substance that coats the hair, giving it a fuller look but only when the shampoo, conditioner and mousse are used in combination. As soon as it gets wet again, it’s washed away.
There are also camouflage products available that sprinkle on to the hair and the tiny fibres produce a branch-like effect between the hairs, giving a thicker appearance.
Often, even if nothing can be done, the initial shock of hair loss dissipates, but these simple steps really do help in restoring confidence.