Hair loss (alopecia) is a fairly common occurrence. While it’s more prevalent in older adults, anyone can experience it, including children.
It’s typical to lose between 50 and 100 hairs a day, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). With about 100,000 hairs on your head, that small loss isn’t noticeable. New hair normally replaces the lost hair, but this doesn’t always happen.
Hair loss can develop gradually over years or happen abruptly. Depending on the underlying cause, it may be temporary or permanent.
Trying to tell if you’re actually losing hair or just experiencing some normal shedding? Unsure if it’s time to see a doctor? Read on for more information about hair loss and how to manage it.
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. For the purposes of this article, we use “male” and “female” to refer to a person’s sex assigned at birth. Learn more.
The main symptom of alopecia is losing more hair than usual, but this can be harder to identify than you might think.
The following symptoms can provide some clues:
- Widening part. If you part your hair, you might start to notice your part getting wider, which can be a sign of thinning hair.
- Receding hairline. Similarly, if you notice your hairline looking higher than usual, it may be a sign of thinning hair.
- Loose hair. Check your brush or comb after using it. Is it collecting more hair than usual? If so, this may be a sign of hair loss.
- Bald patches. These can range in size and can grow over time.
- Clogged drains. You might find that your sink or shower drains are clogged with hair.
- Pain or itching. If you have an underlying skin condition causing your hair loss, you might also feel pain or experience itching on your scalp.
There are several types of hair loss, some are common and some are rarer, and each with different underlying causes.
Depending on the type of hair loss, it can be the result of genetics, internal causes, or external causes. Here’s a look at a few different types of hair loss:
Androgenic alopecia refers to hereditary hair loss, like male pattern baldness or female pattern baldness, and is also known as “pattern alopecia” because it can happen to both males and females.
It’s also the most common cause of hair loss, affecting up to
Hair loss related to androgenic alopecia tends to happen gradually. While some people might experience hair loss as early as puberty, others might not notice symptoms until their middle ages.
Female pattern baldness often results in thinning all over the scalp and might look like widening or thinning around the part. It typically occurs after age 65 but, for some females, it can begin early in their lives.
Male pattern baldness typically involves progressive hair loss above the temples and thinning at the crown of the head, creating an “M” shape.
Learn more about hereditary hair loss.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition that causes your immune system to attack hair follicles, resulting in bald patches that can range from small to large. In some cases, it might lead to total hair loss.
In addition to losing hair on the scalp, some people with alopecia areata lose hair from their eyebrows, eyelashes, or other parts of the body.
Learn more about alopecia areata.
Anagen effluvium involves a rapid loss of hair. This usually happens because of radiation treatment or chemotherapy.
Hair will usually regrow after the treatment stops.
Telogen effluvium is a type of sudden hair loss that results from emotional or physical shock, like a traumatic event, period of extreme stress, or a serious illness.
It can also happen because of hormonal changes, like those that happen in:
Other potential causes of telogen effluvium include:
- malnutrition including vitamin or mineral deficiency
- certain endocrine disorders
- starting or stopping hormonal birth control
- post surgery as a result of the anesthesia
- acute illnesses or severe infections like COVID-19
Several types of medications can also cause it, including:
- oral retinoids
- thyroid medications
This type of hair loss typically resolves on its own once the underlying cause is addressed.
Tinea capitis, also called ringworm of the scalp, is a fungal infection that can affect the scalp and hair shaft. It causes small bald patches that are scaly and itchy. Over time, if not treated early, the size of the patch or patches will increase and fill with pus.
These patches, sometimes called a kerion,
Other symptoms include:
- brittle hair that breaks easily
- scalp tenderness
- scaly patches of skin that look grey or red
It’s treatable with antifungal medication.
Traction alopecia results from too much pressure and tension on the hair, often from wearing it in tight styles, like braids, ponytails, or buns.
Because so many things can cause hair loss, it’s best to schedule an appointment with a medical professional if you notice any changes in your hair.
They’ll likely use a combination of your health history — including any recent illnesses, surgeries, life stressors, and family history — and a physical exam to help narrow down the causes.
If they suspect an autoimmune or skin condition, they might take a biopsy of the skin on your scalp. This involves carefully removing several small sections of skin for laboratory testing.
It’s important to keep in mind that hair growth is a complex process and multiple tests may be needed to understand what is causing your hair loss. A biopsy may also be taken if it is initially very unclear what the root causes may be.
They may also order blood tests to check for any nutrient deficiencies or signs of an underlying condition.
There’s a range of treatment options for hair loss, but the best option for you will depend on what’s causing your hair loss.
Typically, the most common types of hair loss are treated with topical or oral medications, which will likely be the first course of treatment.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications generally consist of topical creams, gels, solutions, or foams that you apply directly to the scalp. The most common products contain an ingredient called minoxidil.
Prescription medications, like finasteride (Propecia), may help prevent further androgenetic hair loss, especially for male pattern baldness. You take this medication daily to slow hair loss, though some experience new hair growth when taking finasteride.
Your clinician might prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, like corticosteroids, if hair loss seems related to an autoimmune condition.
Newer treatments that are also being explored include some forms of laser therapy, microneedling with PRP, as well as other oral medications. Many of these treatments are still in the early testing phases though, and more research will be necessary.
Hair transplant surgery
Hair transplant surgery involves moving small plugs of skin, each with a few hairs, to bald parts of your scalp.
This works well for people with inherited baldness since they typically lose hair on the top of the head. Because some hair loss can be progressive, you may need multiple procedures over time.
It is worth noting that this method is unlikely to benefit or help people with scarring alopecias.
There are a few things you can do to minimize hair loss:
- Keep hairstyles loose. If you regularly style your hair into braids, buns, or ponytails, try to keep them loose so they don’t put too much pressure on your hair.
- Avoid touching your hair. As much as possible, try not to pull, twist, or rub your hair.
- Pat hair dry. After washing, use a towel to gently pat your hair dry. Avoid rubbing your hair with the towel or twisting it within the towel.
- Aim for a nutrient-rich balanced diet. Try to incorporate plenty of iron and protein into snacks and meals.
Styling products and tools are also common culprits in hair loss. Examples of products or tools that can affect hair loss include:
- blow dryers
- heated combs
- hair straighteners
- coloring products
- bleaching agents
If you decide to style your hair with heated tools, only do so when your hair is dry and use the lowest settings possible.
If you’re currently losing hair, use a gentle baby shampoo to wash your hair. Unless you have extremely oily hair, consider washing your hair only every other day or less.
It’s best to see a healthcare professional for any unexplained hair loss so they can determine the underlying cause and best course of treatment.
During your appointment, be sure to mention any other unusual symptoms you’ve noticed, including:
- unexplained weight loss
- changes in bowel movements
- rashes or other skin changes on your scalp or body
- recent surgeries or medical procedures
- changes to your diet and nutrition
- any new immunizations or medications
Any information you can provide about how quickly the hair loss occurred, along with any family history of baldness, will also be helpful.
If you need help finding a primary care doctor, then check out our FindCare tool here.
Which vitamin can help with hair loss?
Hair loss is a complicated topic and the role of nutrition in preventing or treating hair loss can be somewhat controversial.
While nutrition and specific nutrients are vital to the hair growth process, increasing your intake of these nutrients may not help you, especially if you have a certain type of hair loss, such as scarring alopecia or cicatricial alopecia.
Vitamins to incorporate into your nutrition plan that may promote hair growth include:
- B vitamins, specifically riboflavin, biotin, folate, and vitamin B12
- vitamin C
- vitamin D
What illness causes hair loss?
An increased risk of hair loss is connected with certain illnesses. These include:
- polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- scalp psoriasis
- sexually transmitted infections, such as syphilis
- thyroid disease
Hair loss can also be a side effect of some medications, especially chemotherapy medications to treat cancers.
Is it possible to stop hair loss indefinitely?
Stopping hair loss indefinitely depends upon the underlying cause. As a general rule, the sooner you treat hair loss, the more likely you will be able to reverse or reduce the rate of hair loss.
Some hair loss causes can’t be reversed. This is true for damaged hair follicles from too-tight hairstyles, damaged hair follicles from chemicals applied to the hair, and damages caused by certain autoimmune diseases.
Whatever the cause of your hair loss, seeking medical attention from your primary care doctor or a dermatologist can help you identify underlying causes. Treatments for hair loss are more likely to be successful if started early.
Treatments may include changes to how you care for your hair, improvements to your diet, and medical treatments that may be topically applied or taken in orally.
Even if your hair loss is hereditary, there are treatments that exist that can help slow or reverse hair loss. If possible, talk with your doctor to address your concerns and rule out any serious underlying medical concerns that may be causing your hair loss.