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Every strand of hair on your head has a lifespan between about 3 to 5 years. Hair follicles have a cycle of active growth, transition, and rest. Hair loss occurs when your hair’s growth cycle is disrupted.

Hair loss is most commonly caused by your genetics and becomes more common in men and women with age. The second most common cause is telogen effluvium. This condition occurs when more of your hair enters the rest cycle, during which it falls out.

Telogen effluvium can be caused by:

If you’re experiencing hair loss that leads to bald spots, patchiness, or large clumps of hair coming out, you should see your primary healthcare doctor or a dermatologist for a diagnosis.

Whether your hair loss is the result of a chronic or short-term health condition, you can take action to protect the hair you have. Keep reading for tips on keeping your hair healthy and strong.

You can follow a few hair hygiene tips to improve your overall hair health and possibly prevent hair loss.

1. Avoid hairstyles that pull on the hair.

Hair is flexible, but research shows that your hair can only be stretched so much before becoming permanently damaged. Hairstyles like cornrows, tight braids, and ponytails can pull your hair away from your scalp and loosen the bond between your hair and scalp over time.

2. Avoid high-heat hair styling tools.

Using heat to style your hair leaves your hair follicle dehydrated and vulnerable to damage. Hair dryers, hair straighteners, and curling irons can all damage your hair over time by causing moisture in your hair shafts to expand.

3. Don’t chemically treat or bleach your hair.

Chemically treating hair with methods such as bleaching damages hair by splitting protein molecules called keratin. If you’re concerned about hair loss, limit your use of dyes, highlights, peroxide treatments, and perms.

4. Use a shampoo that’s mild and suited for your hair.

The purpose of shampoo is to cleanse your hair of dirt and excess oil. Overwashing with shampoo can potentially harm your hair. Sulfates and some other ingredients have been linked to frizz, scalp dryness, and fragile hair.

There’s no evidence that any specific ingredients in shampoo cause hair loss, but they might contribute to less than ideal hair health. If you notice your hair is overly dry or frizzy, try a shampoo that’s as close to all-natural as possible.

Most shampoos for hair loss cost less than about $30 and aren’t covered by insurance.

5. Use a soft brush made from natural fibers.

Using a soft brush with fibers that are natural can potentially promote healthy oil levels on your hair. The keratin proteins in your hair are stacked like shingles on a roof, so brushing them gently in one direction, starting at the top and continuing through to the ends, can help smooth and condition your hair cuticle. Brushing hair daily can also help you avoid seeing hair clumps in your shower drain.

6. Try low-level light therapy.

Low-level light therapy promotes cell growth and repair. It’s a potentially effective treatment for male- and female-pattern baldness, the most common causes of hair loss in men and women. These genetic conditions cause a certain pattern of hair loss. For men, it starts at a receding hairline or bald spot at the crown. For women, it’s characterized by an overall thinning that often causes a wider part.

The authors of a 2020 review of studies recommend exercising caution when interpreting the research behind low-level light therapy for hair loss since some studies have conflicting interests.

Light therapy can be expensive and isn’t covered with insurance. One Beverly Hills clinic estimates the yearly cost at $3,500 to $5,000.

Hair loss in women is typically caused by:

About half of women experience some degree of female-pattern hair loss before age 79. If you are losing your hair, your doctor may recommend some of the following treatments to prevent further hair loss.

Women who have reached menopause may also consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as a way to treat their hair loss and other symptoms. HRT is often covered by insurance. One clinic in California estimates that HRT costs about $10 to $85 per month without insurance.

Hair loss is more common in men than in women. According to the American Hair Loss Association, about 85 percent of men have thinning hair by the time they reach 50. Hair loss in men is typically caused by genetic male-pattern hair loss. If you’re concerned about hair loss, a doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

Hair transplants can be expensive and aren’t covered by insurance. Depending on the type and extent of the procedure, it may cost $4,000 to $10,000. Your insurance also won’t cover minoxidil or finasteride for treating hair loss. A 3-month supply of Rogaine goes for about $45 but generic brand minoxidil can be cheaper. You may find a 1-month supply of finasteride for $10 or cheaper with a prescription.

If you’re concerned about hair loss, you may want to try a home remedy to see if you can stop your hair from falling out. It’s important to get diagnosed and find the underlying cause of your hair loss so that you can treat it appropriately.

Supplements

Many vitamins and minerals are needed for proper hair development and growth. Some nutritional deficiencies can potentially lead to hair loss.

Supplementing with vitamin D may help reduce symptoms of genetic hair loss or telogen effluvium. However, more research is needed to definitively understand the link. Supplementing with iron may help reduce symptoms in people who are iron deficient. People with low iron may also benefit from supplementing with vitamin C if they aren’t getting enough.

Research has also found a link between low vitamin D and alopecia areata, a patchy form of hair loss caused by an autoimmune reaction. It’s recommended that people with this condition supplement with vitamin D if they’re deficient.

There currently isn’t adequate evidence that supplementation of the following can help with hair loss:

Some small studies have found too much vitamin A or selenium can cause hair loss, but more research is needed. Researchers are continuing to examine if there’s any benefit for people with alopecia areata to supplement with iron or zinc.

Remember to only buy supplements from trusted sources, as they aren’t vetted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Essential oils

Essential oils are natural extracts produced by plants. Some essential oils might have properties that stimulate hair growth. Right now, evidence is almost entirely anecdotal and no studies have found adequate evidence to suggest that any essential oil can be used to treat hair loss in humans.

Most of the studies to date have very small sample sizes, are of poor quality, or have been performed on animals. For example, a 2016 study found evidence that lavender oil may stimulate hair growth in mice. However, much more research needs to be done to see if these results carry over to humans and whether oils can be used to treat hair loss conditions.

Essential oils that some people use for hair growth include:

Scalp massage

Scalp massage may help stimulate hair growth by promoting circulation and gene changes, but there’s a very limited amount of evidence at this time. A very small 2016 study found evidence that 4-minute daily scalp massages increased hair thickness in nine non-balding Japanese men. However, there was no control group in this study.

Giving yourself a scalp massage generally feels good, so even if it’s not effective at increasing hair growth, you may find it relaxing.

Diet

Your diet can have an effect on hair loss. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants can help fight the signs of oxidative stress — environmental factors that damage hair follicles and contribute to hair loss. Many colorful fruits and vegetables like strawberries, blueberries, beans and legumes, spinach, and kale are great sources of antioxidants.

Sugar, processed fats, preservatives, and alcohol can all contribute to oxidative stress. Keep this in mind if you’re looking to stop your hair from falling out.

Quit smoking

Smoking can damage your hair cells, making your hair follicles brittle and easy to damage. Studies have linked smoking to increased rates of premature graying and hair loss. Quitting can be difficult, but a doctor can help come up with a smoking cessation plan that’s right for you.

Many women experience dehydration, fatigue, stress, and falling estrogen levels as their body adjusts to life after pregnancy. These factors can lead to increased hair shedding. Some of this hair loss is often related to the stress and exhaustion of having a baby. This condition is temporary and should resolve within a year after the pregnancy has ended.

You can try to minimize hair loss after pregnancy by continuing to take your prenatal vitamins if you are breastfeeding, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding tight hairstyles that pull hair away from the scalp. Dermatologists recommend using lightweight shampoos and conditioners — and seeing a stylist to make hair loss appear less obvious — until your hair shedding slows down.

Chemotherapy works by attacking cancer cells in your body. As a side effect, chemotherapy kills the cells that make your hair grow. Hair usually begins falling out within 2 to 4 weeks after treatment.

Some people choose to prepare for this side effect by shaving their hair off before treatment starts. Many people are more comfortable with this choice. But not everyone who undergoes chemotherapy will lose all of their hair as a result. Sometimes hair simply thins out or recedes.

You may also ask your doctor about scalp cooling treatments. These treatments, which include a scalp cooling cap, slow blood flow to your scalp during treatments. While it’s not completely effective, scalp cooling can help you retain more of your hair. The average cost is about $1,500 to $3,000. You may be able to get your insurance to cover scalp cooling, but coverage isn’t standard in the United States at this time.

Hair loss can result from genetic factors, changes in hormone levels, and certain medical conditions. Genetic hair loss is by far the most common cause, affecting up to 50 percent of men and women.

Other causes of hair loss include:

Here are the answers to common hair loss questions.

Can I stop hair loss naturally?

If your hair loss is caused by your genetics, you’re unlikely to be able to reverse it. Treating thinning hair with minoxidil may help slow down hair loss. Other causes of hair loss may be more treatable. Hair loss because of alopecia areata, recent childbirth, or cancer treatment usually grows back eventually. Improving your diet or taking supplements may reverse hair loss if nutrient deficiencies are the underlying cause.

Can hair loss really be prevented?

Some causes of hair loss like nutrient deficiencies can be prevented with good lifestyle habits. The development of some medical conditions like thyroid disease and cancer may be at least partially out of your control, but treating the underlying medical condition may help reverse hair loss. Genetic hair loss is largely out of your control but minoxidil and low-level laser therapy may help.

How do I tell if I’m losing hair?

Hair loss can take on different appearances depending on the underlying cause. You may notice a widening part, more visible scalp, or excess hair falling out when you’re brushing or washing your hair. You may also notice parts of your scalp where hair is thinning or receding. In the case of alopecia areata, you may notice a coin-sized area of smooth bare scalp.

If you’re concerned that your hair loss goes beyond normal shedding or temporary telogen effluvium, you should speak to a doctor. Hair that’s coming out in clumps and leaving bald spots, and hair that’s growing in patches, could be symptoms of an underlying health issue. Speak to a dermatologist or primary care physician and describe your symptoms if you need more guidance.

Hair loss is common, especially in older adults. By far the most common cause of hair loss is genetics. Usually, genetic hair loss is characterized by general thinness at the top of the scalp in women and a receding hairline and bald spot at the crown in men.

Some treatments may stop hair loss and even help you regrow some of your hair. Home remedies, lifestyle and dietary changes, and over-the-counter medication may improve the appearance of thinning hair.