By Dr. Darshan R. Shah, MD, FACS
Many of us (up to 40 percent of the population) will suffer from some degree of hair loss in our lifetime. Although genetics has a large role in the problem, there are many other causes that hasten the process. Diet, mineral deficiencies, environmental pollution, stress, even wearing helmets can cause early and profound hair loss! Knowing is half the battle, so read on for some simple tips to minimize bald spots and receding hairlines.
The first question to answer is: Do you have accelerated hair loss? Accelerated hair loss is a condition where you are losing hair faster than you should, and should get evaluated by your doctor for thyroid issues, other hormonal disturbances or gastrointestinal malabsorption. Try the “tug test.” Take a small amount of hair in your between your thumb and index fingers (about 20 hairs) and pull slow and firm. If you have more than six hairs in your hand, you may have a problem with accelerated hair loss and should schedule an appointment with your primary care physician.
The most common reason for hair loss is genetic. This is called androgenic alopecia, which most of us refer to as male or female pattern baldness. Although it is impossible to completely halt nature’s genetic forces, there are steps you can take to slow the process for years.
Here are some simple tips to keep your hair healthy and where it belongs — on your head!
1. Keep chemicals off your hair. Hair dye can be a major chemical irritant to your hair follicle. Limit hair dying to once every eight weeks to keep your scalp healthy.
2. Heat weakens your hair and makes it brittle. Minimizing the use of hair dryers, hot curlers, and straighteners will help keep your hair from losing its protein composition.
3. Avoid constant pull on your hair. Traction alopecia is caused by excessively tight hairstyles or using hair rollers. Minimizing the amount of pull will maximize the time your hair stays anchored to your scalp.
4. Don’t brush your hair while wet. Hair brushes cause breakage, which can permanently damage hair. This occurs with more frequency when your hair is wet.
5. Take care of your hair. Wash regularly with a gentle shampoo to keep your scalp clean and to avoid scalp infection.
6. Decrease stress in your life, increase your exercise, and get enough sleep. Having an unhealthy lifestyle can cause accelerated hair loss, so take care of your body to have a healthy scalp.
7. Modify your diet to include “hair healthy” vitamins and minerals like iron, vitamin C, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids all have a role in preventing hair loss. Load up on these minerals in your diet or with supplements.
8. Avoid foods that can accelerate hair loss. These include soda and raw egg whites.
Recent medical advances have resulted in the development of two breakthrough medications that can help if the above techniques fail. These include Rogaine (minoxidil) and Propecia (finasteride). Minoxidil stops hair loss, while finasteride can actually help grow new hair in almost 50 percent of men who take it.
If it is too late and you have lost most of your hair, then you can consider hair transplant surgery, which can be done either by removing a strip of hair and re-implanting it, or FUE transplantation, which is hair transplant one follicular unit extraction at a time. Hair transplant is done under local anesthesia and works almost 99 percent of the time.