Our crowning glory is one of our most distinctive features, styled to express our personality, mood or to attract others. Care for it to prevent abnormal hair loss.
If you notice hair clogging your shower drain cover after a bath, gauge the number before hitting the panic button –some 100 strands out of the 100,000 to 150,000 on your head drop off daily as part of a regeneration cycle.
However, there are many factors triggering abnormal hair loss, either on a temporary or a permanent basis. Hormonal changes such as pregnancy or menopause are common causes, alongside stress, vitamin/mineral deficiencies and chemical damage from dyeing and hair relaxing. Illnesses like thyroid disease or side effects from medications like birth control pills or anti-depressants can also take a toll on hair. For chemotherapy and radiotherapy, temporary hair loss occurs as the treatments damage cells in the hair follicles.
Hair follicles are sacs from which hair grows. Minute blood vessels supply nutrients for hair growth and each follicle undergoes a two- to five-year cycle of growth and rest, with about 90 per cent growing hair at any one time (see Hair growth cycle below). Hair loss for men is largely linked to testosterone. In men, an androgen called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is derived from testosterone, which can shorten the growth phase of the hair cycle and miniaturise hair follicles until the hair disappears. For women, baldness is usually a response to major illnesses and stress.
Seek medical advice if you are losing hair excessively, especially at an early age, or if you experience pain, itching, bald spots or a red and scaly scalp. A thorough check of your medical history, hair examinations or tests will accurately identify the cause of hair loss for effective remedies.
Treatments are categorised into medical and surgical. For medical, a topical cream such as minoxidil needs to be applied for up to one year to be effective. Oral medication such as finasteride blocks the effect of testosterone on primed hair follicles. Surgery is effective but only for select individuals with sufficient residual hair stock.
Hair growth cycle
Anagen (growth phase)
Hair can grow for up to six years, at a rate of one centimetre per month. Hair pigment is produced in the hair bulb throughout this phase. Less pigment is made for older people, causing white hairs.
Catagen (transitional phase)
This phase signals the end of active hair growth. This phase can last between one and four weeks. Blood supply is cut off from the hair cells and club hairs (hair that has stopped growing and is attached to skin with its ‘club-like’ root) are formed.
Telogen (rest phase)
This is the shedding phase which lasts for about three months. About one in 10 follicles on a person’s head is shed in this phase. New hair begins to grow from the hair follicle, causing the old hair to shed naturally. The cycle starts again.
Main types of alopecia
Alopecia is the partial or complete loss of hair. Different types of alopecia are due to different factors.
One of the most common causes of hair loss due to genetics, hormones (testosterone) and ageing. Male pattern baldness involves a receding hairline, thinning around the crown and bald spots. Women usually experience androgenic alopecia later than men and their hair thins throughout the scalp, while the frontal hairline remains intact.
Hair loss due to strain on hair follicles by the pulling of hair for hairstyles such as braids and ponytails.
Alopecia areata is thought to be an auto-immune disease that can affect both men and women. The affected hair follicles are attacked by the body’s immune system by mistake, causing the halt in hair growth. However, the hair follicles are ready to resume hair production if the white blood cells stop their attacks. Smooth, circular bald patches on the scalp can progress to total scalp hair loss (alopecia totalis) or complete body hair loss (alopecia universalis).
Hair care tips
- Use hair care products that are appropriate for your hair, such as shampoos for oily, dry or treated hair. Use products that protect hair from harsh sunlight, or wear a hat.
- Use shampoos with salicyclic acid, zinc and/or selenium sulfide to counter dandruff. Gently scrub your hair to loosen the flakes but do not scratch the scalp with your fingernails as this will injure the hair follicles and may cause scalp infection.
- Massage your scalp to improve blood circulation to the hair roots, so hair follicles can better receive nutrients for hair growth.
- Avoid styling hair when it is wet to prevent breakage. Use a wide-tooth comb to detangle hair.
Brush hair gently to distribute scalp oil (sebum produced by sebaceous glands in hair follicles) to hair strands, making them smoother and softer.
- Treatments like perming, straightening or colouring can damage hair. Let your hair rest for a period of time before styling again. For example, if you undergo hair rebonding, wait a month or more before dyeing hair.
- Some colour treatments can cause scalp irritation and hair loss. Do a patch test before using a product.
Split ends are irreversible and are caused by treatments such as dyeing, perming or the use of blow dryers. Go for regular haircuts to eliminate split ends as they can travel up the hair shaft to the roots. Set the hairdryer setting to ‘cool’ and consider using a leave-in conditioner on hair ends.
- Counter hair frizz with jojoba oil. Apply heated oil and wrap hair in a towel for some time before shampooing and rinsing the oil away. Use cold water for the rinse to seal in the oil and detangle hair with a wide-tooth comb. Air-dry.
- Eat right to avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Take foods or supplements containing silica, biotin or essential fatty acids like flaxseed, primrose and salmon oil for strong, healthy hair.
1: Hair grows at an average of one centimetre per month.
5: The average number of years that each hair strand lasts before falling out to make way for a new one.
30 to 45: The percentage of water weight that hair can absorb.
50 to 100: Thickness of a hair strand in microns.
100: The average number of grammes that each hair strand can withstand before breaking.
250: The average number of hairs per square centimetre of scalp.