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What Are the Myths to Hair Loss?

Hair loss is not caused by wearing a baseball cap. However it is important to keep your scalp clan and well cared for. Of course, anything that cuts the blood flow to the scalp may have a negative effect on hair growth, so be sure to find a good-fitting cap if you do choose to wear one.

Hair loss is not simply traceable to your mother or father's "side." Although it could be a good indication, the fact is that genes sometimes skip generations. Your best bet is to keep an eye on your hair and start using the available remedies as soon as you notice any thinning. The earlier you start, the better your results will be.

Some common hair loss myths:

* Frequent shampooing leads to hair loss
* Hats and wigs cause hair loss
* 100 strokes a day will create healthy hair
* Permanant hair loss is caused by perms and color treatments
* Women are expected to develop siginificant hair back, thicker
* Shaving ones head will cause the hair to grow back thicker
* Standing on ones head will stimulate hair growth
* Stress causes permanant hair loss
* Hair loss only affects the elderly
* Hair loss only affects intellectuals
* There is no cure for androgenic alopecia

The Biology of hair

Significant in many of these properties is the hair follicle appendage. The key role of hair is to provide protection against heat loss. Hair traps air adjacent to the skin to provide an invisible, insulating layer. Several mammalian species produce special dense winter coats with added heat trapping properties. Otters have hair to trap a layer of air around their bodies keeping them warm and making them more buoyant while they swim. Many species go through molting cycles in tune with seasonal changes.

Hair can provide indications of sexual development through onset of secondary sexual characteristics from development of a mane on a male lion to beard development in humans. Hair may also be of importance in attracting mates and may be based on color - such as silver back mountain gorillas - distribution or quality, all indicators of the general health and vitality of an individual. Alternatively, it may aid in camouflage for survival where mute tones or dappled color blend with an animal's environment. Hair fiber also helps with protection forming a tough barrier helping protect the epidermis from minor abrasions and/or from ultra violet light. Specialized hair such as eyebrows and eyelashes protect the eyes by channeling or sweeping away fluids, dust and debris. Nasal hair plays an important role in trapping air borne foreign particles before reaching the lungs. Hair fiber may also increase the surface area for faster evaporation of sweat from neighboring apocrine glands. Some hair follicles have a highly developed nerve network around them and provide sensory, tactile information about the environment. Consequently, the hair follicle is of great importance to the survival of mammals.

hair follicle hair follicle

skin cross section showing hair growthAlthough its importance for humans has diminished it is still significant - not just biologically, but also through cosmetic and commercial considerations. The secondary functions of hair are now of primary importance for humans. Hair styles are used to make a statement, to identify the individual with a particular faction of society, and/or to attract a mate. Hair is the foundation for a multi million dollar industry focused on presenting, augmenting, and preserving scalp hair plus removing unwanted body hair.

The human hair growth cycle

Under normal circumstances hair growth in each hair follicle occurs in a cycle. There are three main phases of the hair growth cycle; anagen, catagen and telogen with anagen further subdivided into proanagen, mesanagen and metanagen. Anagen is the active growth phase when hair fiber is produced. Proanagen marks initiation of growth with RNA and DNA synthesis in a follicle which then quickly progresses through mesanagen to metanagen and maximum follicle length and girth. In this mature state of proliferation and differentiation the hair follicle consists of a total of eight concentric layers and melanogenesis occurs within pigmented hair follicles. Anagen is followed by catagen, a period of controlled regression of the hair follicle. Ultimately the hair follicle enters telogen, when the follicle is in a so-called resting state.

Causes of hair loss

Hereditary Thinning or Balding:

Hereditary balding or thinning is the most common cause of hair loss. The tendency can be inherited from either the mother's or father's side of the family. Women with this trait develop thinning hair, but do not become completely bald. The condition is called androgenetic alopecia and it can start in the teens, twenties, or thirties. There is no cure, although medical treatments have recently become available that may help some people. One treatment involves applying a lotion, minoxidil, to the scalp twice a day. Another treatment for men is a daily pill containing finasteride, a drug that blocks the formation of the active male hormone in the hair follicle.

Improper Hair Cosmetic Use/Improper Hair Care:

Many men and women use chemical treatments on their hair, including dyes, tints, bleaches, straighteners, and permanent waves. These treatments rarely damage hair if they are done correctly. However, the hair can become weak and break if any of these chemicals are used too often. Hair can also break if the solution is left on too long, if two procedures are done on the same day, or if bleach is applied to previously bleached hair. If hair becomes brittle from chemical treatments, it's best to stop until the hair has grown out.

Alopecia areata:

Alopecia areata appears as discrete, smooth, round patches of hair loss about the size of a coin or larger. There may be one or several of these coin-sized patches of hair loss. This condition is most often limited to one area of the body but can affect the scalp, beard, eyebrows, eyelashes, or any hair on the body. The cause of alopecia areata remains a mystery. It is not uncommon, affecting approximately 2% of the population, and may occur at any age. It is equally common among women and men, and aside from hair loss, those affected are usually healthy otherwise. In some cases, the bald area(s) will spontaneously regrow hair over several months without treatment. In other cases, the bald spots may progressively enlarge.


Many agents used to treat cancer will cause hair cells to stop dividing, stopping hair growth. Up to 90% of the hairs may fall out 1 to 3 weeks after cancer treatment. Fortunately, the hair does regrow in most cases when the treatment is completed. Cancer patients should be warned of this side effect so that they have the opportunity to prepare for any possible hair loss, such as getting a wig or hairpiece, if desired, prior to treatment.

Male pattern baldness:

Male pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia, is a hereditary form of hair loss. Male pattern baldness is by far the most common cause of hair loss, affecting over 20 million men in the United States. To fully understand what goes on in male pattern baldness, let's briefly revisit the hair cycle. Over time, some hair follicles begin to shrink, producing finer, shorter hairs ("peach fuzz"). This is what accounts for thinning of the scalp. These changes usually start at the temples, appearing as the classic "receding hairline." It also occurs on the crown of the scalp. Eventually, hair follicles may begin to die, leading to hair loss. Bald spots may increase in size until the entire top of the head is bald with hair remaining only on the sides.

If you are like a lot of my patients, you may believe the myth that your hair loss is inherited from your mother's side of the family. But for many men who are losing their hair, their mother's father has a full head of hair. So then why are they going bald? The truth is, baldness is a very complicated genetic trait that may be inherited from either the mother's or the father's side of the family (or both). And it can even skip generations. So, please, don't blame your mother!

By Peter Young, MD, Womack Army Medical Center


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