Think hair loss typically only happens to men? Well, think again! Both men and women can experience thinning hair or bald spots on their head and for many, the loss of hair can be traumatic. A startling 40 percent of Americans have reported hair loss according to the American Hair Loss Association. Black women are more prone to losing hair than Black men and are less likely to seek any kind of professional help for the condition.
Just the hair loss facts
By age 60, a whopping 80 percent of women will have noticeable hair loss. By age 50, approximately 85% of men will have significantly thinning hair. Hair loss among Black women is believed to be genetic in addition, there are a few damaging practices that stress out their hair like braiding, chemical relaxing and wearing weaves.
The most common type of hair loss is called androgenetic alopecia, also known as male-or female-pattern baldness. It tends to run in families and causes your hair to fall out gradually. As men get older, they may start to lose hair in the front of their scalp. The pattern of hair loss for women is different as their hair may thin out all over their scalp, but is often most obvious along the part.
Both men and women with androgenetic alopecia can apply medicines to their scalp to slow the progression of their hair loss. However, some medications are only FDA-approved for men. Some men (and occasionally women) opt for hair transplant surgery, in which tiny plugs of hair are moved from the back of the head to the front. This option depends on how much hair is available for a transplant.
Another common type of hair loss is known as alopecia areata. Scientists recently discovered what causes this type of hair loss. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease. The immune system, which normally helps protect your body from disease, starts attacking hair follicles. Hair follicles are the part of the skin that hairs grow from. Usually, only small patches of hair on the scalp are lost. But in severe cases, hair all over the body may be lost. The hair loss may not be permanent because hair follicles are not destroyed. They are just stuck in a resting state.
Are there meds that stop hair loss?
Currently, there are no approved drugs for alopecia areata. However, an NIH-funded study recently discovered that a class of drugs called Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors can stop, and even reverse, the disease. Dr. Angela Christiano, a skin disease expert at Columbia University, showed that JAK inhibitors block the damaging effects of the immune system on hair follicles. Many people who took the drug had their hair grow back in her study. More clinical trials are now underway to determine how safe and effective JAK inhibitors are for treatment of alopecia areata.
“I think it’s a hopeful time for patients with alopecia areata,” says Christiano, who also has the disease. She hopes that the excitement around alopecia areata research will carry over to other types of hair loss, which tend to be understudied diseases.
If you start losing clumps of hair or notice your hair thinning, check in with your doctor. They can help identify the cause, suggest possible treatments, and help you learn how to manage the condition.
Dealing with the effects of hair loss on your head can be hard, but there are many things you can do. “Find somebody that you trust and just talk about what’s going on,” advises Kathleen Baxley, who is the chief of social work at the NIH Clinical Center. She oversees a team that counsels people in clinical studies, including those who lose their hair because of a treatment. “It really helps folks a lot of the time just to tell their story. You can speak with a family member or close friend. Or, you can reach out to a counselor. Sometimes finding support groups helps,” Baxley adds. Support groups meet in person or have discussions online.
How can further hair loss be prevented?
Even though natural balding cannot be reversed, you can, however, put the brakes on further thinning by choosing to take better care of the hair you have left:
Consider going natural: Say goodbye to relaxers, dyes, harsh blow drying, stop abusing/stressing the hair you have left
Scrutinize hair products: Use mild shampoos sans the harsh sulfates. Go the organic and natural shampoo route, don’t worry that they aren’t as foamy as the ones you are used to, rest assured that they are getting the job done as far as cleansing
Wash hair at least once a week: Keep your scalp clean and free of product buildup
Try a hot oil treatment: Older folks used to swear by this and they were not lying! Hot oil adds much-needed moisture and elasticity to hair.
Loosen those tight braids: If your head hurts while you are getting it braided, ask the stylist to go easy as tension will only result in more hair damage
Use conditioner: Use conditioner every time you wash your hair. Be sure to coat the ends of the hair with conditioner, as the ends are the oldest and most fragile part of your hair.