Hair Loss: A Hidden Epidemic
When you're losing your hair, it's common to feel isolated. If it happens while you're young, you may feel like the only person in the world with that sort of problem. But hair loss is a lot more common than you might think – it's just that people go to extraordinary lengths to conceal it.
In this article, we strip away the wigs, hats, scarves and extensions, and take a look at the bald facts.
A Common ProblemHair loss is far from being an unusual problem. Over two thirds of people experience it at some point in life, with a quarter of men starting to go bald before they reach their mid-twenties. Early balding often goes unnoticed by other people because it can be hidden by careful styling, with receding hairlines and widely distributed thinning being the most common variants.
By the age of 60, two thirds of men are balding, the usual cause being poisoning of the hair follicles by dihydrotestosterone – androgenetic alopecia (also known as Male Pattern Baldness). Men of African origin are most prone to this, with men of Asian origin the most likely to keep full heads of hair into old age (see our article Hair Loss Types in Different Ethnic Groups). Although women also have testosterone in their bodies, it doesn't cause such serious problems, as a prostate is necessary to turn it into dihydrotestosterone. But women can still suffer from baldness.
Female Hair LossFemale baldness tends to be even more carefully hidden than male baldness, because healthy hair is so important to most people's ideas of femininity. But it's an increasingly common problem. A third of European women suffer from genetic conditions that can lead to hair loss, and almost three quarters experience some thinning of the hair as they grow older.
But there's a more sinister side to the female hair loss epidemic. One of the major reasons for hair loss in developing countries is malnutrition, and experts believe that poor nutrition caused by dieting and poor food choices is a major factor in women's hair loss today, influencing over a third of cases. The message is simple: if you want to keep your hair, you have to look after your general health.
Another major cause of hair loss is anxiety, which is more common in women than in men, and which is, unfortunately, often made worse by the experience of balding. Anxiety is thought to be a trigger in over a quarter of cases of female balding. As with most of the hair loss problems experienced by women, this is usually treatable, but, due to feelings of shame and the urge to deny what's happening, sufferers wait an average of two years before seeking help.
Constantly Disappearing HairAlthough the average head starts out with 100,000 to 150,000 healthy hair follicles, we all lose hair constantly, and the rate of loss gets faster as we age, reaching a point – in most cases – where new hair growth can't keep up. When we're young we generally lose about 90 hairs a day, but in middle age the average is a 120.
Rates of hair growth vary by hair type. Asian hair again has an advantage, growing the fastest and being the most resilient, while African hair is fragile and most types of European hair become more fragile with age. This means that shorter hairstyles are not only more flattering when hair is thinning, they also keep it in better condition, as it is then less vulnerable to snapping.
However you experience hair loss, the important thing is to remember that, no matter how other people may look, a large proportion of them are going through the same thing. Unfortunately, it's just part of being human.