Have you noticed more hair left behind on your brush than usual? Or is the plughole getting blocked up faster when you shower? Do your tresses just feel thinner somehow? The chances are that you might be experiencing hair loss.
A recent study suggests that nearly two thirds of women worldwide will experience hair loss in their lifetime, a statistic that is, according to experts, constantly on the increase. A scary concept, especially in the Middle East and Africa where we place so much importance on our hair and how it makes us feel, spending around $4 billion per year on products and treatments to keep it looking its youthful, shiny, bouncy best.
There are between 120,000 and 150,000 hairs on the scalp, of which on average we shed 100 per day – and there are numerous reasons throughout a woman’s life why this shedding of hair may increase, including a change in medication, diet, and lifestyle; the correct diagnosis being the most important step on the road to recovery.
Dubai-based trichologist Michael Ryan says the number of women visiting his clinic in Bur Dubai complaining of hair loss has become so common that he estimates he sees around 50 cases per week. ‘It’s a huge problem here. Everybody says it’s the water, but it’s not the water. It’s things like [a lack of] vitamin D, air conditioning [dries out hair, but isn’t a scientifically proven cause of hair loss], atmosphere, thyroid, obesity, lifestyle, those kinds of things.’
Unbeknown to many, the topic of hair loss is vast and goes far deeper than the shampoo you’re using or the water with which you’re washing your locks. There are around 50 different types of hair loss that are placed within three categories: temporary, permanent and semi-permanent. There is also a distinct difference between alopecia and hair loss; alopecia is a health condition characterised by small coin-size bald patches rather than more general hair loss, and is thought to be an autoimmune disorder.
If you are suffering from hair loss, there is no need to panic, says Glenn Lyons, consultant trichologist and clinical director at the London-based clinic Philip Kingsley – regularly noted as the world’s top centre for treatment – whose career has spanned nearly five decades, most of which he has dedicated to studying hormone-related female hair loss. He says 85 per cent of his female clients come to him complaining of hair loss, but that in most cases it is just gradual thinning, which is a normal part of the aging process in both men and women and can be treated easily.
‘Most women at some time in their lives will experience hair loss,’ says Glenn. ‘Temporary hair loss is the biggest category and the main symptom is an increase of general shedding.’
This type of diffuse hair loss is the most common and is known as telogen effluvium. It occurs when healthy hair essentially stops growing, prematurely transitioning into what is known as the telogen (resting) phase, which eventually results in increased shedding of 25 per cent more than normal hair. There are numerous possible causes for this type of shedding that include physiologic stress such as childbirth, emotional stress (though this is debated between experts), a medical condition such as a thyroid issue, a deficiency of some sort such as low levels of zinc, iron, vitamin D, dietary issues like chronic starvation and crash dieting, and drugs such as the contraceptive pill.
Because our hair is comprised of the second fastest-growing cells in the human body, but is not essential, the body won’t prioritise its nutritional needs. Therefore a nutritional imbalance will result in excessive hair loss as the body focuses its energy on feeding vital organs and general bodily function. This means it is a brilliant indicator of what’s going on inside. Ultimately, if your hair is falling out there’s likely to be more to it than shampoo.
One of the more common deficiencies to result in hair loss in women is a low level of iron, specifically ferritin, a protein found in cells that store iron and release it in a controlled fashion. If levels of ferritin are low then hair simply won’t grow. Women are more prone to this than men because of menstruation cycles: blood loss results in depleted iron.
‘We were the first clinic to see the correlation between having adequate storage of iron and maximising hair growth,’ says Glenn. ‘In a healthy menstruating lady it’s the most important thing to check – about 90 per cent who are presenting with hair loss have low ferritin.’
Most doctors will run blood tests for anaemia and thyroid issues, but rarely check ferritin levels. Trichologists use a scale of between 27 and 150 of ferritin levels of which 80 is said to be normal, whereas a doctor might tell you 30 is sufficient and you don’t need extra iron. Treatment will usually require more than just eating protein-rich food, and may involve a supplement to get the body’s storage iron back to the correct level. But before you rush off to the pharmacy to buy some supplements be aware that it needs to be specific amount for your body determined through proper testing.
In the Middle East the most common reason for hair loss is a deficiency in vitamin D, which comes from the sun. Ironically, even though we live in a hot country, many of us don’t get much exposure to the sun. Vitamin D is essential for cell growth and in extreme cases can be associated with osteoporosis, impaired immunity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, depression… the list goes on.
Another common form of hair loss affecting about 50 per cent of women is postpartum – after giving birth. ‘When a woman conceives there’s an increase in oestrogen, which keeps hair in its growing phase, so she will lose a little less of her normal amount of hair daily, which over the term results in fairly voluminous hair,’ says Glen. ‘It is around three months afterwards that the hormone levels drop and hair is not being supported.’ This results in excess shedding.
Thankfully these types of temporary hair loss are relatively easy to treat. Once identified through blood tests and an in-depth evaluation of the patient’s diet, lifestyle and medical history, a trichologist will be able to recommend the right treatment or provide a referral to a specialist. There are, however, a few conditions that can result in permanent hair loss and such cases are on the increase.
Genetic pattern hair loss, otherwise known as androgenetic alopecia, is a condition suffered by men and women where the hair follicles themselves gradually get smaller and smaller until they die completely. Unlike men, women with this condition usually maintain their frontal hairline and rarely experience complete baldness. Instead, hair thins across the entire scalp with the most noticeable loss usually occurring along the parting and crown.
It can start at any time after the onset of puberty, but most commonly affects women after the menopause because of its links to the hormone testosterone, although the actual genetic changes that occur to increase risk of androgenetic alopecia are still unclear.
How can you tell if you have the gene? Currently you can’t, but you can look out for changes in your hair. ‘Genetic hair loss for women is very gradual,’ says Glenn. ‘There will come a point when their hairdresser or the patient themselves notices it. They come in and say they’re noticing more scalp than usual and that’s the giveaway.’ It isn’t completely reversible but current treatments have seen improvement in every woman treated, which means don’t wait until it’s too late to go and see a professional.
The lesson here, ladies? Hair loss is often an indicator of other things and whilst it may seem vain to tackle it with its very own doctor, if it was your skin you wouldn’t think twice.
Finding the balance
An underactive thyroid – also known as hypothyroidism – causes hair loss in women because it triggers a hormone imbalance. So consult a doctor on how to get treat the condition.
Too much oestrogen in your system often results in weight gain, fatigue and – you guessed it – hair loss. Exercise and losing a few kilos reduces oestrogen levels and therefore the risk of hair loss.
Halt tress stresses
1 Your locks grow longer and faster while you are asleep – go ahead and snooze.
2 The UAE’s harsh humid climate makes it necessary to wash your hair frequently – use a keratin-rich shampoo to restock the hair with those vital nutrients.
3 To give thinning hair a much-needed volume boost try a treatment called Invisablend. It’s a genius hair-enhancer that uses unique translucent blending strands. In other words, human hair is added one strand at a time between existing strands to create the illusion that the new hair is growing directly out of the scalp. Available at Vivandi Hair Spa, Dubai. For more info visit www.hairspa.ae or call 04 335 3336.