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Losing your hair?

Here's what you should know

“Hair brings one’s self-image into focus; it is vanity’s proving ground.”  – Shana Alexander 

When a woman sees a doctor due to hair loss, aka alopecia, the physician considers many potential causes — including genetics, hormones, a medical condition, chemicals and trauma. Stress, nutrition and medications all may be contributing factors. 

The normal hair follicle actively adds length to the hair for two to eight years, followed by a two-to-four-month rest period. Thus, about 90 percent of scalp hair is actively growing. Most people’s hair grows about six inches per year. Humans have about 100,000 active scalp hair follicles and lose about 100 strands of hair each day. New ones grow to replace those lost strands, hopefully keeping a balance. As we age, the new follicles are weaker, producing thinner, more fragile hair. 

The most common cause of female hair loss is hormonal change, such as that caused by loss of estrogen during menopause. Called androgenic alopecia, this loss of female hormones induces a gradual recession of hair along the hair parts. Half of all women will show this pattern by age 80. Other hormonal changes may result in hair loss, such as the fluctuations occurring during pregnancy, childbirth and the use of birth control pills. 

Medical conditions that cause hair loss include thyroid disorders, anemia, autoimmune diseases (lupus), polycystic ovary syndrome and skin conditions such as psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. A stress-related condition called alopecia areata will create temporary circles of baldness in random patterns on the scalp.

Many medications can cause hair loss, including those used for depression, cancer, heart disease, hypertension, gout and arthritis. Check the side effects of your individual medicines to see if those could be contributing factors. Heavy metal poisoning, such as exposure to mercury or thallium, are rare causes of hair loss. Others include scalp yeast or fungus (such as ringworm), infections causing high fever and certain diseases such as syphilis. Radiation therapy for cancer often results in alopecia. 

Physical trauma can cause hair loss, too. Certain hair styles put stress on the roots, like tight cornrows. Chemicals in hair dyes or permanents can poison the hair follicles. Long-term emotional stress depresses hair growth and sometimes results in a hair-pulling disorder. Even a single stressful event, such as surgery or a severe weight loss, may cause a sudden, noticeable hair loss. 

Hair is the fastest growing tissue in the body, so to maintain healthy hair, proper nutrition is essential. Vitamin A helps skin glands make an oily substance called sebum that moisturizes the scalp and helps keep hair healthy. However, too much vitamin A causes hair loss. Deficiency in either vitamin D or the B vitamin biotin results in hair loss. Vitamin C is needed to create the collagen found in hair. Healthy hair requires vitamin E, zinc and iron. 

To maintain that healthy crown, treat your hair kindly with mild shampoos, gentle brushing and good body nutrition. If your hair loss seems extreme, visit your physician for blood tests. 

Dr. Philip L. Levin is a retired emergency medicine specialist in Gulfport. Learn more or contact him at 

Written by Dr. Philip Levin

Dr. Philip L. Levin is a retired emergency medicine specialist in Gulfport. Learn more or contact him at

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