When it comes to things that make you panic hard, hair falling out in clumps has got to be up there. But why are your beautiful locks tumbling to the ground?
We know it’s hard but you can leave that panic button alone. It’s not anything immediately life-threatening. Phew. So let’s check out the causes and explain what you can do about unnerving but manageable hair scares.
Well, everyone’s different.
But if you can pinpoint the most likely cause, you’ll know if a physician’s office visit is *truly* necessary. You may just need to make a few nonmedical adjustments and let your hair grow back with time. Sometimes, it’s just Mother Nature and your genetics taking their course.
Here are some likely culprits.
Male and female pattern baldness
We’ll start with the cause that you can do the least about.
The fancy name for male and female pattern baldness is androgenetic alopecia. This possible cause for your hair loss is just in your DNA.
Do you have a grandparent or parent with a shiny scalp? You’re more likely to experience this yourself, as your hormones change and cause hair follicles to reduce in size — eventually to the point that they don’t produce new hairs.
You’re not alone, either. In one 2017 study, 67.1 percent of males and 23.9 percent of females (in a sample of 654 people) had androgenetic alopecia. Men notice it mostly with hair loss in large patches on the top of the head or a receding hairline, while women tend to experience thinning on their crown, especially after menopause.
If you’ve gone through a stressful life event (hello, pandemic), lived through a health issue (including surgery), or been pregnant, it can take one heck of a toll on your body. As a result, you may well shed a crapload of hair, scaring you even more in the process. Gee, thanks, body!
So think back to about 2 to 5 months. Did you have any severe illnesses? Fever? Infections? Malnutrition? They could all have triggered temporary hair loss.
The good news is that hair loss due to stress usually rights itself within about 2 to 6 months. This means all you’ll need to do is take it easy for a while (if that’s possible). If that underlying stress stays in your life, so will your unwanted hair loss.
If you eat foods that lack yummy vitamins and minerals like iron, zinc, and vitamins B12 and D, you may well experience excessive hair loss. All of these nutrients seem to help your body with hair production, and if you don’t get enough of them, your scalp may simply go on strike.
But be careful: studies also suggest that too much vitamin A can actually contribute to hair loss, as can selenium. So go easy on those, ‘kay?
Alopecia areata is a condition that can cause complete baldness. Your own immune system can trigger it, ordering inflammatory cells to attack your hair follicles. This blocks their ability to produce hair. Some people have it for their entire lives, while others experience it temporarily.
The good news: you’re statistically fairly unlikely to develop alopecia. The lifetime risk of developing it is a mere 2 percent, and it tends to happen between the ages of 25 and 36 years.
There are also varying degrees of alopecia: you’re far more likely to develop bald patches than lose all your hair entirely.
Your thyroid is another factor that can make your hair go AWOL. Overactive thyroid? Hair loss. Underactive thyroid? Hair loss.
Thyroid problems tend to run in families, so if that’s ringing a bell and you’re experiencing the loss of your locks, you might want to make an appointment with your doctor.
This is especially important considering that if you leave it untreated, your hair follicles will get used to the hormonal changes, and stop producing hair.
Some other health problems can have your hair falling out, including autoimmune diseases like lupus and chronic infections.
Certain medications and treatments can also trigger hair loss. Chemotherapy is well-known for causing hair loss, but retinoids, beta-blockers, and antidepressants can also contribute.
The good news? When you finish the treatment or course of medication, your hair should bounce back to its former glory.
Think of hair growth as being like a set of traffic lights, with your hair going through three separate phases:
- Green light = anagen. Go, go go! Your hair is growing!
- Amber light = catagen. Your hair growth is coming to a close.
- Red light = telogen. Your hair says “nope,” and sheds itself.
90 percent of your hair is at the green light right now — anagen-style. It’s growing and doing its thing. Then the catagen stage has it sitting at the amber light for a couple of weeks, before it gets totally bored of hanging around on your head, and drops off (thanks to the telogen phase).
So what’s a healthy amount of hair to lose in a day? Well, the average person has about 100 hairs dive-bombing to the floor each day. But the empty hair follicle returns to the anagen stage and starts growing hair again.
Hair loss happens when there’s an imbalance in your health, hormone levels, or too much stress. During imbalances, more of your hair is at the catagen stage, so it falls out in clumps. But once you restore balance, you’ll enter the anagen stage once more. Ready, get set…
Does hair loss affect curly or straight hair more?
Studies haven’t really taken place that give us an idea either way. The only research on curly hair and hair loss seems to revolve around race, rather than on the structure or curliness of the hair itself.
But how about if you artificially curl your hair? Well, bad news. The heat from a curling (or straightening) iron doesn’t do it much good, according to a study from 2011. It causes “bubble hair,” which is not a mermaid thing but, instead, deforms the hair shaft and contributes to hair loss. Yikes.
Does dyeing your hair make it fall out?
More bad news — dyeing your hair does indeed make you more likely to experience some hair loss.
Remember telogen, your “red light” phase of hair growth? The process of dyeing your hair is so rough on your hairs that they have an emergency evacuation, getting the heck out of Dodge pretty darn quickly.
In addition, the hair dye weakens the rest of your hair, especially if you’re going blonde — the peroxide strips pigments from your hair and makes them more prone to breakage. Noooo!
A lot of the time, hair loss is temporary, and your locks will naturally replace themselves. But there are a few things you can try to move the process along:
Check your diet
Hair loss can happen due to a nutritional imbalance or deficiency of certain vitamins and minerals. So, every day, try and make sure you consume:
- 8 grams of iron for males bodies, and 18 grams for females
- 11 milligrams zinc for males and 8 milligrams for females
- 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12
- 600 IU of vitamin D
- 46 grams protein (if you’re female) and 52–56 grams if you’re male (depending on age)
We’ve given the figures for peeps aged 19+ years, but these recommendations do vary depending on age and sex. Check out the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025, for info that’s more specific to your sex and age group.
Plus, if you have any deficiencies of a specific nutrient (like iron deficiency anemia), you may need larger helpings to balance your bod. If in doubt, it might be useful to speak with a registered dietitian and work out the best route to nutritional harmony.
Your hair will thank you for getting enough nutrients.
Go easy on the styling
Curling irons and straightening irons are no bueno, as is dyeing your hair. Consider going a bit more natural until your hair has stopped falling out in clumps.
If you’re experiencing pattern baldness, you might want to give minoxidil (aka Rogaine) a try. But beware — results aren’t guaranteed. Plus, you have to keep using it to maintain effectiveness, else you’ll lose all your hair’s hard work.
But on the whole, it works pretty well, with very few reported side effects (bar some scalp itching), and it’s available over the counter.
A 2015 study found that rosemary essential oil might be helpful for stopping hair loss as much as Rogaine, and without the scalp-itching adverse effects. The study was small, however and further research is definitely necessary to tout rosemary oil as a full replacement — but it looks promising.
Finasteride (aka Propecia) is an FDA-approved medication for treating androgenetic hair loss that reduces levels of a particular hormone and stimulates that sweet, sweet hair growth.
But it can have an adverse effect on your libido and your ability to, erm, keep things looking up.
Steroid injections or creams
If you’re worried, making changes to your diet without any results or finding that your hair treatments aren’t working, it might be time to consult with your physician, folks.
And on that note, if you notice severe hair loss or bald patches, get yourself to your doctor. They’ll be able to identify the causes and assign you the most appropriate treatment, which can be helpful if the cause is an underlying autoimmune or inflammatory condition. Cheers, doc!
Okay, these treatments are all well and good. But is there a way to prevent hair loss?
Sometimes, there’s just not a darn thing you can do about it. Male or female pattern baldness might just be in your DNA. And while there are treatments available, there’s nothing you can do to prevent it in advance. We know, it sucks.
For everyone else, the main things you can do are:
- keeping an eye on your diet
- getting those vitamins and minerals
- getting enough sleep
- trying to keeping your stress levels down (wherever possible)
All of these things help to keep your hair in that lovely anagen “green light” phase, rather than plunging to the floor in despair.
And yeah, lay off the curling and straightening irons as much as you can. Do you need to style your hair every single day? If you can give your locks an occasional break, they’ll gratefully cling to your head — and beautifully straight hair or glorious, bouncy curls serve no purpose on your bathroom floor.
The main thing to remember is that hair loss isn’t usually a symptom of anything serious (excluding things like chemotherapy treatments that you’ll already be aware of). Once you sort out the root imbalance, your hair loss will right itself again.
In fact, it has a variety of causes — everything from male and female pattern baldness to an imbalanced diet, traumatic events, periods of ill health, and simple stress. It’s often the result of something putting a strain on your body, which disrupts your hair’s natural growth cycle.
The good news is that there’s plenty of treatments available and one of the best preventions is simply taking care of yourself. Love your hair? Love yourself, and your luscious locks will follow suit.