Androgenic alopecia, the most common form of hair loss, is primarily due to the hair follicles being hypersensitive to male hormones. However, a number of other factors can contribute to exacerbating existing alopecia. It is important to know these, in order to better control and reduce their effects whenever possible.
Unsuitable eating habits
A balanced diet is essential for healthy hair; protein, iron, zinc, magnesium and vitamins are especially important. Nutritional deficiencies can weaken hair, which then becomes dry, dull and brittle, but they can also cause or worsen hair loss. Adopting the right eating habits is generally enough to overcome this.
Stress and emotional shock
Stress is the body’s response to external threats or stressors, and it causes different hormones to be released into the bloodstream. These include androgens, the male hormones which are directly linked to hair loss in individuals who are sensitive to them. Stress can therefore significantly aggravate existing hair loss, but will not generally create hair loss in someone who was not already losing their hair previously.
For the same reasons, emotional shock (grief, divorce, intense fear, a radical change in lifestyle, etc.) can also cause sudden and abundant hair loss (telogen effluvium), or aggravate an existing case of androgenic alopecia.
In the months following childbirth, hormonal changes and extreme fatigue cause increased hair loss in most women. On a normal head of hair, this increased hair loss is of no consequence: hair density goes back to normal after a few months. However, if the new mother suffers from androgenic alopecia, the hair will likely grow back thinner and in fewer numbers than previously.
Since hair is directly linked to hormones, oral contraceptives can influence hair loss: some have a positive effect, curbing hair loss, while others can exacerbate it. If you suffer from hair loss, speak to your gynaecologist to find a suitable contraceptive.
In women between puberty and menopause, the female hormones (oestrogens) secreted by the ovaries partly offset the effect of the male hormones: androgenic alopecia is possible, but it is always in a milder form than what men experience. During menopause, oestrogen production drops suddenly by 80% and these quantities are no longer sufficient to be an “antidote” to androgens. Consequently, at this time it is common to observe increased hair loss or the start of androgenic alopecia.
In spring and autumn, weather changes (hours of sunlight, moisture in the air, temperatures) can lead to increased hair loss. This may be barely noticeable in some people, but be rather impressive in others. However, this is completely natural and should not be a cause for concern, as long as it doesn’t last for more than 4 to 6 weeks. The hair will spontaneously thicken again.
Clinical studies have established a very clear but as yet little-understood correlation between androgenic alopecia and high levels of bad cholesterol: people suffering from hypercholesterolemia are far more frequently affected by androgenic alopecia. But is it the bad cholesterol that causes the hair loss? Or is it the hypersensitivity to male hormones (the cause of alopecia) that is responsible for the increase in cholesterol? The question is still being debated within the scientific community.
Certain medical treatments
Different medications can cause hair loss or significantly exacerbate alopecia: chemotherapies, which stop hair development in the growth phase, but also certain hormonal therapies or corticoids, certain anti-depressants, anti-inflammatories, anti-hypertensive drugs, and beta blockers.
Overly aggressive hair styling habits
Certain tight hairdos, such as buns, plaits or ponytails, can place excessive strain on hair roots. Putting hair up like this too often can lead to hair loss, scalp inflammation, and cause hair to grow back thinner and thinner. Likewise, harsh practices such as chemical hair dyes and using a very hot hair dryer or a crimper should be avoided when suffering from hair loss.