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man looking in the mirror at his hairline

What you can—and can’t—do to stop hair loss

Hair thinning, excessive shedding, a widening part or a bald spot—new hair loss can be alarming and frustrating. Bania Calero, M.D., a Piedmont family medicine physician, explains the most common causes of hair loss and what you can do about it.

Is hair loss normal?

Shedding some strands of hair each day is normal, says Dr. Calero. Most people shed about 50 to 100 hairs daily. When these strands fall out, new hair will grow back in. But hair loss is different than hair shedding. Medically, hair loss is known as “alopecia.”

Who’s at risk for hair loss?

Hair loss can affect both men and women, though it’s more common in men. It’s caused by a variety of factors, says Dr. Calero, including heredity, aging, hormonal changes, medical conditions and even stress.

What causes hair loss in men and women?

A variety of factors can cause hair loss:

  • Family history (heredity). Heredity is the most common cause of hair loss and it’s part of the aging process for many people. This type of hair loss is called male-pattern baldness, female-pattern baldness or androgenic alopecia. In men, it typically causes a receding hairline and bald spots. In women, it usually causes thinning along the crown of the head.

  • Stress. Dr. Calero says she sees many patients with hair thinning related to stress. When their stressful circumstances go away (for example, they change jobs), their hair often returns to normal.

  • Medications. Certain medications and supplements—particularly those used to treat cancer, depression, gout, arthritis and heart issues—can cause hair loss as a side effect.

  • Hormonal changes or medical conditions. Some conditions can cause temporary or permanent hair loss, such as pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, lupus, diabetes, thyroid issues, alopecia areata (when the immune system attacks hair follicles) and trichotillomania (a hair-pulling disorder).

  • Irritating hair products. Shampoo, conditioner, styling products, dye and bleach can irritate the scalp. Dr. Calero recommends using gentle products and discontinuing the use of irritating products.

  • Certain hairstyles. Frequently wearing hairstyles that pull your hair tight—such as high ponytails—can lead to hair loss.

  • Scalp infections. Infections like ringworm can cause scaly patches and hair loss on the scalp.

How to prevent and treat hair loss

Hereditary baldness can’t be prevented. Some people try hair transplant treatments, but they can be pricey and don’t always work, says Dr. Calero. For other types of hair loss, she recommends to:

  • Care for your scalp. Decrease how many products you use on your hair and opt for gentle formulas.

  • Prioritize overall health. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep. Good overall health will support a healthy scalp and hair growth.  

  • Manage stress. Reduce stress through good sleep, regular exercise, proper nutrition, meditation, journaling, unplugging from social media and electronic devices, and seeking counseling or coaching for extra support.

  • Review your medications. Ask your health care provider if any of your supplements or medications can cause hair loss.

  • Quit smoking. Some research shows a connection between baldness and smoking in men.

  • Protect your hair from UV damage. When you’re out in the sun, wear a hat, seek shade and use UV-protectant products on your hair and scalp.

  • Change up your hairstyles. If you frequently wear tight hairstyles, consider other styles that don’t pull on your scalp.

If you have questions or concerns about hair loss, talk to your primary care provider or dermatologist. Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.

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