Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/22/2021
Nobody wants to be bald, given the choice. It’s a hard fact. Some people may look great, some people may feel confident without hair, but at the end of the day, everyone would rather be bald by choice than by necessity.
Curing hair loss once and for all is one of man’s most vain quests, but when you’ve seen enough bad comb-overs, you’ll understand the desperation we face in the search.
Hair loss has many names, and many forms, but several of them fall under the category of alopecia. If you think you have a form of alopecia, or if you’ve been told you have it by a doctor, you’re probably here looking for that magic cure.
Before we walk you through your hair loss treatment options, it’s important to understand that there are many kinds of hair loss, and of alopecia and that they work differently. And because of that, the solutions are different too.
Hair loss and losing hairs are two different things. The good news is that a little in the bed, collar, shower, or sink is perfectly normal. As a matter of fact, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says a normal person sheds around 50 to 100 hairs of 100,000 a day.
Most of what goes down the drain is supposed to be there because it has entered the final part of a three-phase lifecycle. Hair follicles exist in four phases: anagen, catagen, telogen, and exogen.
The hair grows in the anagen phase, and 90 percent of your head at any given time is typically in the anagen phase.
In the catagen phase, which comes after, you can think of the follicle in retirement: it’s no longer productive, but it’s still alive and kicking.
This lasts for a few weeks, until the telogen phase begins, which signals the end for the follicle.
At this point, it’s effectively dead and waiting to fall out, before the cycle begins anew. You should have nine percent of your hair in this phase if everything is normal.
The exogen phase is when your hair finally sheds.
If things aren’t normal, though, you could be experiencing one of the many forms of hair loss. Depending on the underlying cause and the symptoms, hair loss can take many forms and go by many names, but the large majority of cases take the form of one or more alopecia conditions, including androgenic alopecia.
Androgenic alopecia is caused by factors like hormones, age, and your particular genetics, and you can see androgenic alopecia as early as your 20s. It could occur much later though and may take years to develop.
Male pattern baldness, as it is commonly known, shows up in the form of receding hairlines, thinning edges, and a bald spot on the crown.
Treatment for androgenic alopecia can include a variety of topical and oral medications, which slow or stop the recession of your hairline, and in some cases, they can even restart growth.
In stark contrast to its androgenic cousin, traction alopecia is less about your genetics and more about your hair habits. It’s caused by damage to the follicles, which can come from aggressive hairstyles like tight man buns, or bleaching.
That’s why traction alopecia is sometimes referred to as traumatic alopecia: it can also be caused by injuries to the scalp — anything that pulls, burns, or damages the follicle. That may even include literally pulling out your own hair from stress: a psychological condition called trichotillomania.
The best solution for this kind of hair loss is to knock off the chemical and physical injuries to your scalp. That means no more bleaching, straightening — anything you may be doing that might be causing trauma to the hairs.
Alopecia areata is actually an autoimmune disease whereby your immune system attacks your hair follicles until they’re too damaged to function. Left untreated, it will eventually cause patchy baldness that can be permanent.
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As you can see, there are several conditions that are under the alopecia umbrella, and unfortunately, we don’t know enough about the mechanisms that underlie these conditions to have a “cure.” In other words, the damage of most alopecia conditions is chronic at best, irreversible at the worst.
Just because there’s no cure, doesn’t mean your condition is hopeless. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Androgenic alopecia, for instance, can be addressed with a combination of topical and oral medications to inhibit the hormones that kill off your follicles. In some cases, they can even reverse recent hair loss.
Medications like minoxidil (brand name Rogaine®) and finasteride (brand name Propecia®) offer the potential both to stimulate follicle regrowth and to control hormone imbalances, respectively. Consult one today to find the right solution for you, or perhaps use both in a combination.
Traction alopecia is best treated by stopping whatever habit or process is causing the damage. That might mean leaving your man bun down or working on hair-pulling habits with a therapist.
Alopecia areata is the most difficult to treat — while stimulating hair regrowth is an important part of the process, the autoimmune issues need the care of a professional, and treating the problem likely will mean more than just treating the symptoms.
If you have symptoms of alopecia, the first thing you should do is consult a healthcare professional. While the signs of hair loss might be the most distressing thing you see, there could be other underlying conditions that you haven’t noticed.
Hair loss can be a symptom of something more serious, and treating one symptom without addressing its root cause isn’t going to do much for, well, your roots.
Once you’ve consulted a healthcare professional, they may offer topical or oral treatments, or they may recommend other therapies. They may even make suggestions about lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, that might help you build a better environment for hair growth.
Once you’ve gotten some recommendations, it might be time to consider prescription options like finasteride or minoxidil, and if that’s the route you’re taking, we can help you find the right options.