Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss, and is a condition said to affect 1 person in every 100 in the UK. There are different types of alopecia including traction alopecia, scarring alopecia, telogen effluvium and alopecia areata. Although many cases of hair loss is related to genetics and illness, there are some practices we can put in place to prevent the onset of alopecia. September is Alopecia Awareness Month, so we spoke to Zoë Passam, award-winning trichologist at Philip Kingsley who offers us advice on how to maintain a healthy hair regimen to protect our crowning glory.
Image credit: Audrey Jackson
What are the main causes of alopecia?
The most common causes of hair loss we see in the clinic are genetics, as in the case of female pattern hair loss, and nutritional deficiencies, for example low iron stores (ferritin) in women. However, the causes of hair loss are many and varied, which is why receiving a correct diagnosis is essential in addressing any hair loss problem. It is also not uncommon for someone to suffer from more than one type of hair loss at a time.
How can we take steps to minimise the chance of getting alopecia?
Maintaining a healthy diet is a good starting point, including plenty of protein, to supply amino acids the body needs to produce a good quality, strong hair. Hair is non-essential to life, so the body will not prioritise nutrients for growing hair if the diet is poor, for example if the calorie intake is low, or someone is skipping meals. Trying to avoid stress is also wise, as some conditions, such as alopecia areata, can be triggered by stress, although obviously this is easier said than done!
Can alopecia be treated? Can hair grow back even if the follicles appear dead?
This entirely depends on the cause, but in many cases yes, hair loss can be treated. In the case of alopecia areata, an auto-immune condition, in the which the body attacks hair follicles, the condition often self corrects. There are no treatments that are guaranteed to work for this condition, but treatment options include steroid injections and topical minoxidil. In the case of conditions that are described as scarring, hair follicles are permanently destroyed, and unfortunately regrowth is impossible. One example of this type of hair loss is frontal fibrosing alopecia, in which the hair line recedes in a band-like pattern. Hair loss at the hair margins due to traction alopecia is a type of hair loss especially common in black hair, due to prolonged wearing of tight hair styles. This type of hair loss is often permanent, if the traction has been long-standing.
How do we know how to differentiate between every day hair shedding and something more serious like a condition like alopecia?
Some degree of hair fall every day is normal, with normal daily shedding regarded as 80-100 strands. This may sound like an alarming amount but considering the average head of hair contains 100,000-120,000 follicles, this is a relatively small proportion. When looking at hair fall in the shower, always consider when you last washed your hair, as there can be quite considerable accumulation of dead hair between washes, especially with curly hair, where dead hair falls away less easily. If you have concerns about hair loss, it is best to seek professional advice from a trichologist, who will easily be able to differentiate between the different types of hair loss.
Are there foods you can eat to stimulate hair growth?
Unfortunately, there is no one food that will stimulate hair growth, but maintaining a good daily intake of protein will certainly help to maximise hair quality. Good choices include chicken, beef, fish and eggs, and for vegetarians/vegans, good options include beans, lentils and quinoa. For menstruating women, adequate iron intake is important, to replace that lost through blood loss. Red meat is an excellent source of readily absorbable iron, but vegetarian alternatives include dark green vegetables, pulses and dried fruit.
What hairstyles/treatments should you avoid to prevent the onset of traction alopecia?
Any hair style that induces a pulling action on the follicle has the potential to cause traction alopecia in the long term, if the style is worn for a prolonged period of time. Try styling the hair more loosely, or wearing the hair natural at least some of the time.
To find out more about alopecia visit philipkingsley.co.uk