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Skin Care and Diseases

Pattern Hair Loss Sometimes Treatable -- But Also Inevitable

A man's chance of completely stopping hair loss is comparable to stopping a runaway truck without brakes: unlikely.

Pattern baldness, known medically at androgenic alopecia, is the most common form of hair loss in both men and women. The condition is caused by hereditary factors and circulating hormones known as androgens.

The same hormones that give boys facial hair during puberty will cause them to lose hair on their heads as men. We are genetically destined from birth to either lose or keep our hair as we age. Most treatments to prevent hair loss are simply delaying the inevitable.

Hair loss is a natural part of the hair growth and replenishment cycle. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says most people lose an average of 50 to 100 hairs a day.

Hair grows from follicles, which reside below the skin's surface and are the only living part of the hair. Hormones allow healthy hair follicles to consistently grow for approximately three years, then the follicle sheds the hair and begins the process again. The AAD estimates that 90 percent of a person's hair is growing at any given time.

This process allows the scalp to consistently and continually grow hair, so you don't notice the hair turnover.

If the hair follicle goes into a permanent resting phase, it will not grow new hair. This is when people start to notice baldness because the natural turnover in hair is not being replenished.

Although it is rare, pattern baldness can also affect women. It is estimated that one in four American women are living with pattern hair loss. Both men and women are urged to exercise caution when regularly using chemical treatments on their hair, including straighteners and permanent waves, as they may detrimentally impact hair follicle health and therefore hair growth.

In addition to genetics and hormones, illness, stress, and other factors can cause periods of more severe hair loss. The condition, known as telogen effluvium, can be triggered by things that disrupt the hair growth cycle, including:

Treatment

Men who choose to treat hair loss need to realize they are making a long-term commitment.

Most men won't see results for at least three to four months of continuous treatment. Even after that, as soon as treatment is discontinued hair growth will also stop and their newly replenished hairs will fall out.

For those who are willing to make the long-term commitment, he says there are two safe and relatively effective treatment options:

Finasteride works by decreasing the amount of the active ingredient of androgen (DHT), which leads to increased hair regrowth and slower hair loss. It is only approved for use in men.

Success of treatment, however, depends on several factors:

It's important for men to realize treating hair loss medically is only delaying the inevitable, but if they can afford the time and cost of treatments, it is a legitimate way to stimulate hair growth.

Finasteride costs about $2 a pill. Minoxidil costs about $10 to $15 per month. Neither is covered by insurance.

This article originally appeared in UC Health Line (11/13/08), a service of the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center Public Relations Department and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2007.

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Last Reviewed: Jan 22, 2009

Diya F Mutasim, MD Diya F Mutasim, MD
Professor and Chairman
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati