As people age, most begin to lose hair.
It’s not just men, either; most women will experience some thinning, at least of their hair, as they grow older.
There are several reasons for hair loss, but by far the most common is a sensitivity to a certain byproduct of testosterone. People with that sensitivity have hair follicles that will shrink in the presence of that hormone, eventually becoming non-productive.
It’s most commonly seen in androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness. That is the kind of hair loss that begins at the hairline and gradually moves back, which accounts for 95 percent of baldness in men, a quarter of whom began to notice the hair loss by the time they turned 21.
But by 35, two thirds of men experience some hair loss and about 85 percent of men over 50 will have noticeably thinning hair.
A surprising amount of women also notice hair loss. About 40 percent of people who suffer thinning hair are women.
The first thing to do when hair loss is noticed, said Deb Nalty of Providence’s Monroe clinic, is screen for conditions that can cause hair loss, especially when hair loss is occurring rapidly or to someone who is unusually young.
“We do a workup on iron deficiency, thyroid disease, make sure there’s not lupus, no autoimmune diseases,” she said.
There are, in fact, several hundred diseases that have hair loss as a symptom.
But when health conditions are ruled out, there are other ways to address hair loss.
One of the most popular treatments is minoxidil, an over-the-counter topical treatment for the scalp commonly found in products such as Rogaine.
While it doesn’t work on receding hairlines, it can be effective for other types of thinning hair, said Nalty.
“They definitely work,” she said.
And the sooner the treatments are started, the better they work. Hair loss can even be stopped altogether if addressed soon enough.
Researchers believe that minoxidil works in part by partially enlarging the hair follicles and reversing the shrinking process. By enlarging follicles, the growth phase of the hair cycle is prolonged, allowing the hair to become longer and thicker looking.
But, Nalty warned, as soon as you stop using the product, all the benefits are lost, and hair that was retained will soon be lost.
Other ways to treat hair loss include some surgical options and medications.
If you have questions, consult your health care provider.