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Losing your hair

By | August 21st 2011

All types of hair loss can be alarming, but they are most often mild, temporary or reversible, writes Dr MARGA BOYANI

The average human scalp is covered by over 100,000 hair follicles. If you have a full head of hair, this may seem like a big number, but when you start to lose your hair, the fate of each hair becomes important.

Human hair is not absolutely vital for survival, but it has important functions. It protects us from heat loss and protects the skin from minor abrasions and ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

Hair is also an organ of touch and a marker for identity as well as for sexual attraction.

Hair undergoes three phases of growth. The first phase lasts two to five years and 85 per cent of the hairs on our body are in this phase. This is followed by the resting phase, which lasts two or three weeks and finally the shedding phase that lasts about 100 days.

We normally lose between 50 and 100 hairs a day, something we may not notice because they fall out in a random pattern. It’s the persistent and consistent loss of more than 150 hairs per day over some time that is abnormal. This is called Alopecia.

Alopecia has different causes: Immunological, fungal infections, syphilis, a poorly functioning thyroid gland, anaemia, severe malnutrition, poor diet, vitamin deficiencies, stress and drugs for treating high blood pressure, cancer and depression.

The most common type of hair loss in women is female pattern alopecia that affects them mostly after menopause, although it can start as early as the pre-teenage years.

All types of hair loss can be alarming, but they are most often mild, temporary or reversible.

One’s genes determine the age at which the loss will start and its severity.

Men tend to lose hair faster and tend to have big bald patches whereas women tend to lose hair throughout the scalp. Women almost never lose the frontal hairline.


Many products, from conditioners to shampoos and hair oils claim to help hair re-grow but this is all hogwash because there’s no guaranteed cure unless one can pinpoint an exact cause. There are some drugs that may help, though.

Minoxidil applied directly onto the scalp may grow a little hair, mainly on the top of the head, but not on the front. Also, Minoxidil is better at holding onto what’s still there and is thought to be more effective combined with Omega 3, zinc, multivitamins and a herbal preparation called Henor.

Finasteride, a drug used in the treatment of enlarged prostates, can also be used to treat alopecia in men and is the best treatment for those who still have enough hair to retain. Its only drawback is it causes impotence in some men.

Steroid injections, creams and aromatherapy essential oils like cedar wood, lavender, thyme and rosemary applied to the scalp are other options that have been used for many years in treating hair loss.

Surgical transplantation of hair from the back of the scalp to the front, or scalp reduction –– cutting away bald areas and stitching the rest together –– can also be done. One could also choose one of the time-honoured ways to add hair temporarily –– hairpieces or hair weaving.

A sense of humour does help too: grass doesn’t grow on a busy street, after all.

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