It can be upsetting to see, but almost half of the female population will experience hair loss by the age of 40. Here’s an expert guide on how to identify, treat and things you can do to prevent it.
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We might spend a lot of our time curating the perfect hair care routine, but what happens if we start to experience hair loss?
It can be quite upsetting and disorientating if you don’t know what to do, even though hair loss is pretty common – 40% of women will experience visible hair loss by the time they’re 40.
Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme, cosmetic doctor and skincare expert, advises her patients how to deal with hair loss every day. It’s important to identify when it’s a cause for concern, as well all lose hundreds of strands of hair a week due to general wear and tear.
“It’s normal to find about 100 hairs, even up to 200 hairs a day that have been shed,” she says. “If you’re brushing your hair, it’s normal to be able to roll stray hairs between two to three fingers. If you can roll a ball in your palm, that’s slightly more than normal and a cause for concern.”
Here’s Dr Ejikeme’s guide to hair loss – how to identify, prevent and treat it – for The Curiosity Academy.
The two most common causes of hair loss
Otherwise known as hair thinning or female pattern hair loss, it’s a slow, progressive reduction in your hair’s volume. In this situation, due to a genetic disposition, your hair follicles gradually shrink and produce finer and shorter hairs in every hair growth cycle.
Excessive daily hair shedding
Triggered by an imbalance in your body – most commonly nutritional ones like iron, vitamin b12 and vitamin D – or illness and stress, this is when you lose more hair as a reaction to something else being wrong.
According to Dr Ejikeme, hair loss may occur “for a whole variety of reasons” – for instance, it might be completely down to your genes. Many hair loss dispositions are genetic, but it could also come down to other lifestyle and health choices.
“There are loads of other factors, including stress, illness, medications, use of products that you apply when you’re styling your hair, like gels you use when tightly brading your hair,” Dr Ejikeme adds.
Hair loss can also be down to a hormonal imbalance, or even vitamin D deficiency or anaemia. In short, there are many avenues to explore to try and identify and sometimes counter the source of the issue.
The first steps to take if you notice hair loss
If you’ve noticed that you’re losing hair, at whatever rate, Dr Ejikeme stresses the importance of seeking help early. “Some types of hair loss are scarring, and in this case it’s very, very challenging to get that hair back,” she says. “So the sooner you get treatment for it, the better.”
Even if your hair loss isn’t scarring, it’s best to talk to a professional as soon as possible, as they can assess if there are tests you can go through to pinpoint the problem.
“For example, if you find that your iron levels are very low you can replenish them, and the hair will come back. So by having some tests and having a chat with a professional, you can kind of review it and get yourself back on the right track,” Dr Ejikeme adds.
The lifestyle changes you can make to stop hair loss
Dr Ejikeme advises that there are many areas of your life that you can look at when trying to reduce the likelihood or combat the warning signs of hair loss. Here’s her guide to each one.
“You need to ask yourself if you’re eating a balanced diet,” she says. “I like to recommend a ‘rainbow diet’. So you’re eating fruit and vegetables of all colours, you’re eating white and pink fish, you’re getting your protein.” If you’re vegan, she recommends ensuring that you’re getting enough plant-based protein every day.
Dr Ejikeme also recommends taking a general multivitamin tablet, particularly if you have a certain diet or allergy that excludes certain food groups.
Another question you must ask yourself is how well you’re sleeping. “It’s not just having seven hours sleep, it’s whether your sleep is broken,” Dr Ejikeme says. “So you need to make sure that you go to bed and are sleeping for between six and seven hours straight, and then waking up feeling refreshed.”
How you manage stress can really feed into a hair loss condition, according to Dr Ejikeme. She categorises patients into two camps – those who “internalise” and those who “externalise”.
Those who “internalise” push their stress and worries inward and keep them inside. If this is you, Dr Ejikeme recommends taking part in sports like boxing or tennis, or something that helps you to express your frustration. Conversely, if you express your stress by getting angry or perhaps aggressive, try yoga or meditation to get a handle on this energy.
“It really depends on your personality,” she says. “Helping to manage stress is a huge component of hair loss.”
Allergies and intolerances
It’s also important to think about what you’re putting in your body that could be contributing to hair loss.
“Whilst you may not have an allergy, there may be certain foods that you find you’re sensitive to,” Dr Ejikeme says. “I always recommend listening to your body. If there’s certain foods that make you develop pain or discomfort bloating, then I recommend that you take stock of those and try and do a temporary challenge where you take that out of your diet and see if that improves your symptoms.”
The changes you can make to the ways in which you look after your hair to stop hair loss
Washing your hair
To stop hair loss, you should change the ways in which you wash your hair, as well as how often you’re washing your hair.
“If you have curly hair, split your hair into four sections, twist those sections and then wash your hair in those sections,” Dr Ejikeme says. “If you have straight hair, then I recommend that you kind of do do a loose ponytail. When you wash your hair, gently wash your scalp, and then let the water run down so that you’re not kind of scratching and pulling out your hair when you’re washing.”
Dr Ejikeme also recommends using a moisturising shampoo and deep conditioning your hair, as well as washing your hair as little as possible. “Washing your hair twice a week, or even once a week, especially when you’re figuring out what’s going on can be very, very helpful if you’ve got straight hair. If you’ve got curly hair, you can wash your hair, you know, once a week, or once every two weeks, even until you figure out what’s going on.”
Looking after your scalp
“Make sure that you’re not adding any oils or butters to the scalp which can clog your pores,” Dr Ejikeme advises. “Focus any treatments that you’re doing on the ends of your hair rather than on the scalp.”
You should also avoid applying heat to your hair as much as possible.
Brushing your hair
It’s also crucial to take note of the ways in which you’re brushing your hair if you’re dealing with hair loss. “Is it necessary to brush or comb your hair as frequently as you are brushing or combing it?” is the question you should ask yourself, according to Dr Ejikeme.
She also suggests that you should use a wide brush that doesn’t have frayed edges that will shred the hair or accidentally tug the hair.
Styling your hair
“If you have straight hair and your hair is very long, it’s often going to get caught on your clothes,” Dr Ejikeme says. “Wear your hair in a loose high bun so that it’s nice and protected.”
“If you have curly hair to wear it in a style that keeps the ends protected. So that could be very loose braids that could be twists but most importantly to do not to do anything that tugs on the hairline.”
5 things you can do this week to help manage your hair loss
- Keep a food diary to make sure your diet is varied enough and to see if you are responding badly to any foods in particular.
- Track your sleep to make sure you’re getting 6-7 hours of straight sleep every night.
- Schedule in one stress-relieving activity.
- Switch to a moisturising shampoo.
- Try to go one week without applying heat to your hair.
Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme, cosmetic doctor and skincare expert
Dr Ejikeme is the founder and medical director of an aesthetics clinic in west London, Adonia Medical Clinic. As a lecturer, she also trains the best and brightest plastic surgeons, dermatologists, doctors and dentists from around the world on safe and effective aesthetic procedures. In 2020, she co-founded the UK’s first ever Black Aesthetics Advisory Board to improve the experiences of black minority ethnic (BME) professionals and consumers by improving the education on BME skin.