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Keep your hair on!

November 2012

Hair loss as we age

Thinning hairThere are all sorts of reasons why we lose the lustrous head of hair most of us enjoyed in our youth.

As we age, hair naturally deteriorates; increasing numbers of hair follicles reach the end of their natural life cycle and our hair begins to thin. Often hair stops growing as long as it used to and for some, severe hair loss can lead to bald patches.

There are also other causes of hair thinning and hair loss in both men and women.  

Enzymes in some men and women turn the natural hormone testosterone into dihydrotestosterone or DHT. This then attaches itself to the hair follicles on the head causing them to shrink and finally become dysfunctional. This of course stops hair growing properly.

Scarring alopecia is hair loss that occurs when the alopecia, the hair follicle, is destroyed. This can happen after suffering from shingles; or can occur after lichen planus which causes a damaging itchy rash.

Telogen effluvium is another common problem which causes widespread thinning of the hair rather than specific baldness. The thinning occurs because high levels of hair are shed from the scalp and is usually caused by a reaction to stress or medication. Certain treatments such as chemotherapy are known to seriously affect hair production.

Whatever the cause, a deterioration in our hair can really alter our looks. diminish our confidence and cause real problems in our lives.

Much research is being undertaken across the world on hair loss to find out the causes and ways to encourage regrowth. For instance, recent news from research at the University of Pennsylvania, US, say that analysis of the scalp of men going bald found high levels of a protein called PDG2.  Further tests have shown high levels of this protein can stunt growth and even stop follicles from producing hair. Now of course work is progressing on this to produce medication that will reduce PDG2 levels.  

There are already a range of treatments that can be looked at to see how best to help an individual problem.

For instance, there are topical treatments available over the counter that are applied to the scalp to encourage hair growth. These will usually contain an active ingredient such as minoxidil which not only can help prevent further hair loss but can sometimes also stimulate the reinvigorate hair follicles. Topical treatments are usually in a liquid or foam and need to be applied very regularly, perhaps twice a day.

Finasteride is another treatment that is said to be effective in treating male-pattern baldness. This works by preventing the hormone testosterone from being converted into that damaging DHT.

There are numerous specialist hair clinics across the UK offering various levels of expertise and treatments. These can include hair transplants which have been around for a while and have recently been popular with some high profile celebrities such as Wayne Rooney, Louis Walsh and Jason Donovan.  Hair transplants are expensive and involve a range of techniques including follicular extraction and scalp reduction.  There can be some side effects and it is not always the perfect solution for everyone.

In severe cases, some people go for wigs which come in a wide range of natural hair and synthetic products. Many look totally natural and are well tethered through usually an elastic border band which fits around the head, although some people find this uncomfortable after a while.

Some chemists such as Boots offer Hair Retention Programmes based on advice coupled with commercial products and often diet and health supplements are recommended as well to ensure you are taking all the key nutrients needed for healthy hair growth.

If you do want to take preventative action, time is key and once you have identified a problem, the sooner you start treatment the better.


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