Causes of Hair Loss and Thinning Beyond Genetics
Hair loss can be a frustrating experience that impacts your self-esteem and leaves you wondering why it’s happening. Many may be quick to point the finger at genetics, and while genes do cause 80% of late- and early-onset hair thinning, there are a whole host of other hair-thinning causes to consider that often have simple solutions.
So before you accept hair loss as your new norm, it’s worth exploring the potential causes of hair loss we’ll present below so you can stop hair thinning in its tracks.
When Is Hair Loss Not Genetic?
Genetic hair loss is formally referred to as “Androgenetic Alopecia.” It’s an inherited trait that runs in families and primarily affects men in their late teens to early twenties and women later in life.
The condition is characterized by shrinking hair follicles that produce shorter, finer hair, thinning, and eventual baldness. Men typically see a receding hairline around the crown of their head; with women, it’s more common for women to see widespread thinning all over the scalp. Some hormones, including dihydrotestosterone, can increase the rate of genetic hair loss. This condition tends to be lifelong and cannot be completely reversed, but some treatments and medications can slow the progression and restore some hair density.
It can be challenging to distinguish between genetic and non-genetic hair loss, as the symptoms may be quite similar across conditions. However, there are a few key differentiators that can clue you into what condition you may have, including:
- The pattern of hair loss: As we’ve mentioned, genetic hair loss in men follows the pattern of a receding hairline and diffuse thinning among women. Non-genetic hair loss may appear patchy or follow other patterns, depending on the cause.
- Your age when it started: Non-genetic hair loss can begin at any age, while genetic hair loss is more likely to occur in the late teens and early twenties for men and later in life for women.
- Your family history: Genetic hair loss typically follows those whose family tree shows a history of hair loss. Non-genetic hair loss may happen with no family history of hair thinning.
- How the thinning progresses: Genetic hair loss happens slowly over time, while non-genetic hair loss can happen suddenly or rapidly and stabilize immediately with lifestyle changes or treatment.
- Associated symptoms: Genetic hair loss does not commonly have additional symptoms, while non-genetic hair loss can accompany scalp redness, pain, scaling, or other symptoms, depending on the condition.
- How you respond to treatment: Some treatments may not do much to restore genetic hair loss, but finasteride, minoxidil, and similar medications can slow progression. On the other hand, non-genetic hair loss treatments may lead to sudden regrowth, although outcomes may depend on the cause.
- Blood tests and other exams: Blood tests, scalp biopsies, and similar physical exams can help a doctor determine whether your hair loss is genetic or not.
So, what contributes to hair loss that isn’t genetic? Read on to find out how stress and diet can cause hair loss, among other things.
Lifestyle Factors Contributing to Hair Loss
Lifestyle factors play a significant role in hair health and loss. Consider these examples below and whether any of them may be the culprit of your hair loss or thinning.
Poor Diet & Nutrient Deficiency
The food you eat has a more significant impact on your physical appearance than you may realize! So, can a poor diet cause hair loss? Absolutely. If your diet includes too many processed foods and lacks essential nutrients — like protein, biotin, iron, or vitamins — you may notice your hair starts to thin. Specifically, zinc, iron, biotin, and vitamin D deficiencies can lead to poor hair health.
If you often find yourself stressed, you may be triggering telogen effluvium, a type of hair loss wherein the hair follicles prematurely enter their resting phase and cause your hair to fall out. Make sure you have healthy stress-coping mechanisms, like exercising, meditating, and sleeping well at night. And if you’re concerned about how to tell if your hair loss is genetic or stress, refer to the previous section on genetic hair loss patterns.
Like the skin, the hair is also prone to damage from excessive sun exposure. Sunlight can dry out the hair and make it more brittle, and scalp sunburns can also contribute to hair loss. If you plan to spend time outside in the sun, try putting sunscreen on the exposed parts of your scalp or simply wear a protective hat.
Pregnancy and Childbirth
Pregnancy and postpartum are characterized by significant hormonal changes that can cause temporary hair loss. Postpartum alopecia is a temporary hair loss condition that occurs after childbirth but usually resolves once hormones stabilize back to normal.
Hair Care & Appliances
Did you know that over-washing your hair, brushing vigorously and frequently, wearing tight ponytails, and using heat tools can all damage your hair and increase the likelihood of hair loss? Styling is one of the more common causes of hair loss in women.
When possible, give your hair a break with heatless styling techniques and nontoxic dry shampoo. You can also try cold showers, which shrink the hair follicles and help minimize hair loss. If you can, keep long hair in a braid at night and use a silk pillowcase that keeps your hair from getting tangled and matted as you toss and turn. Make sure you understand how to properly care for your scalp to achieve maximum hair growth.
Certain products — including styling gels, hairsprays, keratin treatments, and dyes — can weaken the roots of the hair and make hair loss more likely. Shampoos and conditioners with high chemical content can also cause damage and make hair more susceptible to thinning.
Consider investing in a high-quality hair follicle serum that hydrates and nourishes the hair from the root and promotes adequate blood flow. DefenAge’s 150K Hair Follicle Serum is an award-winning option to try, praised by NewBeauty Magazine for its proven ability to increase visible hair coverage and reduce shedding caused by menopause, pregnancy, telogen effluvium, and scalp conditions. DefenAge also has a US patent for using Defensin molecules for topical treatment of hair loss in skin affected by alopecia.
Illness, surgery, or accidents are all considered a type of trauma that can trigger telogen effluvium. During stress or recovery, the body redirects energy and resources away from hair growth, causing more hair follicles to enter the resting phase. This shift in the hair growth cycle results in significant hair shedding.
While telogen effluvium is typically temporary and reversible as the body heals, the emotional and physical stress associated with trauma can exacerbate hair loss. Managing the underlying health condition and adopting stress-reduction techniques can help promote hair regrowth.
Many smokers tend to ask, “Does smoking thin your hair?” Smoking is definitively linked with an increased risk of hair loss, particularly in men experiencing male-pattern baldness. Cigarette smoke contains harmful chemicals that can constrict blood vessels, reduce blood flow to the scalp, and impair the delivery of vital nutrients to hair follicles. Over time, this reduced blood flow can weaken hair follicles and cause the hair to thin and fall out.
Furthermore, smoking has been linked to oxidative stress, which can damage hair cells and exacerbate hair loss. By giving up cigarettes, your hair and health will experience countless benefits.
Health Problems That Can Cause Hair Loss and Thinning
Hair loss and thinning can also result from various health problems and underlying medical conditions. Understanding these hair-thinning causes is crucial for effectively addressing the issue and maintaining overall health.
Health Problems That Can Cause Hair Loss and Thinning
Hair loss is a common symptom of thyroid disorders, such as hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, as these conditions disrupt the balance of hormones in your body. Treating the underlying thyroid condition is essential for managing this type of hair loss.
If you’re anemic, it simply means you are red blood cell-deficient. This deficiency can prevent oxygen from being delivered to the hair follicles, which results in hair loss. Correcting the underlying anemia with proper treatment can help restore hair health.
Menopause and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are both associated with drastic changes in hormone levels, which can cause the hair to thin. Work with your doctor to address potential hormonal imbalances to prevent hair loss or stop it from progressing.
Anesthesia and Surgery
Hair loss after surgery or anesthesia causes telogen effluvium. Fortunately, you don’t need to do anything to treat it, as hair typically regrows naturally in the months following the procedure.
Some Prescription Medications
Certain prescription medications, including some antidepressants, blood thinners, beta-blockers, and cholesterol-lowering drugs, can have hair loss as a side effect. The good news is that your hair will usually begin to grow back after you wean yourself off the medication. It's essential to consult with your healthcare provider to understand the full potential effects of any medication you take. If you suspect the drug might be contributing to your hair loss, contact your doctor promptly so they can advise you on the next steps.
What Diseases Cause Hair Loss?
If you have begun to lose hair, you’ve likely wondered, “Can hair loss be a sign of something serious?” In short, maybe; a wide variety of illnesses and infections cause hair loss. In order to determine the most effective treatment, it’s critical to identify the root cause. Here are some diseases that are sometimes associated with hair loss.
You’d probably never guess a tooth infection can cause hair loss, but there is a connection! Painful tooth infections can trigger the body’s stress response and lead to hair loss. Stopping it is simply a matter of getting dental treatment for the infection and properly managing stress.
Trichotillomania is when a person compulsively pulls and tugs at their hair, which can result in hair loss. As this is a psychological condition, behavioral therapy and support can help individuals manage it and prevent hair loss.
When you experience a fungal infection of the scalp, you risk hair follicle damage and hair loss. Some common examples include ringworm and folliculitis. Antifungal medications can quickly help you address issues like these.
Alopecia areata is a condition where patches of hair fall out due to an autoimmune response. Medical treatments like corticosteroids and immunosuppressive drugs can help manage the condition.
Autoimmune diseases are defined by the body using its immune response to attack its own tissues, such as lupus. Not all autoimmune diseases cause hair loss, but many of them do affect hair health. While autoimmune disorders are chronic conditions without a cure, you can manage the symptoms to address hair loss and improve the quality of your life.
High fevers, especially those associated with COVID-19 and the flu, can lead to telogen effluvium. There are also other viruses that cause hair loss, including shingles, HIV, syphilis, and chickenpox. Hair often regrows after recovery, so you don’t need to do much of anything to address it.
Environmental Causes of Hair Loss
Beyond health problems and illnesses, environmental factors can also contribute to hair loss. Understanding how your surroundings affect your hair can help you take proactive measures. We discuss some examples to consider below.
Exposure to environmental pollutants, including traffic-related pollution, may exacerbate male-pattern hair loss. This is because pollution can reduce blood flow to the scalp, disrupt hormones, and generate oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress can damage cells and tissues, potentially affecting hair follicle health and leading to hair loss. By reducing your exposure to pollution and using protective measures, you can minimize the effects of pollution on your hair.
Secondhand Smoking and Hair Loss
Secondhand smoke has been linked to hair loss due to its harmful effects on hair follicles. To maintain healthy hair, it’s best to avoid secondhand smoke altogether.
The chemicals in your everyday environment may be among the root causes of your hair loss. Some common ones include:
- Shower water with high mineral content
- Pool chlorine
- Harsh hair products with sulfates and parabens
- Heavy metals in tap water, food, soil, or dust
- Pesticides and herbicides in industrial environments
- Industrial chemicals air pollution
You can mitigate this risk by investing in a water softener and a tap water filter, using air purifiers in indoor spaces, wearing masks in polluted environments, and living a healthy lifestyle.