The Myths and Bald Facts About Hair Loss

Hair plays a huge role in many people’s sense of physical beauty, and losing hair can be devastating for many. The emotions surrounding hair make men and women vulnerable to all sorts of false notions about hair loss or balding, particularly those that offer hope – such as the host of miracle cures hawked on the Internet. Here’s a rundown of some of the most common myths about hair loss from an excellent article by Consumer Reports:

Myth: Men who lose their hair have more testosterone than other men and are better lovers.

Reality: The fact that eunuchs never become bald may have spawned this myth. They keep their hair because they lack the male sex hormone that causes male-pattern baldness, the common kind. But that hormone isn’t testosterone-it’s DHT, a testosterone derivative that causes hair follicles to shut down. Bald men don’t have more testosterone than men with more hair; instead, their follicles are genetically more susceptible to the effects of DHT. (Women have small amounts of DHT, which causes hair loss for them, too.) The experts we consulted say there’s no evidence linking baldness with sexual potency.

Myth: Hair loss is inherited from the mother’s side of the family.

Reality: Hair loss can be inherited from either side. A 2004 study of 254 men found that those whose father or maternal grandfather had substantial hair loss were 3.8 and 2.7 times more likely, respectively, to have hair loss than men with a dad or maternal granddad who kept his hair. We found no comparable studies in women, but our consultants think that hair loss can be similarly passed down to women from either side of the family.

Myth: Emotional stress can accelerate the normal loss of hair with age.

Reality: Our search of the literature and interviews with hair-loss experts turned up no evidence linking the most common type of baldness with emotional stress. However, stress can trigger another type, alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss in circular patches. Moreover, the physical and emotional stress produced by a prolonged illness or major operation can also cause hair loss.

Myth: Massage can stimulate hair growth.

Reality: We found no studies showing that temporarily boosting blood flow by massaging the scalp can increase hair growth. That notion is particularly implausible for treating common baldness, which is unrelated to circulation. In fact, hair loss can be worsened by overly vigorous massage, which can break hairs or yank them out.

Myth: Shampooing your hair every day can increase hair loss.

Reality: Shampooing might appear to cause such loss because it can make loose hairs fall out. But those hairs would soon fall out anyway. And shampooing doesn’t increase the actual number of loose hairs. Avoid vigorous towel drying, however, since hair is more fragile when wet and may break.

Myth: Tight hats can cause hair loss.

Reality: This myth may have arisen in part because people often wear hats to cover their balding heads. Some people also believe that tight hats curtail the flow of air and blood to the hair follicle. But follicles don’t “breathe,” and air can’t reach them since they’re under the skin. And tight hats do not restrict blood flow in the scalp sufficiently to harm the hair follicles.

Myth: Shaving your hair will make it grow back fuller.

Reality: This is no truer for your head than for any other part of your body. Budding hair may look fuller, since shaving removes the naturally tapered end of the shaft. But shaving does not thicken hair, stimulate the creation of new follicles, or accelerate hair growth.

Myth: There’s no point in seeing a doctor about hair loss since it’s a normal result of aging.

Reality: Hair loss can signal a systemic disorder, such as diabetes or hypothyroidism, or a localized scalp problem such as ringworm. And it’s a common side effect of many medications, including antidepressants, anti-inflammatory drugs, beta blockers, birth-control pills, blood thinners, cholesterol reducers, and thyroid inhibitors.

See your doctor if you experience hair loss that:

  • Is sudden and severe.
  • Occurs when there’s no family history of the condition.
  • Is accompanied by itching or burning of the scalp.
  • Occurs after you start taking a drug.

For common hair loss in men, physicians may also prescribe drugs like finasteride (Propecia and generic), if over-the-counter minoxidil (Rogaine) doesn’t work. You could consider hair transplants as well.

Myth: Hair will never return to normal after cancer treatment.

Reality: Hair lost after chemotherapy will almost always grow back within 6 to 12 months after the treatment ends, though it may have a different texture or even color at first. Radiation treatment does tend to cause permanent hair loss, but it’s generally confined to skin in the irradiated field.

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