Female hair loss is a common concern: About half of women will go through noticeable hair loss at some point in their life—with female pattern hair loss being the most prevalent type. However hair loss can happen for many reasons: Protein deficiencies, thyroid conditions, autoimmune disorders, and chronic stress can all contribute.
But there are many sneaky reasons you may be shedding more than you’re used to—and they all likely have a similar root cause. “So much of what causes hair loss comes down to inflammation and the ability to fight inflammation,” says board-certified dermatologist and hair care expert Raechele Cochran Gathers, M.D.
This week, she joins me on this episode of Clean Beauty School to discuss the causes of hair loss—and what you can do to reverse it, if anything at all (seriously—you don’t want to miss this super-informative episode).
In the meantime, check out these surprising triggers of hair loss:
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiencies have been a hot topic lately—notably in relation to COVID-19. (You can read about the connection between the two here.) But vitamin D is an important nutrient for many other reasons: It supports immune function, thyroid health, and inflammation-related health conditions. Given the connection between these specific benefits and hair health, you could likely assume that the vitamin is loosely connected to your hair.
And while all these benefits do translate to healthier hair overall—it’s not just that. Vitamin D is actually a very important vitamin for the hair follicle itself. “We know that vitamin D is very important for the hair follicle and therefore hair growth,” she says. “In fact, vitamin D is one of the fat-soluble vitamins needed for maintaining and creating functioning hair follicles.”
Essentially what’s happening is that your body cannot create or support hair follicles without the vitamin, and therefore your hair growth suffers as a result.
“We do see quite a few people in our practice that have low vitamin D,” she says. “Interestingly, in certain parts of the country where there’s less sunshine, you see this more often. Certainly in people of color, you can see higher levels of vitamin D deficiency.”ADVERTISEMENT
2. Your hair regularly hurts.
A good rule of thumb is that your hair or scalp should never hurt: Beauty is not pain. As she explains, this results in a very common kind of hair loss called traction alopecia—one that can be permanent.
“Traction alopecia can be caused by excessive tension on the hair. So it could be that you always style your hair in a certain way: So you always wear a tight ponytail, wear braids, or have a weave in the hair—when those are done too tightly, that chronic tension and that chronic stress can lead to inflammation in the scalp,” she says.
This is such an important one to pay attention to, as it’s one of the forms of hair loss that is entirely preventable.
“When it’s caught early and interventions are done early, you can regrow your hair from traction alopecia,” she says. “But where the damage has gone on for say many months or many years, it can be difficult to regrow the hair because eventually those hair follicles can be replaced by scarring and you can’t grow here. You cannot grow hair through scar tissue.”
3. Pollution & external stressors.
When we think of pollution and environmental stressors, we tend to think of our faces: Excessive contact with particulate matter causes dark spots, dryness, and premature aging. But remember—your scalp is skin, too, and therefore is just as at risk for damage. But external stressors may not only come from the environment. They can also come from products that we put on our hair, like inflammation-inducing styling products (things like drying agents, allergens, and ingredients that disrupt our microbiome).
“Our scalps are bombarded by products that we put on our hair and scalp, bombarded by environmental toxins, pesticides, cigarette smoke, UV damage, pollution, all these stressors—and you know, all of these stressors cause inflammation on the scalp due to free radical exposure,” she says. Studies show that these have all been linked to hair loss, brittleness, and even premature graying of the hair.
When we think of hair loss, we often go to the big reasons—health issues, hormone fluctuations, and so on. But smaller, day-to-day aggressors also build up and cause a lasting impact on our delicate scalp and hair. For healthy hair growth long term, it’s vital that we pay attention to these as well. For more info, don’t forget to tune in.