Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 10/5/2021
We typically think about our hair in cosmetic contexts. Your hair gets styled, cut, colored and otherwise cosmetically altered by professionals who are largely focused in their expertise on how hair looks.
So if you’ve got long hair and want to make it short, you go to someone who knows how to wield a pair of scissors with precision.
But what about the opposite situation? What happens when your hair isn’t growing at all, or is beginning to show signs of damage?
Hair specialists aren’t a common topic in the medical industry for a reason: hair doctors are typically specialists within another specialty field: dermatology.
So if you have hair problems, you go to a dermatologist. But will just any dermatologist do? Maybe not.
If you’re having serious hair issues (whether they be from a medical condition, a stressful or traumatic event or anything else), it’s important to find the right healthcare professional for your locks.
How to do that is actually quite simple, once you know what questions to ask, and where to look.
Before we get into the details, let’s take a deep breath and remember that some hair loss is actually perfectly normal, every day.
The average person, for instance, has about 100,000 follicles of hair just on her head, and they will typically expect to lose 100 strands or more from “normal” hair loss every day.
This so-called normal hair loss is really just part of your hair’s three follicle life cycle phases, consisting of the anagen phase, catagen phase and the final telogen phase.
Hair growth as we know it happens in the first, anagen phase, during which time about 90 percent of your follicles are actively growing longer.
The catagen phase comes next; this signals the beginning of the end for those active follicles, which leads into that death-y telogen resting phase.
This is where the hair falls out and the follicle itself rests until such a time as it starts the cycle all over again.
So to sum it all up, “normal” hair is actually only about 90 percent of your total potential growing capacity, with about 10 percent of your living follicles resting at any one given time.
So hair loss, then, is simply what happens when this delicate balance becomes unbalanced.
Hair is technically part of your skin (which happens to be your body’s largest organ, by the way), and while we don’t normally think of hair as an element of skin, the two are crucially linked in function and health.
A hair loss dermatologist, then, is just a dermatologist who has specific experience or skill sets related to hair health within their dermal specializations.
Typically, a hair loss dermatologist can help you figure out what’s going on with your hair in relation to your skin.
Did your hair fall out following some kind of rash? Are you noticing thinning after switching shampoos? What’s up with all that dandruff? Where did this noticeable hair loss come from?
If these are the types of questions you find yourself asking, consulting a dermatologist that specializes in hair loss could most definitely help provide some insight into what you’re dealing with.
From what you read above, you’ve probably gathered that “hair loss” is actually “excessive” hair loss — specifically the shift from those normal percentages to a new, imbalanced ratio with more follicles remaining in the telogen phase.
Hair could end up stuck in telogen for many reasons, among them: autoimmune diseases, stress or even trauma to your scalp or body generally, like a major wound or surgery.
Hair loss may also happen due to your genetics or a hormonal imbalance.
There are a few common types of hair loss women experience that a hair loss dermatologist will likely look to diagnose, if need be:
Androgenetic Alopecia. Male pattern baldness or female pattern hair loss is the most common name for androgenetic alopecia: a condition caused by fluctuations in the levels of your hormones (specifically androgens). It typically manifests as women age, and especially as we approach menopause. This is the most common form of hair loss.
Telogen Effluvium. Telogen effluvium typically appears as a pattern of even thinning across your scalp and is typically caused by a stressor like a major surgery, some bodily trauma, serious illness, and sometimes by giving birth or having radiation. Luckily, telogen effluvium will resolve itself eventually — especially after the stressor is addressed.
Traction Alopecia. Traction alopecia, simply enough, is hair loss due to traction on the follicle, which can result in scalp injuries — it’s sometimes called traumatic alopecia. This includes tight ponytails or buns, braids, cornrows, etc.
Alopecia Areata. Hair loss under the umbrella of alopecia areata is actually a symptom of an autoimmune disease. Alopecia areata is what happens when your immune system attacks your scalp or your follicles, mistaking them for foreign bodies. There’s no cure, but there are effective treatment strategies.
The lesson here is that not all hair loss is created equal, folks. And different types of hair loss require different treatment strategies.
And guess who happens to specialize in recognizing, diagnosing and treating different hair loss types. That’s right — a hair loss dermatologist. Bam!
When you start seeing signs of hair loss, it’s important to act. When you meet with a hair loss dermatologist, their first job is helping you figure out what type of hair loss you’re suffering from. Their second job is helping you determine the best course of hair loss treatment.
While each professional is going to recommend a different course of treatment, and the forms of hair loss themselves are different, here are a few of the treatments for hair loss your hair loss dermatology professional may speak to you about.
Minoxidil. FDA-approved to help treat the effects of hair loss in women, minoxidil is a topical medication for hair loss that’s believed to work by stimulating blood flow to the affected area, bringing nutrients to the hair follicles and ultimately promoting growth.
Saw Palmetto. Another popular hair care ingredient in shampoos, conditioners and other products, saw palmetto works to stop the production of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in the body, which is a contributing factor in some common types of hair loss.
Spironolactone. This medication, an antiandrogen, is prescribed to help stop the production of testosterone in the body. And because DHT is a derivative of testosterone, lower levels of testosterone mean lower levels of DHT on your scalp.
A hair loss dermatologist may also suggest things like changes in your lifestyle and diet, different vitamins and supplements, removing certain stressors from your life, etc., depending on what type of hair loss you’re dealing with.
One of the best places to search for a dermatologist is actually through the American Academy of Dermatology Association website.
They allow you to search by zip code and name, as well as to filter for things like conditions to be treated (hair loss), the focus of their practice (cosmetic, medical, etc.), and procedure — including hair transplants.
There are some things you may want to try and decipher about your hair issues beforehand, like what kind of hair loss you’re dealing with.
While it’s a healthcare professional’s job to diagnose your issues, knowing more about the kind of hair loss you may be experiencing can help you find the right professional, so let’s look at a few common hair loss types.
If you need some help, you can always reach out to your primary healthcare provider and tell them what’s going on.
They should be able to recommend a specialist that makes sense with your location, your insurance, who they’ve worked with and can vet, etc.
Dermatology professionals help with everything skin. If you have a rash that won’t go away, if you’ve noticed a new growth or a suspicious mole on your skin or even if you’re having hair issues, a dermatology professional is likely going to be one of the first calls you make.
A hair loss dermatologist is a dermatology professional that specializes specifically in the relationship between your hair, your skin, and the way the two intertwine.
If you’re having skin-hair issues, a hair loss dermatologist will help you get to the root of the issue, while also helping you learn how to properly treat it.
They’ll help you figure out which medications may be most effective, which lifestyle changes you should be looking to change, etc.
The most important first step, however, is finding one that makes sense for you.