If you’re in your 20s and believe you’re seeing signs of hair loss, it can be frightening.
Society would have you believe that women don’t experience hair loss, but aging-based hair loss conditions are only one item on a long list of reasons you might be losing volume.
The fact is that while male pattern baldness, clinically known as androgenic alopecia, typically affects older men, young women can experience it too — along with other conditions. According to a 2018 review, as many as 12 percent can see some evidence of hair loss by age twenty-nine.
Seeing thinning or even a few bald patches? Everything from your diet and your birth control to your hairstyle may be causing you problems.
If you’re beginning to see hair loss, diagnosis and treatment need to move to the top of your to-do list. But before you panic, there are some things you should know about why you might be losing your hair, and some explanations about how you might go about reversing the loss.
The first thing you need to know about losing your hair is that, well, some hair loss is just normal.
Regardless of whether you notice it yourself, the average person sheds about 100 hairs a day. So, if you’re seeing as much or even a little more than that, it may not be a cause for alarm.
Your head has around 100,000 hairs on it, and the average person sheds that amount a day — as much as double if you’re washing every morning or night.
The hairs may sound like they’re falling out randomly, but actually your hair as a whole is a complex chorus of hairs all in independent life-cycles that span several years. Each hair has three phases to its lifecycle: the anagen phase, catagen phase, and telogen phase.
Growth happens in the anagen phase, and around 90 percent of the average person’s hair will be in this productive phase at any given time.
In the catagen phase, the anagen phase comes to a close, and the end-of-life routine for the follicle begins. The follicle will stop growing and ride out the last few weeks before moving into the final phase.
When the telogen phase begins, the hair is officially dead, and the follicle is in hibernation. The hair prepares to fall out during this time (this accounts for most of your daily shedding) and unless something is going wrong, less than 10 percent of your head hair should be in this phase at any given time.
Hair loss isn’t just a simple on-off switch — it can be the result of a complex problem or number of problems, which can affect the hair in any of its growth phases. It can also be the result of other conditions — an unfortunate symptom of some other problem.
Diagnosing your particular type of hair loss is important because it’s the first step to figuring out what if any treatments will be necessary, and what if any treatments will reverse the damage.
Telogen effluvium is a condition where more than 10 percent of your follicles enter the telogen phase, meaning a larger percentage of your hair is considered dormant. The result is thinner hair — it typically affects the scalp evenly.
The major cause of telogen effluvium is typically another trauma or stress, physical or psychological. If you’ve recently had a high fever, lost a significant amount of weight, had surgery, or given birth, or even if you’re experiencing a lot of prolonged stress, this could be causing your hair to thin.
Telogen effluvium, luckily, tends to be a temporary condition, and will reverse its course when the sudden stress or trauma has gone away, typically over a few months. Putting focus on better diet, exercise, and sleeping habits can speed up the process.
Young women are more likely to suffer from an otherwise atypical hair loss condition like traction alopecia, because it’s typically self-inflicted.
Traction alopecia is hair loss due to injuries, chronic or otherwise, to the scalp or hair follicle.
But while you may be visualizing a head injury in this instance, the cause is typically far more benign — hair style.
Tight buns, high ponies, and treatments that cause your hair a lot of stress or strain by burning, pulling or bleaching can cause traction alopecia, as can psychological conditions like the one that causes you to pull out your own hair: trichotillomania.
If you’re seeing hair loss signs, the first thing you may want to do is address your hair care routine, and if you’re pushing it to the brink, you may want to treat it more gently.
The autoimmune disease alopecia areata causes your immune system to attack your hair follicles, eventually damaging them to the point that growth can stop indefinitely.
You can typically tell this condition from other forms of alopecia because it causes patchy baldness — either of your head or, in rare cases, your whole body.
We don’t know everything about alopecia areata’s core causes and mechanisms, and because it’s an autoimmune disease it can be very hard to treat, and as of yet is not curable.
What science calls androgenic alopecia is often referred to as male pattern baldness, which is somewhat misleading, because it affects both men and women.
Androgenic alopecia is caused by hormones, and the fluctuation can cause temporary or permanent hair loss, depending on the imbalance and when you begin treatment.
Though more common in men, women can experience it too, with signs appearing as early as your twenties.
Symptoms in women are similar, with the hair loss coming along your hairline and at the center of your crown first. A variety of topical and oral medications can slow and even reverse some of this damage, particularly if it’s addressed early.
As you can see, hair loss might come from many root causes, and because of that, treatment options vary.
Generally, there are some things we can all do. While it’s generally the case that better sleep, diet, and exercise are good for your health, it can also help repair or reduce the damage from a number of these conditions.
Reducing your intake of processed foods and increasing some key vitamins — particularly vitamin A, vitamin D and biotin — can also help.
For more information on the best vitamins for hair growth, check out our Essential Vitamins for a Healthy Head of Hair guide.
Seeking therapy, by the way, is good for that ominous and ambiguous “stress” problem, regardless of whether it’s the reason you’re losing hair. If you don’t know where to start, be sure to contact your healthcare provider.
If you’ve addressed these issues and are still losing hair, part of a healthcare professional’s recommendation may be to use one of a number of medications to support your hair growth.
Oral compounds like finasteride fight the effects of androgenic alopecia by balancing the levels of a hormone called DHT. According to studies, taking finasteride on a daily basis can reduce DHT levels by about 70 percent, which can stop or reverse androgenic alopecia signs.
And topical compounds like minoxidil help the hair follicle achieve more efficient blood flow, which can help hair grow more pervasively. Studies show that use of minoxidil over a 48 week period can result in as much as an 18 percent total increase in hair count.
There are herbal options as well, like saw palmetto: a popular supplement that also helps fight DHT levels. It’s a popular ingredient in shampoo (which might also include biotin) and can be effective especially when used alongside finasteride.
There are other less proven treatments out there, including weird helmets and laser combs (yes that’s real), but studies haven’t shown much to prove they’re worth the time and money.
Whether you’re just being overly concerned or seeing alarming loss, hair loss isn’t something you should ignore, particularly when you’re young.
While some of these conditions might have easy explanations, hair loss can be a symptom of more serious conditions, and only a healthcare professional is going to be able to determine what may be going wrong.
Still, there's no need to be so worried that you, well, pull your hair out. If you’re seeing more hair on your pillow, towel or bottom of your shower than you’re used to, the best thing you can do is consult a health care professional to figure out what’s causing the follicle fallout.