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Hair Loss – a growing problem

Hair on the head grows about 1 cm a month. In the UK nearly 8 million men and 1.6 million women suffer from hair loss problems. In the States, men spend over £440 million trying to stop hair loss and regrow their hair. When did you last see a bald President or Prime Minister?

The amount of hair on your head has a lot to do with your natural colouring. Blondes have approximately 140,000 strands; Brunettes have 110,000 strands; Raven haired have 108,000 strands and Red heads have 90,000 strands.

Everyone loses hair at different rates, but normally you could expect to shed 50-100 hairs from your scalp each day. Hairs usually grow for 5 years before they are shed, which is why very long hair can look thinner on the lower length, because some hair will be lost before it reaches the required length.

What is normal hair loss?
Worrying about hair loss will only add to the problem, first you need to decide whether you really do have a condition and if so, take positive action.

Usually, people are alarmed when the plughole regularly seems to fill with loose hair after washing. However, it is normal to shed 50-100 strands a day and these become tangled with the rest of your hair and either clog up your hair brush or end up in the basin or shower when you shampoo. Often you don’t notice much hair in the plughole until after you have conditioned your hair, this is because the hair is smoothed and the loose strands have nothing to tangle with and so wash away.

Shedding hair can also increase seasonally, many people find hair grows more vigorously in the spring and then in the autumn, tends to fall out a bit more.

If you’re still concerned about hair loss, you can try a gentle pull test. Get hold of a small group of hairs, about 15 to 20, gripping them between the thumb and index finger. Then pull slowly and firmly, if more than six hairs come away this indicates that you may have a problem.

How does hair grow?
The hair strands themselves are known as the shaft, each of these protrudes from a hair follicle which is just below the surface of the skin. Hairs are attached to the base of the follicle by the hair root, which is the growth area nourished by small blood vessels.

Hairs are made up of cells like the rest of the body. The hair is slowly pushed out of the follicle as new cells form at its root. This pushing process produces hair growth, while thecells at the base are close to the blood supply they are living. The further they are pushed away the less nourishment they receive and they die, changing into the hard protein known as keratin. Hair above the skin is dead protein, while the follicle within the skin is the essential growing part of the hair process.

Growth stages
Hair does not grow continuously – it has definite stages.

The growing stage – Hair will usually grow at approximately 1 cm per month, this phase will last for between 2 and 5 years. At any given time, 85%-90% of hairs are in the growth stage.

The resting stage – A resting stage then follows, when hair stops growing for a period of 5 months, known as telogen. At any given time, 10%-15% of all hairs are in the telogen phase.

The shedding stage – after the resting phase, the hair is shed and the follicle will start to grow a new one.

If anything happens to destroy the hair follicle, no new hair will grow.

Causes of baldness
Anything that disrupts the various stages of hair growth can cause excessive hair loss. If the follicles remain in the resting phase and then shed, instead of growing new hairs, there will be a noticeable thinning of hair on the head.

Some anticancer drugs can interfere with the formation of new hair cells at the root during the growth stage. Follicles destroyed or damaged by skin diseases, burns, or destructive hair treatments can result in baldness in that area.

Science still looking for a cure

The scientists at Columbia University in New York discovered a gene that could be the ‘master switch’ for hair growth. They compared the genes of hairless mice from a mutant breed with the genes of 11 members from the same family who had lost all of their hair. The discovery in 1998, is important in understanding hair follicles and how baldness occurs – it may lead to effective treatment in the future.

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