Every time you wash your hair, you dread seeing precious strands of hair being washed down the drain. In this image-conscious day and age, you strive to do everything to save them – from spa treatments in the local salons to trying oils prepared by your granny. Nothing seems to help; and when something does, you do not know how it worked. So, an understanding of how hair grows and the factors affecting it is very essential to understand hair loss.
The most important part of your hair is something you don’t see – the hair follicle. Let’s picture the follicle as a silent hero helping hold your hair strands on the scalp and nourishing them. The average lifespan of a single strand of hair is around four to five years. During this period, like any of us humans, the follicle also goes through a life cycle which consists of the following stages:
- The active or Anagen phase (comparable to childhood, teenage and most of active adulthood in humans) comprises around 85% of its life span. The longer the hair stays in this stage, the better it is for hair growth. A lot of factors like genetics, ageing, hormones, stress etc affect the length of this period.
- The transitional or Catagen phase lasts for around 2-3 weeks. This is when the hair follicle shrinks to 1/6th its size, hair is detached from its blood supply. Hair stops growing at this stage but doesn’t necessarily fall out.
- The resting or the Telogen phase is the last phase which lasts for around 2-4 months. The hair still doesn’t fall off at this stage but is very vulnerable to loss since it is devoid of all blood supply and is loosely attached to the scalp. Approximately 10-15% of hair on a healthy scalp is in the telogen phase.
- When the hair moves from the Telogen to the Anagen phase again is when hair loss occurs. The new hair shaft is forming and the old one is pushed out and lost. About 50-100 strands per day are lost due to this normal cycle.
All the factors affecting hair growth basically act by altering these phases:
- Hormonal factors: Childbirth, Hormonal deficiencies, Birth control pills, Stress
- Disease/Illness: Local infections of scalp (like ringworm), Severe systemic infections, Major surgery, Chronic illnesses, Cancer treatments, Thyroid disease
- Deficiencies in diet – Low protein, Low serum iron, Anorexia, Bulimia
- Medications: Drugs used for Gout, Arthritis, for thinning blood, for Depression, for Heart problems.
- Mechanical causes: Behavioral problems like hair pulling (Trichotillomania), Incorrectly done chemical hair treatments, Hairstyles like tight braids.
Whatever the cause, the treatment has to be holistic in nature taking into account all the possible factors.