Hair loss can affect us at any stage of our lives. While some hair loss types are permanent (such as male and female pattern baldness), in other cases it may be linked to underlying health conditions (such as stress or treatment for cancer).
Hair loss caused by a medical condition typically stops once the underlying cause and the hair loss itself is treated, while other people may need to use a treatment continuously to maintain consistent results.
While most treatments for hair loss are not available on the NHS, your doctor may be able to offer advice on treatment options, allergies, possible side effects and impact on any pre-existing health conditions in addition to potential interactions with other medications.
Studies show that over-the-counter treatments such as minoxidil are effective in around 92% of people, while finasteride has around 60% efficacy. Both work through increasing blood flow to the scalp to stimulate hair growth.
Although minoxidil can be used for female pattern baldness, finasteride is not approved for women due to its potential teratogenic effects on unborn foetuses or embryos (it also may not be effective in older women). Consult your doctor if you are considering any type of hair restoration treatment.
Surgery options may include a hair transplant (where hair is transferred from the rear of the head onto sparser patches at the front), artificial hair transplants or scalp reduction surgery, where sections of the scalp are stretched.
While generally considered safe, as with all operations surgeries like this carry a risk of infection, bleeding or allergic reaction to the local anaesthetic. If you choose this route, please discuss this with your doctor and ensure that your surgeon is fully registered and qualified.
In some cases of alopecia areata (patchy and partial loss of head-hair), your GP may prescribe corticosteroids as either a topical treatment, injection or oral tablets. These work by reducing inflammation and suppressing the immune system to prevent the body attacking hair follicles.
Corticosteroid treatment tends to have mixed results which may only be temporary. Treatment can also be painful and may lead to unwanted side effects including weight gain, skin-thinning and mood fluctuations. They are also not recommended for long-term use.
In addition to the above, there are also a number of alternatives that are used to help stimulate hair growth, including light treatment, immunotherapy and tattooing.
Other options include hormone treatments such as spironolactone (a male hormone blocker sometimes used for female pattern hair loss). Wigs or hairpieces may also help to ease the social anxiety many experience as a result of hair loss.
As we age, this lifecycle of the protein strands in our hair tends to shorten and hair becomes finer. Hair loss is a normal sign of aging beginning around the age of thirty in men and during the menopausal phase in women.
If you are not ready to explore hair restoration treatments, keeping your hair and scalp healthy as you age can be beneficial. Minimal exposure to chemicals (including hair dyes), heat styling and a twice-weekly washing regime (overwashing can exacerbate hair loss) all help, as does a protein-rich diet to help restore elasticity.