Hair serves the function of protecting the head and keeping the body temperature even. But when people face hair loss, it is primarily their appearance that is of concern.
Hair is one of the first features people notice, and it is certainly a focus of good grooming. Because of the importance people place on hair, thinning hair, also called alopecia, can be distressing.
Many different reasons exist for hair loss, including fungal infections and damaged hair follicles, but hair loss is among a number of changes that happen as people age. Change in hair color is one sign that most people associate with the aging process. The color of hair is determined by melanin, a pigment produced by hair follicles. As people age, the follicles produce less melanin. Similarly, aging causes a number of other changes that cause thinning hair.
Normally, hair falls out and is replaced by new hair all of the time. Each strand of hair lives about two to six years. As a person ages, the hair that falls out is not replaced as fast, and some hair follicles even stop producing new hair completely. The strands of hair also become thinner and have less pigment. So, the person who at 25 years old had a full head of dark, thick hair may be the 50 year old with lighter colored and thinner hair.
Hair loss in men can start as early as 30 years old or even younger. Male-pattern baldness is caused by a natural reduction in the male hormone testosterone associated with aging. Hair loss in women can be associated with female-pattern baldness. The thinning hair can result in the scalp becoming visible.
Gradual hair loss in women or hair loss in men is not an immediate medical concern. However, because sudden hair loss can be a symptom of a more complicated health problem, it is important to have a doctor evaluate the situation if this happens. Also, if hair comes out in clumps or there are signs of infection, seek medical evaluation.
Alopecia (University of Maryland Medical Center)
Alopecia by Deborah Wood