With more than 35 million men and more than 21 million women currently suffering from hair loss in the United States alone, it is easy to understand why fear of losing hair is something that can affect us all. This fear has led many to speculate wildly about things that could potentially help, or worsen, hair loss. While the majority of these myths about hair loss represent either wishful thinking or unfounded paranoia, one common belief, specifically that hair loss becomes more pronounced during the autumn and winter months, may actually have some validity. A study published by the journal Dermatology in 2010 documents how scientists tracked regular cycles of hair shedding in 800 healthy women over the course of six years and found that, on average, the group lost more hair during the autumn months. To help understand why, we need to take a close look at the natural hair growth cycle.
Each of the 100,000 to 150,000 individual hair follicles on the human scalp goes through a life cycle of growth and shedding that can be influenced by age, disease, and a wide variety of other factors. At any given time about 90% of the follicles are in the actively growing, or anagen, stage, while the other 10% are in the telogen (or “resting”) phase. Those in the telogen stage remain there for approximately two to six months before their hairs are shed to make room for the next cycle of growth. However, any kind of severe physiological or emotional stress, like a car crash, undergoing major surgery, or even the death of a loved one, can potentially trigger temporary hair loss, in the form of a condition called telogen effluvium where a greater than normal number of hair follicles all enter the telogen phase at once. About two to six months after whatever trauma initiated the telogen effluvium, all of these follicles shed their hair at the same time, making it appear as though the patient is suffering widespread hair loss.
Some scientists speculate that the seasonal trend in hair loss is the result of a similar phenomenon. Harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which is far more prevalent in the hot summer months, triggers a higher than normal percentage of follicles to enter the telogen phase around July, which means that by about October or November those follicles are ready to shed. Moreover, some damaging hair styling practices and environmental factors common to the cooler months can further exacerbate the problem. Long term exposure to artificially heated air from a furnace or central heating unit can dry out the hair, while hot water, heated curling and flat irons, and hair dryers strip moisture and essential oils. Ultimately, this damage can make the ends of the hair strands appear frayed, a condition commonly known as “split ends”, and can make any hair loss that may be occurring far more noticeable.
Fortunately, the hair loss that results from telogen effluvium is usually only temporary. The hair follicles are not permanently damaged, so if the particular external cause that triggered the condition is short lived, the hair follicles should return to their growing state and start producing new hair strands within six months.
If you are concerned about hair loss, problems with your scalp or other skin conditions, the skin care professionals at Warrenton Dermatology & Skin Therapy Center are ready to help you! Call 540-341-1900 to schedule an appointment. It would be our pleasure to be of assistance to you!