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14 Surprising Things That Can Cause Hair Loss

It's a lot more common than you think.

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Have you ever lost more hair than normal and freaked out thinking you were going bald?

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Hair loss is considered any shift in your normal hair pattern: losing more than what you would typically experience, thinning in certain areas of the scalp, bald patches, etc. It's actually very common, but also typically very stressful.

So BuzzFeed Health spoke with Dr. Lindsey Bordone, dermatologist at ColumbiaDoctors Midtown, Dr. Arielle R. Nagler, assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, and Dr. Dawn Marie Davis, dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic, to find out why hair loss happens and what you can do about it.

In order to understand hair loss, it's important to first understand how hair grows.

Each individual strand of hair goes through the anagen stage, which is essentially when it's growing out of the hair follicle, Davis tells BuzzFeed Health. This is the longest stage, which can last several years for each strand of hair. Then it goes through the catagen phase, which is the resting stage, where the hair is just chilling for about 10 days, waiting to transition to the telogen phase, or the "shedding phase," which is when the hair begins to fall out, she explains. Then the whole process starts all over again.
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Each individual strand of hair goes through the anagen stage, which is essentially when it's growing out of the hair follicle, Davis tells BuzzFeed Health. This is the longest stage, which can last several years for each strand of hair.

Then it goes through the catagen phase, which is the resting stage, where the hair is just chilling for about 10 days, waiting to transition to the telogen phase, or the "shedding phase," which is when the hair begins to fall out, she explains. Then the whole process starts all over again.

While there are lots of things that can contribute to hair loss, there are three main disorders that disrupt the growth process and can cause your hair to fall out:

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Telogen effluvium is a typically reversible condition in which your hair starts falling out due to an extremely stressful event, says Bordone. Your brain tells your body to conserve energy, making your hair go into survival mode. Because your body doesn't want to spend energy on growing your hair, it reaches the telogen phase quicker, causing you to lose hair within up to three months after that stressful event.

Androgenetic alopecia, also known as male/female pattern hair loss,

is genetic and is usually described as hair gradually thinning out, as opposed to losing a lot of hair at one time, Davis explains. Your hair follicles are gradually shrinking — due to the stimulation of the follicle by testosterone — until they ultimately shrivel and die so the hair can no longer grow.

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the hair follicles. Davis says that this is typically characterized by losing large clumps of hair at once. Rarely, small patches of alopecia areata can progress to alopecia totatlis (total baldness) or alopecia universalis (complete loss of body hair).

Keeping that in mind, here are some things that dermatologists find contribute to these disorders as well as hair loss in general:

1. Genetics — from both sides of your family.

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How genetics affects hair loss is complicated and still being heavily researched, Nagler says. "Basically, genetics plays a hand in all hair loss, but some types of hair loss are caused by other things besides just genetics."

But it's a myth that balding is solely dependent on the genetics from your mother’s side of the family, says Nagler. Put simply, if you have a history of balding in either of your parent's families, then it’s more likely you'll go bald than if you don’t. Balding is also more prevalent in men than it is in women.

2. Keeping your hair pulled back in tight styles.

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Bordone says a lot of women will make hair loss worse, or increase their chances of hair loss, by consistently using chronically tight hairstyles — like pulling your hair back in tight ponytails, braiding it regularly, etc.

"Some people with finer hair that isn't as hearty may be more susceptible to hair loss from chronic tension, also known as traction alopecia," Bardone explains. "People will probably notice it most by the bitemporal scalp (both sides of the skull from your temple, above your ears, to the bottom of your hair line)."

3. Delivering a baby.

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"When you're giving birth, it's literally taking all your energy to deliver that baby, and that stressful event could cause the rest of your bodily functions to go into survival mode," Nagler says. "So there are a lot of women who will experience unusual hair loss a few months after they give birth."

4. Overexercising.

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Exercising can be great for both your physical and mental health, but it can also be damaging if you're pushing your body far past its limits.

"If you're constantly exhausting your body to the point that it can't recover from your exercises and you aren't taking any rest days, then your body is going to take energy from things like hair growth in order to 'survive,' and it could lead to stress hair loss," Nagler says.

5. Consistently ~yo-yo dieting~ or being malnourished.

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"If your body never knows when it's going to get its next meal, what type of meal that's going to be, or how much food it's going to get, that can be really scary and stressful for your body, potentially leading to hair loss," Bordone says. "Sometimes the wear and tear on your hair can be an overall sign of your health, which is seen with things like chronic eating disorders."

If you lose weight in a healthy way, your body will find a new baseline and won’t experience hair loss, she says. That's why she recommends treating yourself well and having balance in your life, because your hair will reflect that.

6. Experiencing a traumatic event or a dealing with a big change in your schedule.

"A lot of people don't realize how stressed out and upset they were about something until their hair falls out a few months later and they come in to see us," says Bordone. "This can happen when there's a death in the family, someone loses their job, they go through a divorce, etc."
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"A lot of people don't realize how stressed out and upset they were about something until their hair falls out a few months later and they come in to see us," says Bordone. "This can happen when there's a death in the family, someone loses their job, they go through a divorce, etc."

7. Being anemic.

"If you are iron deficient, then your blood is not full of the nutrients that you need, which means your hair doesn't get the nutrition it needs and your hair could be weaker and potentially fall out quicker," says Nagler.
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"If you are iron deficient, then your blood is not full of the nutrients that you need, which means your hair doesn't get the nutrition it needs and your hair could be weaker and potentially fall out quicker," says Nagler.

8. Having an underactive or overactive thyroid.

Your thyroid hormones regulate energy levels and help control a lot of the way your body functions — helping the body stay warm, maintaining metabolism, and keeping your heart, brain, muscles and organs fully operational so that you're in good health, Nagler explains.She says that hypothyroidism (having an underactive thyroid) can lead to dry, brittle hair, as well as thinning, while hyperthyroidism (having an overactive thyroid) can result in hair thinning and excess shedding. In some cases the damage here can be reversible, which is why Nagler recommends getting a blood test done if you're experiencing hair thinning and excess shedding.
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Your thyroid hormones regulate energy levels and help control a lot of the way your body functions — helping the body stay warm, maintaining metabolism, and keeping your heart, brain, muscles and organs fully operational so that you're in good health, Nagler explains.

She says that hypothyroidism (having an underactive thyroid) can lead to dry, brittle hair, as well as thinning, while hyperthyroidism (having an overactive thyroid) can result in hair thinning and excess shedding. In some cases the damage here can be reversible, which is why Nagler recommends getting a blood test done if you're experiencing hair thinning and excess shedding.

9. Taking certain medications.

Bordone says there are some medications that have been tied to hair loss, such as chemotherapy drugs, some blood pressure medications, hormonal medications, and migraine and seizure medications. If you've started new meds recently, it may be worth talking to your doctor about this being a possible side effect.
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Bordone says there are some medications that have been tied to hair loss, such as chemotherapy drugs, some blood pressure medications, hormonal medications, and migraine and seizure medications. If you've started new meds recently, it may be worth talking to your doctor about this being a possible side effect.

10. Getting the flu.

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Getting the flu or having a really high fever can lead to stress hair loss, says Nagler. Being that sick can cause your hair follicles to go into survival mode, meaning your body is trying to put all its energy into fighting off the virus — and taking away energy from functions it deems not necessary (like hair growth).

She says that in most cases you'll start to see the hair loss three months after a high fever or flu and, like in other telogen effluvium cases, the hair loss is usually reversible.

11. Living with an autoimmune disorder.

If you're noticing rapid hair loss symptoms — clumps of hair falling out or bald patches — it could be beneficial to get a blood test to check for an autoimmune disease, Davis says. Sometimes when patients have autoimmune diseases, the body will decide that the proteins in their hair are foreign and bad, and will attack and eat away at the hair bulb every time a hair tries to enter the growth phase; this can cause loss of those hairs (in some cases, overnight). The damage can be temporary or permanent depending on how severe the inflammation and scarring of the follicle is.
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If you're noticing rapid hair loss symptoms — clumps of hair falling out or bald patches — it could be beneficial to get a blood test to check for an autoimmune disease, Davis says.

Sometimes when patients have autoimmune diseases, the body will decide that the proteins in their hair are foreign and bad, and will attack and eat away at the hair bulb every time a hair tries to enter the growth phase; this can cause loss of those hairs (in some cases, overnight). The damage can be temporary or permanent depending on how severe the inflammation and scarring of the follicle is.

12. Starting some hair regrowth treatments that contain minoxidil.

Some people swear by products like Rogaine, says Nagler, while others find them to be a waste. But in most cases, when you first start using a product like this that contains the active ingredient minoxidil, you may experience an initial shedding of hair, says Nagler.
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Some people swear by products like Rogaine, says Nagler, while others find them to be a waste. But in most cases, when you first start using a product like this that contains the active ingredient minoxidil, you may experience an initial shedding of hair, says Nagler.

13. Having high levels of testosterone.

Davis says your chances of losing hair could increase when you have higher levels of testosterone, specifically DHT testosterone. You can also have higher levels of receptors on your hair follicles that are more susceptible to the DHT.This type of hair loss is predominantly caused by genetics, but Davis says that watching your added testosterone intake could help. She recommends making sure you don’t use any supplements that aren't heavily tested or aren't approved by the FDA, not using anabolic steroids, and making sure you ask your doctor about any weight-gain supplements.
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Davis says your chances of losing hair could increase when you have higher levels of testosterone, specifically DHT testosterone. You can also have higher levels of receptors on your hair follicles that are more susceptible to the DHT.

This type of hair loss is predominantly caused by genetics, but Davis says that watching your added testosterone intake could help. She recommends making sure you don’t use any supplements that aren't heavily tested or aren't approved by the FDA, not using anabolic steroids, and making sure you ask your doctor about any weight-gain supplements.

14. Aging and menopause.

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Bordone says if you're genetically predisposed to hair loss, there's a possibility that as you age you'll experience a slow thinning of your hair, also known as pattern hair loss. Most cases for men start with thinning in the crown and bitemporal scalp, whereas females will usually see it start in the crown and thin outwards.

"What's happening is the hair follicles are still there and intact, but they're shrinking, which is probably a hormone-mediated process, and therefore they can't produce those thick hairs you're used to seeing," she explains. "This happens as people age and it also happens when women go through menopause."

Important note: If you're experiencing hair loss and you're concerned, the best thing you can do is check in with your doctor.

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Instead of trying to self-diagnose, Davis says it’s important for anyone who notices a decrease in hair density to visit their physicians right away so they can conduct tests that will help the patient better understand why it's happening and figure out the optimal treatment.

"What a lot of people don't realize is that in many situations hair loss can be reversible," Bordone says. "But people fall for gimmicks and spend thousands of dollars on products that don't work. That's why you should always seek a consultation with a professional so we can do a blood test, look at your family history, and figure out the best way to treat you."

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