Thinning hair and hair loss: Causes and effective coping strategies

Experiencing hair loss after 50? Discover causes, treatments and lifestyle tips to help you manage the impact and regain your confidence.
hair thinning
Thinning hair can affect your confidence.

Hair loss is a common concern for men and women and it becomes more prevalent as we age. If you’re over 50 and experiencing thinning hair, you’re not alone. So what are the causes of thinning hair? Why does it affect older people? And what options are available to help you to remedy hair loss?

Understanding what causes hair loss and knowing how to treat or slow its progress can help reduce stress and empower you to take control of your hair health. Here, we look at the known causes of hair loss and how it can be treated.

The most common reasons for hair loss or thinning are:

  1. Your genes and family history
  2. Illness
  3. Poor diet and nutrition
  4. Stress and emotional factors
  5. Medical conditions and medications

Hair loss can actually be caused by many factors including genetics, health conditions, poor diet and nutrition, stress and even prescribed medication, but by far the most common cause of hair loss in men and women is hereditary male and female pattern baldness or androgenic alopecia. This accounts for 99% of all prematurely thinning or balding scalps. Around 50% of all men over 50 experience this type of hair loss.

thinning hair

The ageing process and hair loss

Changes in the hair-growth cycle

As we age, our hair growth cycle changes. The growth phase (anagen) becomes shorter, resulting in shorter hair strands. Additionally, the hair follicles may shrink, leading to thinner and finer hair. This natural ageing process contributes to the overall thinning of the hair.

Hormonal changes and hair loss

Changes to your hormone levels can also play a role in hair loss among men and women over 50. The menopause brings huge fluctuations in hormone levels among women, particularly a decrease in oestrogen and progesterone, while men experience a rise in dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which can contribute to hair thinning and loss.

alopecia - hair loss
Hair loss and alopecia are particularly stressful for women.

Common causes of hair loss

Androgenetic alopecia

Androgenetic alopecia, or male and female pattern baldness, is a hereditary condition that can affect both sexes as they age – but also younger women postpartum. It is characterised by a gradual thinning of the hair on the top of the head in men and a widening part or overall thinning in women. Genetics and hormonal factors play a significant role in this type of hair loss.

Female pattern baldness is less well understood. It’s thought that around 40% of women aged 70 years or over experience female-pattern baldness. This type of hair loss can be genetic, be induced by periods of high stress, a medical condition or treatment.

Telogen effluvium

Telogen effluvium is a condition in which a significant number of hair follicles enter the resting phase (telogen) prematurely. This can be triggered by factors such as hormonal changes, deficiencies in diet, stress, illness and medications. Telogen effluvium can be temporary or long-lasting.

Nutritional deficiencies

Poor nutrition and unhealthy eating habits can contribute to hair loss. As you age, your body’s ability to absorb the key nutrients it requires diminishes leaving you deficient in essential vitamins, minerals and proteins, which can affect hair health. Consuming a balanced diet rich in nutrients is crucial for maintaining healthy hair.

Medical conditions and medications

Thyroid disorders, autoimmune diseases, scalp infections and other medical conditions can cause hair loss. Medications used to manage these health conditions, such as chemotherapy drugs, blood thinners and even certain antidepressants, may have hair loss as a side effect. If you suspect that the medication you take is causing your hair loss, you must talk to your GP for proper evaluation and guidance. Don’t just stop your medication.

Stress and emotional factors

Stress and emotional factors can contribute to hair loss among older people. Significant life changes, emotional distress or traumatic events can disrupt the hair growth cycle and lead to increased shedding. Finding healthy ways to manage stress and seeking support from loved ones or professionals can help mitigate its impact on your hair health.

Mythbusting hair loss

While it is important to mention what causes hair loss, it is equally important to cover what does not cause hair loss. Scientists have now determined that genetic male and female pattern hair loss (androgenic alopecia) is not caused by poor scalp circulation, clogged hair follicles, microscopic scalp mites, the wrong shampoo or wearing hats or helmets, despite what Youtube and TikTok influencers might say.

Hair-care products can effect the manageability and styling of your hair, and even hair breakage, but have no effect on the hair loss process.

Although hair itself may appear simple, just think about the incredible number of combinations of hair on different parts of your own body. For example, your eyelashes are different from your eyebrows, and the hair on your arms is different from the hair on your head.

It is this genetic code within each hair follicle (the tiny organ in the skin that produces hair) that determines each hairs individual color, maximum length, curl, shaft diameter, etc. It is also this genetic code that makes hair on different parts of your head react differently in the presence of certain hormones, even though these two types of hair start out looking exactly the same.

hair health - tips to manage hair loss

How to manage hair loss

Topical treatments

Topical treatments, such as minoxidil can be effective in stimulating hair growth and slowing down hair loss. Over the counter products such as Regaine contain Minoxidil that can be applied directly to the scalp, however it needs to be used consistently to maintain results.

Minoxidil can also be used to treat female pattern baldness.

Finasteride is also used to treat hair loss but is not recommended for female use.

Oral treatments

Finasteride is a drug used to treat men with an enlarged prostate (benign prostate enlargement), but it is also effective for treating male pattern baldness. It works by inhibiting the production of DHT, a hormone that contributes to hair loss.

Finasteride is not prescribed for hair loss on the NHS. Therefore, a private prescription is needed and the cost of the drug is down to you.

NHS UK says, these treatments:

  • do not work for everyone
  • only work for as long as they’re used
  • are not available on the NHS
  • can be expensive

Hair transplant

Hair transplantation is a surgical procedure that involves harvesting hair follicles, typically the back of the head, and transplanting them to the thinning or balding areas. This procedure can cost anywhere from £1000 to £30,000 in the UK depending on the extent of hair loss.

If you’re thinking about having a hair transplant in England, check the Care Quality Commission (CQC). All clinics offering transplant services must be register with the CQC. If they are not, don’t use them.

For more information on hair transplants see NHS.

Low-level laser therapy

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) uses red light wavelengths to stimulate hair follicles and promote hair growth. This is a non-surgical treatment but is not available through NHS as it is classed as cosmetic. LLLT is believed to improve blood circulation to the scalp and stimulate cellular activity in the hair follicles, leading to thicker and healthier hair.

Hairstyling techniques and wigs

If you prefer a non-invasive solution, hairstyling techniques and hairpieces can help create the appearance of fuller hair. A stylist can help you identify styles that add volume and disguise thinning areas.

Hairpieces, such as wigs, toppers or hair extensions, provide a flexible solution for those seeking instant results.

healthy lifestyle for healthy hair

Lifestyle changes

Nutrition and hydration

Maintaining a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrients is essential for hair health. Ensure you consume adequate protein, vitamins (especially Biotin and Vitamin D), minerals (such as Iron and Zinc), and omega-3 fatty acids.

Hydration is also crucial, so drink plenty of water to keep your body and scalp hydrated.

Exercise and stress management

Regular exercise promotes overall wellbeing and can contribute to healthier hair. Engage in activities that get your heart rate up and improve blood circulation.

Finding effective stress-management techniques, such as meditation, yoga or engaging in hobbies, can help reduce stress levels and reduce the chance of exacerbating existing scalp trouble.

Gentle hair care practices

Handle your hair gently to minimise damage and breakage. Avoid aggressive brushing or combing, especially when your hair is wet and more susceptible to damage. Use a wide-toothed comb or a brush with soft bristles to detangle your hair.

Reduce your use of heat-styling tools and opt for low-heat or heat-free hairstyles whenever possible.

Protecting hair from environmental damage

Shield your hair from harmful environmental factors. When exposed to the sun, wear a hat or use a UV-protective spray to prevent damage from UV rays. Similarly, protect your hair from chlorine and saltwater by wearing a swim cap or applying a leave-in conditioner before swimming. Minimise the use of harsh chemical treatments and opt for gentle, sulphate-free hair care products.

Emotional support

Experiencing hair loss can be a distressing experience as your hair is important to your confidence and sense of self. If you find that your hair loss is affecting you emotionally, you should seek support. Your GP can provide guidance and may even refer you for counselling to help you cope with the emotional impact of hair loss. Additionally, joining a support group or engaging in online forums where you can connect with others facing similar challenges can offer community and understanding. Remember, reaching out for support is a positive step towards navigating the emotional aspects of hair loss.

Understanding the underlying causes of thinning hair can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety caused by hair loss. It is important to talk your worries through with a GP or dermatologist, to determine the underlying cause of your hair loss and identify a treatment plan. With the right approach and guidance, you can retain your confidence and regain a fuller, healthier head of hair.

Tags: , Last modified: June 29, 2023

Written by 6:26 pm Health