YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Booster Shots

Getting to Root of Hair Loss

November 05, 2001|ROSIE MESTEL

Halloween may be over, but ... Ayeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee !!!

You would scream too if it were your hairs carpeting the bath in drifts each time you shampooed. I mean, how many hairs does one scalp hold? And how many hairs can one woman shed before she starts looking quite bald?

(Hmm, catchy. Maybe I should turn it into a song.)

That I can be obsessed with losing a few hairs at such a time is testament to the deep-rootedness and indomitability of the human vanity instinct. I'm 42! I'm too young to go bald! I made a few calls to find out why this was happening to me .

"We're all of us turning hair over all of the time," soothed hair expert Dr. Claire Haycox, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Washington in Seattle. "It is perfectly normal on average to lose up to 100 hairs a day."

Still, Haycox says, most women can tell when their shedding rate goes up--and, if it does, there could be lots of reasons why.

It could, for instance, be genes. Nearly half of all women, by the time they hit menopause, display an inherited predisposition to hair loss called androgenetic alopecia. They can get it from either their mom or their dad.

"They don't go bald, they retain their hairline," says Dr. Jerry Shapiro, director of the University of British Columbia's Hair Research and Treatment Center. But, slowly, the hair on the top of the scalp thins out--as manifested by ominous signs such as an ever-widening hair-parting and the ability to wrap a stretchy hair tie around a ponytail more times than in the past.

The culprit: a testosterone derivative's action on the hair follicles. The result: not hair loss , exactly. You still make hair, explains Haycox--but fuzzy, tiny, barely visible hairs instead of the sleek, strong, gorgeous ones you made when you were younger.

Still, androgenetic alopecia is a gradual thing. It happens over many years and isn't characterized by unusual shedding, Shapiro says. Tempting though it is to blame my folks, maybe my problem lies elsewhere.

Maybe, for instance, I have telogen effluvium! It's a nice name. What it does is less nice, though. Normally, says Shapiro, about 90% of our hairs are busy growing and roughly 10% are resting, lolling about ready to be shed. Under those conditions, you'll shed about 100 hairs a day.

With telogen effluvium, though, that ratio gets tweaked somehow. You might have 70% of your hairs now diligently growing and fully 30% goofing off. That means you might shed 300 hairs a day.

There are a variety of reasons why this might happen, say the doctors. For instance, women who start or stop taking birth control pills can start shedding more hair, and many women lose hair a couple of months after they have a baby. Certain medicines can cause hair loss too.

The top two causes, though, are iron deficiency and thyroid abnormalities. I had an iron test about six months ago and came up borderline anemic. Maybe that's what's up with me (although Shapiro and Haycox say I should get me to a doctor if I really want to know, and certain uncharitable friends suggest "hypochondriasis" might be a more apt diagnosis).

Am I taking my iron pills every day, as I should? You can bet your bottom dollar that now that it's my hair involved, I'm going to be fanatical about it.

Hair Apparent Answers

Finally, you may still be wondering how many hairs one scalp can hold--and how many hairs one person can lose, before they start looking quite bald. The answers, my friend, are to be found at Shapiro's "Amazing Hair Facts!" Web page ( Here we learn that:

* The average scalp contains 100,000 hairs.

* The average head produces 35 meters of hair every day!

* You can lose more than 50% of your hair before it is apparent to anyone.

* Most important, though, we read that people who have hair loss caused by iron deficiency will generally grow the hair back after they've got their iron up to decent levels again. The plumbing at my house will be delighted.


If you have an idea for a Booster Shots topic, write or e-mail Rosie Mestel at the Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st. St., Los Angeles, CA 90012,

Los Angeles Times Articles