Hair loss is a part of your daily life, whether you realize it or not. A typical strand of hair lives four or five years and then falls out and is replaced by a new one — in fact, the average person loses up to 100 hairs a day. But when this loss is not followed by replacement, a once-thick head of hair starts to thin out — and in some cases, go bald. So why does this happen?

Most people’s hair thins gradually with age — in both men and women — a natural phenomenon called involutional alopecia. Hair follicles turn dormant, and the hairs that are left become shorter and more sparse.

But many medical issues can also lead to thinning hair. In women, thyroid disease, substantial weight gain or loss, stress, and anemia are all problems that might cause hair to fall out. Pregnancy and menopause create hormonal changes that also affect your hair, and many women experience hair loss after giving birth. Scalp infections can cause hair to fall out in clumps. Vitamin and mineral deficiency and chemical hair treatments such as perms or coloring may also contribute to hair loss. Even blowdrying or wearing a ponytail can thin out your hair.

Most baldness is actually not due to a medical condition. The single most significant factor for thinning hair in both men and women is heredity: a genetic condition called androgenic alopecia. For men, this happens as a receding hairline and gradual loss of hair at the crown — also known as male pattern baldness. Women experience diffuse thinning over their entire scalp, with the most noticeable hair loss at their crown; this is female pattern baldness. Both men and women may see their hair thinning as soon as their early 20s, though the loss is typically most noticeable in men. A woman’s thinning hair may not become noticeable until she’s in her 40s or older.

What can you do to keep your hair? Maintain your health, and be gentle with the hair you have:

  • Don’t use harsh chemicals on your hair.
  • Massage your scalp to increase circulation and promote hair growth.
  • Use a comb instead of a brush, and comb gently.
  • Treat any underlying medical conditions.
  • Try a medicinal treatment such as Rogaine or Propecia.
  • Be gentle with hair accessories.
  • If you’re not eating a balanced diet, take vitamin supplements as recommended by your doctor.

If treatments don’t help with your hair loss, learn to accept your thinning hair. If you feel uncomfortable, make hats your new style trademark or try a subtle wig. Hair loss isn’t the end of the world – and many more people are afflicted with it than you think.

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