Tag Archive for: Retinol

Why Self-diagnosing Your Hair Loss is a Bad Idea

“When did you graduate from medical school?” my husband asks me on a regular basis.  I didn’t, but I am a self-proclaimed expert in the medical field anyway.  Why wouldn’t my Google education make me highly qualified to diagnose the whole family’s symptoms and illnesses?  Evidently, I’m not the only one self-diagnosing.  A survey conducted in March 2020  indicated that nearly one-third of all Americans do their own medical research. (01)

Being your own doctor can work against you though.  In fact, when I first started losing my hair, I didn’t even think to have it checked.  Based on what I read, postpartum hair loss is normal, and I had two babies in two years.  I would never in a million years have guessed that I had alopecia.  However, knowing what I know now, I do not recommend waiting to consult with a medical professional if you’re noticing an unusual amount of hair loss.  Treating hair loss early helps you prevent further shedding and even regrow your hair.  Here are seven more reasons why you should schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist and hair specialist if you’re concerned about the amount of hair you’re losing. 

Reason #1:  Dermatologists are familiar with hair loss patterns associated with specific hair loss conditions.  

Your dermatologist has spent countless hours studying and memorizing the different types of hair loss.  Many times, just looking at patients’ hair loss patterns gives your dermatologist clues as to where to start with a work-up to get a diagnosis.  Common hair loss conditions and associated patterns are:

  • Androgenic alopecia (men) – Receding hairline and gradual thinning on top
  • Androgenic alopecia (women) – Widening of the part 
  • Alopecia areata – Patchy or circular bald spots on the head, eyebrows, or beard
  • Telogen effluvium – Overall thinning due to sudden hair loss
  • Fungal infection – Scaly patches that spread over the scalp
  • Alopecia totalis – Full-body hair loss

If your dermatologist suspects that you have androgenic alopecia, known as male or female pattern baldness, he or she may use the Norwood scale, a scale of 1 to 7, to track the progression of your hair loss.  The scale helps your dermatologist recommend the best possible treatment options to prevent further hair loss and stimulate growth based on the amount of recession or thinning you have.  

Reason #2:  Your doctor can determine the severity of your hair loss

Losing a certain amount of hair is normal and is part of the hair growth cycle.  How do you know if the amount you’re seeing in the sink or shower is too much?  You don’t.  However, once your dermatologist has an idea of your hair loss pattern, he or she has a number of tools and tests he or she can use to determine the extent of your hair loss.  The most common are:

Pull Test

A pull test is pretty much as the name indicates.  During the test, your doctor will gently tug on small sections of hair from parts of your scalp.  Usually, the litmus test is six or more strands.  If you lose that much, your hair loss is active.  

Scalp Biopsy

A scalp biopsy, also known as a punch biopsy, is often used to determine what type of alopecia you have. It allows pathologists to see inflammation and can distinguish whether the alopecia is scarring or non-scarring.  To take the biopsy, your dermatologist numbs the area and uses a pencil-sized device to remove a small amount of tissue that is sent to a lab for analysis. The incision is closed with a couple of small stitches.   

Trichometric Analysis

If your dermatologist wants to analyze your scalp and hair, he or she may do a trichometric analysis using a small handheld device with a high-definition camera.  The device magnifies images by up to 100 times so your hair, hair follicles, and scalp can be seen in great detail.  The tool shows how much hair is covering your scalp, and the diameter of each hair strand.  Dermatologists often use this camera to monitor progress after you begin treatment.  

Fungal Culture

If your dermatologist suspects that your hair loss is due to a fungus in your hair or scalp, he or she may run this test.  Fungal cultures determine if a condition called tinea capitis, scalp ringworm, is causing your hair loss.  During the test, a small sample of skin or hair is sent to a lab for incubation.   

Reason #3:  Your vitamin levels may need to be checked

Often one of the first questions dermatologists often ask new patients is whether they have recently had a routine blood test.  The reason why is because simple vitamin deficiencies can cause hair loss.  Fortunately, if this is the case, supplements will usually solve the problem quickly and easily.  The two most common vitamin deficiencies that cause hair loss are vitamin D and iron.  

Studies have shown that vitamin D has anti-inflammatory properties and affects the hair cycle. (02)  When your body has a vitamin D deficiency, regulation of the hair follicles is challenging.  Growth and shedding cycles are disrupted causing your hair to suddenly fall out.

Iron deficiency stunts the production of hemoglobin which transports oxygen to the cells in your body, including the cells that make your hair grow.  The hair follicles lack the nutrients they need to thrive.  With an iron deficiency, hair sheds and thins, giving the appearance similar to androgenic alopecia.

 

Reason #4:  Your hormones may be out of whack

 

Your dermatologist may also run blood tests to check for hormonal imbalances.  Hormone imbalances can cause hair to get dry, brittle, thin, or fall out altogether.  The only way to know if this is the case is to have your levels checked.  

Contrary to popular belief, high or low testosterone is not an indicator of hair loss.  Research has continually demonstrated that there is not a link between serum androgen levels and androgenic alopecia. (03)  Instead, male pattern baldness could be linked to an androgen sensitivity or high androgen density. 

Factors that can affect your hormone levels include:   

Menopause

Estrogen levels fall before, during, and after menopause while testosterone levels inversely increase.  During the process, the testosterone converts to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which attacks your hair follicles, and makes your hair fall out.  

Stress

Stress is a bigger contributor to hair loss than most people realize.  When you are stressed out, your body creates cortisol which disrupts the function and regulation of your hair follicles as well as your hair growth cycle.  

Pregnancy

During pregnancy, estrogen levels rise, causing your hair to get fuller and thicker. After the baby is born, however, those levels drop rapidly, making the excess hair shed.  It can take a while for your estrogen levels and hair loss to balance out.  

Thyroid

Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism have been linked to alopecia.  In a 2013 study, patients aged 21-40 with thyroid disfunction were likely to have diffuse alopecia and alopecia areata.  Patients older than 40 were more likely to have alopecia areata and androgenic alopecia. (04)  The findings confirm the importance of checking thyroid levels when there is a hair loss issue.  

Reason #5:  You could have a scalp infection 

A number of scalp infections can cause hair loss.  These infections can easily be confused with various types of alopecia, but once treated, hair typically regrows.  Examples include:

Ringworm

Ringworm is a fungal infection that forms scaly, raised, red patches.  Itching is a common complaint among patients with scalp ringworm and is typically treated with anti-fungal medications.  

Scalp Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes thick red patches, and sometimes scaling.  There isn’t a cure, but proper management can help prevent hair loss.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis causes dandruff in adults, characterized by dry, flaky skin, and typically does not cause hair loss.  Shampoos and topical medications are often recommended. 

Lichen Planus

Lichen planus causes inflammation and can leave tiny red bumps on your scalp.  The cause is not known for certain, although autoimmune dysfunction is one of the possible causes.  Topical creams are often used to treat symptoms, but in many cases, lichen planus will disappear without treatment.  

Your dermatologist has been trained to address and treat all of these infections.

Reason #6:  Sometimes you need an outside perspective

When your dermatologist takes your medical history, he or she may be able to identify bad habits that are affecting your hair and contributing to your hair loss.  Some of these habits may include:

  • Smoking
  • Poor diet filled with processed foods
  • Stress
  • Tight buns, ponytails, braids, or other hairstyles that can pull on your hair and cause traction alopecia
  • Compulsively pulling on your hair (trichotillomania)

Reason #7:  The most effective medications are only available by prescription

Hair loss products are similar to skincare products in that very few over-the-counter (OTC) products are truly effective.  If you have a graveyard of barely or partially used tubes and containers under your bathroom sink, you get the picture.  The reality is that besides Minoxidil which is sold OTC as Rogaine in a 5 percent formula, you’re wasting your money on OTC hair loss products.  You’ll need a doctor to write a prescription.  Some of the most effective and widely used prescription hair loss medications that your doctor may prescribe are:

Minoxidil

Designed to enlarge the hair follicles and prevent miniaturization.  Used to treat a broad spectrum of hair loss conditions.  

  • Sold OTC in foam and liquid formulas
  • Available by prescription in higher dose pills and topical formulas

Finasteride

Prevents testosterone from converting to DHT, which attacks the hair follicles and causes hair loss.  Often used to treat male and female pattern hair loss.  

  • Available only by prescription
  • Reported sexual side effects such as lower libido by some users
  • Used by both men and women, but not recommended for women of childbearing age
  • Topical formula is proven to be equally as effective as the pill without the undesirable side effects since it is not systemic.  

Retinol

A derivative of Vitamin A that improves the absorption of Minoxidil, Finasteride, and other medications that stimulate hair growth.

  • Typically not used as a stand-alone hair loss solution
  • Low OTC doses not as potent as prescription doses

Spironolactone

A DHT blocker used to treat female pattern hair loss.

  • Available only by prescription
  • Safe for women who have not been through menopause

When to see a doctor

In a 2015 study conducted by the National Library of Medicine, nearly one-third of people surveyed reported avoiding the doctor, even those with major health problems. (05)  The result was later detection, reduced survival rates, and more suffering than necessary.  You won’t die if your hair falls out, but why lose your hair if you don’t have to?  If you are experiencing hair loss, be sure to seek medical treatment from a licensed dermatologist.   Early medical intervention not only prevents further hair loss but in many cases, can help you regrow your hair.  

If you have hair loss concerns and if accessibility and/or affordability is an issue, visit us at happyhead.com.  You will have the opportunity to consult with one of our board-certified dermatologists and hair specialists.  No insurance or co-pay is required.  You only pay for the product if deemed necessary and appropriate.

Resources:

(01) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7084283/#:~:text=Surveys%20suggest%20that%20a%20large,self%2Ddiagnose%20using%20online%20information.

(02) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34553483/

(03) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7432488/

(04) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3746235/

(05) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4351276/#:~:text=People%20often%20avoid%20seeking%20medical,survey%20reported%20avoiding%20the%20doctor.&text=Even%20individuals%20with%20major%20health,12%20avoid%20seeking%20medical%20care.

When Women Get Male Pattern Hair Loss


Female pattern hair loss can progress from a widening part to overall thinning.

I met my friend Barbara (01) twelve years ago when our boys were toddlers.  Barbara is a tiny woman with lots of spunk.  I always thought of her as strong, smart, and confident.  She called one day and confided in me that it bothered her that her hair was thinning.  She had been losing hair on the crown of her head since she was in her late 20s, and she never did anything about it.   She knew that I had lichen planopilaris and wanted to get the name of the dermatologist I used to treat my hair loss.  

Anyone knew just from looking at Barbara that her hair was sparse, and it took me by surprise that she hadn’t already had it checked out by a dermatologist or a hair specialist.   But then again, Barbara isn’t exactly a fashionista.  She’s an elder care nurse who spends most of her weekdays in scrubs and her weekends in sweats.  But still, I was surprised.  Barbara visited my dermatologist, and it turns out that she has androgenic alopecia, also known as male pattern baldness.  Who knew that women can get male pattern baldness?  And who knew that it could start so young?

How do Women Get Male Pattern Baldness?

Women get male pattern baldness for the same reasons men do.  Also known as androgenic alopecia, female pattern hair loss is usually inherited.  The condition occurs when a woman has a shorter than normal period of hair growth and a longer than normal period between when her hair sheds and grows.  In some cases, women have the misfortune of inheriting smaller hair follicles and thinner strands of hair.  

Almost every woman experiences female pattern hair loss at some point in her life.  Most first notice androgenic alopecia around menopause, but it can start any time after puberty begins.  If anyone on either side of your family has lost his or her hair, it’s more likely that you will too. 

What Does Female Pattern Baldness Look Like?

There’s some good news if you have female pattern baldness.  Women’s hairlines usually don’t recede and you won’t end up with a donut.  The other good news is that women typically don’t go completely bald.  Usually women with androgenic alopecia have one of three different patterns of hair loss.  A bald spot can form at the crown of your head, you could lose hair along your center part, or your hair could thin all over.  In some cases, hair gets so thin that the scalp can be seen.

If you’re a Woman, How do you Know if you Have Male Pattern Baldness?

Although it’s tempting, don’t try to self-diagnose or treat yourself if you think you have androgenic alopecia. Get an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist and hair specialist.  Your dermatologist may do one or several of the following:

  • Evaluate your hair loss pattern
  • Review your medical history
  • Rule out other possible causes for your hair loss, such as iron or vitamin D deficiency, thyroid disease, or another type of scarring alopecia
  • Determine whether you are producing too much androgen (male hormone)
  • Use a dermoscope or a microscope to look at the structure of your hair shaft
  • Take a small biopsy of your scalp and send it to a pathologist

Androgenic Alopecia Often Goes Undiagnosed in African American Women

Women of every race are affected by androgenic alopecia and other types of hair loss.  African American women are no exception.  In a 2016 survey conducted at Boston University’s Sloane Epidemiology Center, 47.6 percent of African-American women surveyed reported hair loss. (02)   

However, like my friend Barbara who noticed that her hair was thinning and didn’t do anything about it, many African-American women are not seeking treatment for androgenic alopecia.  Out of the group surveyed, 81.4 percent reported that they had never consulted with a physician about their thinning hair or bald spots.

The moral of this story?  If you think that your hair is thinning and have a history of hair loss on either your Mother’s or Father’s side of the family, don’t ignore it.  Make an appointment with your dermatologist to get evaluated and treated. 

Do Asian Women get Alopecia?

Asian women do get alopecia, but traditionally rates have been lower than those of Caucasian or African-American women. (03)  That number seems to be on the rise, though.  Diet is believed to be a contributing factor.   

Early research indicates that diets rich in vegetables, herbs, and soy may contribute to hair growth and health thanks to their anti-inflammatory nutrients. (04)  The traditional Asian diet, loaded with fish and vegetables, meets that criteria.  

Today’s modern Asian diet looks more like a typical American diet though, filled with processed foods.  The fat, salt, and empty calories lead to higher BMI and blood sugar levels that have been linked to female pattern hair loss. (05)

What Treatments are Available to Women with Female Pattern Baldness?

Treatments for androgenic alopecia are designed with two goals in mind:

  1. Prevent further hair loss
  2. Stimulate hair growth

Sounds logical, right?  Well, it is.  Here are medications that dermatologists typically prescribe:

Retinol (Tretinoin)

Retinol is derived from Vitamin A and has been found to be effective for treating female pattern hair loss when used either alone or in combination with Minoxidil. (06)  Retinol has been proven to stimulate growth and improve the absorption of other ingredients that promote hair growth.

Minoxidil (Rogaine)

Minoxidil, sold over-the-counter under the name Rogaine, is a hair regrowth treatment.  It works by enlarging the hair follicles and elongating your hair’s growth phase.  Minoxidil is available in both a topical foam and a pill.  Although the foam is available in a two percent formula for women and a five percent formula for men, dermatologists often recommend the five percent for women to use for androgenic alopecia.  Any hair growth realized while using Minodixil can be lost if you stop using the product, so it is highly recommended to use it under the care of a licensed dermatologist.

Finasteride (Propecia)

Finasteride is a prescription medication that was initially designed to treat enlarged prostates.  Because it prevents testosterone from converting into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the medicine is helpful for women with female pattern hair loss. (07)  Finasteride is available as an oral medication and as a topical solution.  Many women prefer topical to avoid potential side effects.

Dutasteride (Avodart)

Dutasteride is similar to Finasteride.  Both medications prevent your body from converting testosterone into DHT, which causes female pattern baldness.  Dutasteride is newer to the market and is used off-label for androgenic alopecia in women. Finasteride is highly effective for most women, but when stronger medications are required, Dutasteride is a good option. (08)  Like Finasteride, Dutasteride is best for women who are not pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant.   

Spironolactone (Aldactone)

Spironolactone is an effective treatment for hormone-induced hair loss that is only prescribed to women.  The medication blocks DHT production by simultaneously decreasing testosterone and increasing estrogen.

Data indicates that Spironolactone is highly effective for treating female pattern baldness.  In a research study conducted, 74.3 percent of patients who were treated with Spironolactone reported stabilization or improvement in their hair loss. (09)  

Oral Spironolactone can cause low blood pressure, drowsiness, and other side effects.  Topical Spironolactone, which does not go through the digestive system and is less likely to induce side effects, is often prescribed and preferred.  Topical Spironolactone is often compounded with Minoxidil to help your hair grow even faster and thicker.   

Compounded Topical Treatments

If you’re not thrilled about using multiple products, all-in-one topical treatments that combine multiple medications into one are now available and can be more effective than using just one medication alone. (10)   Popular combinations are:

  • Retinol, Minoxidil, and Finasteride 
  • Minoxidil and Spironolactone

Many women appreciate the convenience and ease of applying just one formula twice a day.  

With so Many Medications Available to Women with Androgenic Alopecia, How do you Choose?

Are you confused about all of the different options?  If so, that’s understandable since some of the DHT blocking medications work similarly.  Thankfully, dermatologists have experience selecting the right medications for patients with female pattern hair loss.  Your dermatologist will help you choose the right medication, dosage, and combination of medication based on the severity of your hair loss and your medical history.  

Remember that treatment for female pattern hair loss isn’t one-size-fits-all.  Different medications work for different women.  It’s common to go through a trial process to see what works best for you.  

Also, keep in mind that patience is key when treating androgenic alopecia.  Medications work over time, so it may be a few months before you see a noticeable improvement, no matter which treatment you and your dermatologist choose.

Women with Androgenic Alopecia Often Need a Support System

Every woman deals with androgenic alopecia differently.  My friend Barbara took her diagnosis in stride, but many women are devastated.  Hair is a huge part of a woman’s identity, and losing it can take a toll on a woman’s confidence.  

If you’re having trouble coping with your hair loss, resources are available to you.  Best of all, some of the resources are free.  Facebook has a closed group dedicated to females with androgenic alopecia.  Members share information about their diagnosis and treatment plans. Sometimes, they’re just there to tell each other that it’s okay to be sad about their hair loss.  Whether it’s on Facebook, another social media outlet, or in person, support groups are a good way to connect with others who are feeling the same way as you about your hair loss situation.  

If you’re not in a good place mentally, make sure you contact a qualified psychologist or a psychiatrist.  Depression and anxiety are common among women with female pattern hair loss.  It’s important to seek help so you can regain your sense of self.

Resources:

(01) Name has been changed to protect confidentiality

(02) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160304093239.htm

(03) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4560543/

(04) https://www.karger.com/Article/Fulltext/504786

(05) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4560543/

(06) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3771854/

(07) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7060023/

(08) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25382509/

(09) https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(15)01878-2/fulltext

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4314881/