Categorized | Hair Care

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What’s the Difference Between Thinning Hair and Balding?

I recently received correspondence in which the writer asked me how to tell the difference between thinning and balding. Specifically, she asked: “My hair is thinning out very rapidly. Will this eventually lead to complete baldness?” Is there any way to tell what is going to happen with my hair in the future?” I will try to address these questions in the following article.

What Causes Hair To Thin? What Causes Baldness?: Sometimes, the same factors cause both of these conditions, but not always. By far, the most common cause of balding and thinning are sensitivity to androgens of the scalp or some form of androgenic alopecia (or AGA.) However, there are other conditions that will cause the hair to shed which can eventually lead to hopefully temporary thinning also.

Telogen effluvium or TE is one such example. Sometimes, reactions to medications can cause shedding which causes thinning. Some medical conditions fall under this umbrella also, as do allergic reactions or conditions of the scalp. Most of the time, if you can stop what is causing the shedding, your hair will resume to normal growth and shed patterns so that the thinning out of your hair will eventually stop also.

Also, there is a condition called alopecia areata (AA) which is an autoimmune disorder which will sometimes eventually cause total baldness or diffuse thinning. This condition has nothing to do with androgens, although it is relatively rare. But, with that said, specialist will often tell you that the most common culprit for changes in hair thickness and volume have to do with genetics and / or androgens.

Thinning Can Sometimes Be The First Stop On The Path To Baldness, But This Is Not Always The Case: Let’s discuss how the path to baldness happens when AGA or a sensitivity to androgens is at play. The person experiencing this might notice an increase in shedding or hair loss or they may not. It’s typically not the rate of hair loss that is problematic here. It’s the compromised regrowth. What happens is that because of the androgens and the hair follicles being compromised by them, the hair that is coming back in is miniaturized. It may be lighter in color or more thin in diameter.

At first, the person experiencing this may just notice a loss in volume. But with each hair loss and regrowth cycle, that same hair becomes smaller and smaller in diameter. So, it is able to cover less ground with each cycle. And, this is when people will typically start to notice thinning. Now, sometimes this cycle continues on so many times that eventually, there will only be peach fuzz in the area in questions. Eventually, the peach fuzz gives way to nothing at all and this is when you start to see bald spots in the area in question. Usually, we’re talking about high androgenic areas like the temples, top, or crown.

However, due to genetics or treatment, some folks’ hair loss never reach the level of total baldness. Some people only thin over time and some are able to regrow their hair as medical causes are found or treatment works. Family history comes into play here as does what treatment options you are trying as well as other factors like diet, environment, and stress.

People who are thinning often ask me if they have to just accept their fate to be bald. I don’t buy that you have to accept this. You should know that, even without treatment, not everyone will reach this balding level and there are fewer women than men who reach this. Early treatment can sometimes change the cards that nature dealt you and even mild thinning can often be improved upon.

And, if you’re experiencing thinning due to a temporary condition like TE or a medical issue, you can often see good results if you treat both the hair and the condition that is causing the thinning in the first place. And even hair loss caused by AGA can respond well to treatment.

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