Shedding a light on the hair loss that naturally occurs as men and women age
WRITTEN BY Samatha Connors
PHOTOGRAPHS BY (male) ESB Professional; (brushing hair) Monkey Business Images & (napping) polkadot_photo
Though a natural result of genetics and aging, the process of balding can feel like more than just hair loss, it can seem like a loss of self. While many of the 80 million U.S. adults affected by balding choose to embrace a bare scalp as part of their identity, others struggle with confidence and self-image in the face of this change. Fortunately, thinning hair and receding hairlines can be stopped and even reversed with medications, supplements and transplants.
Androgenetic alopecia (male or female pattern baldness) can be caused by a number of factors, including fluctuating testosterone levels in the body and genes. “Balding is a strong hereditary trait,” says Dr. Alaina Payne, a Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated primary care doctor. With two-thirds of American men experiencing some level of hair loss by age 35, balding is often thought of as a male issue, but the Cleveland Clinic reports that more than 50 percent of women also struggle with hair loss. “As people get older, their hair follicles shorten. Strands become finer and less pigmented, and that’s when balding becomes more noticeable,” explains Dr. Payne.
To slow down or reverse the early impacts of balding, common treatment options include over-the-counter topical medications such as minoxidil (you may know it as Rogaine) and oral prescriptions. Be sure to consult with your doctor before treatment, as medication and supplementation strategies differ for women and men.
For advanced hair loss that necessitates a more aggressive course of action, dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons can perform hair transplant surgery. This outpatient procedure maximizes a patient’s remaining hair by grafting existing hairs from one place on the head to a bald spot. Just know that more than one surgery may be needed to achieve the desired look, and hereditary hair loss will continue to progress after surgery.
Though balding often occurs due to aging, it can also be associated with more worrisome health concerns. “Losing hair in circular patches on the back or sides of the head can be a sign of a fungal infection,” explains Dr. Payne. “It can also be a result of hair being pulled too tight in certain hairstyles or a symptom of a larger issue.” If you’re experiencing irregular hair loss, speak with your primary care physician or dermatologist.
To help keep your hair full and healthy, avoid these follicle follies:
- Washing your hair every day. Daily shampooing strips the natural oils out of the hair follicles and can contribute to the fining and shortening of the follicle itself. Dr. Payne encourages washing every other day.
- Bleaching and coloring. Chemically lightening and dying your locks can dry out hair follicles.
- Leaving chlorine in your hair. Chlorine and other chemicals cause follicles to break down, increasing the risk of balding. Rinse chlorine from your strands immediately after swimming.
- Using heat and styling products. Don’t overwhelm your hair with styling products and limit exposure to hot tools like curling and flat irons. If you’re going to use heat, be sure to apply a protective serum first.
- Sleeping on a cotton pillowcase. Cotton absorbs skin’s natural oils, drawing moisture from your hair. Silk sheets and pillowcases may help retain natural oils in hair follicles.
NEW RESEARCH: Power Nap
Afternoon sleep can sharpen mental performance in seniors
Beyond simply recharging the body, midafternoon rest can awaken the mind, asserts a recent report in the journal General Psychiatry. The observational study, which analyzed the cognitive health of 2,214 people over the age of 60, found that regular nappers scored higher on cognitive tests than non-nappers. Participants who enjoyed afternoon snoozes did especially well in the areas of working memory, locational awareness and verbal fluency.
Short catnaps—defined as five to 30 consecutive minutes—increase alertness, elevate cognitive performance and boost mood. Hour-long rest periods allow the brain to clear extraneous information from temporary storage areas to make room for new information. However, experts recommend dozing for no more than two hours after lunch, as longer stretches of ZZZs may interfere with good nighttime sleep. Seniors who find themselves frequently snoring for extended daytime periods should talk with their doctor. Know that some medications for blood pressure, arthritis, muscle relaxation and mental health conditions can negatively affect sleep quality. Provided your nighttime sleep is adequate, though, evidence suggests that a dose of shuteye is just the thing to open your mind.