Baldness or hair loss is usually something only adults need to worry about. But in a few cases, teens lose their hair, too — and it may be a sign that something's going on.
Hair loss during adolescence can mean a person may be sick or just not eating right. Some medications or medical treatments, like chemotherapy treatment for cancer, also cause hair loss. People can even lose their hair if they wear a hairstyle that pulls on the hair for a long time, such as braids.
Losing hair can be stressful during a time when you're already concerned about appearance. Most of the time, hair loss during the teen years is temporary. With temporary hair loss, the hair usually grows back after the problem that causes it is corrected.
Hair is made of a type of protein called keratin. A single hair consists of a hair shaft (the part that shows), a root below the skin, and a follicle, from which the hair root grows. At the lower end of the follicle is the hair bulb, where the hair's color pigment, or melanin, is produced.
Most people lose about 50 to 100 head hairs a day. These hairs are replaced — they grow back in the same follicle on your head. This amount of hair loss is totally normal and no cause for worry. If you're losing more than that, though, something might be wrong.
If you have hair loss and don't know what's causing it, talk to your doctor. A doctor can determine why the hair is falling out and suggest a treatment that will correct the underlying problem, if necessary.
Here are some of the things that can cause hair loss in teens:
If you see a doctor about hair loss, he or she will ask questions about your health and family health (called a medical history) and check your scalp. In some cases, the doctor might take hair samples and test for certain medical conditions that can cause hair loss.
If medication is causing hair loss, ask the doctor if you can take a different drug. If your hair loss is due to an endocrine condition, like diabetes or thyroid disease or female-pattern baldness, proper treatment and control of the underlying disorder is important to reduce or prevent hair loss.
If your doctor recommends it, a product like minoxidil that can increase hair growth in male-pattern baldness also might be helpful. Alopecia areata can be helped by treatment with corticosteroids. If nutritional deficiencies are found to be causing your hair loss, the doctor might refer you to a dietitian or other nutrition expert.
Hair loss can be the first outward sign that a person is sick, so it may feel scary. Teens who have cancer and lose their hair because of chemotherapy treatments (especially girls) might go through a difficult time.
It can help to feel like you have some control over your appearance when you're losing your hair. When getting chemotherapy, some people like to cut their hair or shave their heads before the hair falls out. Some even take the hair they cut off and have it made into a wig.
Many options can help disguise hair loss — such as wearing wigs, hair wraps, hats, and baseball caps. For most teens who lose their hair, the hair does return — including after chemotherapy.
Eating a balanced, healthy diet is important for a lot of reasons, and it really benefits your hair.
If you're losing hair, some doctors recommend using baby shampoo, shampooing no more than once a day, and lathering gently. Don't rub your hair too vigorously with a towel, either. Many hair experts suggest putting away the blow dryer and air drying your hair instead. If you can't live without your blow dryer, try using it on a low-heat setting.
Style your hair when it's dry or damp. Styling your hair while it's wet can cause it to stretch and break. And try to avoid teasing your hair, which can cause damage. Finally, be careful when using chemicals — such as straighteners or color — on your hair, and avoid frequent use of chemical treatments.
Reviewed by: Patrice Hyde, MD
Date reviewed: October 2011
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