Female Alopecia & Male Alopecia – Who, What, Why?

Hair Loss 101 with Rob Hardwicke, Product Master, Awakening Mineral Skin Care

“Alopecia” is the general medical term for hair loss. Your hair is a part of the skin organ, so the health of your hair and the health of your skin are intertwined. We like to say that if the skin of the scalp is healthy, then the hair is healthy: Healthy Scalp = Health Hair.  And as the  “product master” here at Awakening, I have had the opportunity over the last decade or so to work

Female alopecia image

The “good news” is that both female alopecia and hair loss from chemotherapy are manageable!

with people suffering from certain kinds of hair loss. The relationships I’ve had with customers who have benefited from using our products for hair “issues” have led me to some important insights I’d like to share with you.

We at Awakening have made some discoveries about the role of Dead Sea minerals in a new kind of alternative treatment for certain types of Alopecia.  Many of our female customers have been clamoring for more information about the benefits of using Dead Sea Mud products for menopausal and chemo-related hair loss.

There are different kinds of Alopecia commonly encountered. I would like to bring some “hope through education” to the lives of the many women and men who suffer from hair loss, so that you can make informed decisions about your approach to your hair loss treatment, whatever it turns out to be. (And avoid the snakeoil salesmen.)

Indeed, when it comes to the topic of hair loss, there are a slew of misconceptions, stigmas, and misinformation that feeds on those misconceptions and stigmas – usually to someone’s commercial benefit. Now of course, we are on the commercial side of things ourselves, but part of our charter at Awakening Mineral Skin Care is that we never ever make unrealistic claims about what our products can accomplish. The human body is truly a many-splendored thing, and we feel privileged to be able to help improve the lives of the hundreds of men and women experiencing hair loss who have benefited in one small way or another from using Awakening’s products.

Everything you’ve always wanted to know about hair (but were too bored to ask)

The growth cycle of hair has three phases: “anagen,” “catagen,” and “telogen.” At any given time, 80% – 90% of your hair is in the anagen phase, which essentially means “active growth.” The catagen phase refers to the point at which the hair stops growing. The telogen phase refers to the point at which the hair falls out.

Now, a person with a full head of hair has between 100,000 and 200,000 individual hairs, so the number of hairs in the catagen and telogen phases may be as high as 40,000! In other words, you may very well be “losing a lot of hair” but have nothing going on that would be categorized as Alopecia.

Alopecia often occurs when a high number of hair follicles all enter the telogen or catagen phase of hair growth simultaneously. The thing to realize is that your hair is always going through these stages more or less at random. The difference between normal hair growth and Alopecia is simply that in the normal state, the growing hairs (anagen state) greatly outnumber the hairs in the telogen or catagen stages. With Alopecia, something causes a lot of follicles (usually, but not always, in a given spot on the head) to enter the telogen or catagen stage at once, resulting in hair loss that becomes noticeable.

Types of Alopecia

Androgenic Alopecia
Androgenic (or androgenetic) Alopecia , a.k.a. “male pattern baldness”, was not well understood until recent years, although it has been clear for centuries that baldness is hereditary in nature. Although scientists suspected that a predominance of testosterone was at the root of the problem, new research shows that it is actually a substance called Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is a derivative of testosterone. DHT is in a class of hormones called “androgens,” thus the name “androgenic Alopecia.” (Note that this is not the same thing as the “anagen” phase of hair growth, mentioned above.) It appears that it’s not the amount of testosterone that causes this hair loss or thinning, but instead the level of DHT that binds to the hair follicles. The DHT has the effect of shrinking the follicles, which “suffocates” healthy hair.

Female Pattern Baldness?
Until recently, the Androgenic Alopecia was also the term used to describe what has been called “female pattern baldness,” but doctors have now come to the conclusion that the condition of diffuse thinning of hair all over a woman’s head is NOT the same thing as male pattern baldness. In an excellent article on WebMD.com, dermatologist Ted Daly is quoted as saying that doctors “don’t even like to use the term ‘androgenic alopecia’ in women anymore — instead we call it female pattern hair loss — a broader term that encompasses many possible causes, some of which are likely to be directly linked to an excess of testosterone, and some of which are not.”

So although women can experience diffuse thinning of hair starting as early as their teen years, the condition is not directly attributable to genetic causes, as in the case of Androgenic Alopecia. Instead, doctors are now using the term “female pattern hair loss” to describe the thinning of female hair, which includes many different conditions. So one wonders if there is any real value in this term, but for the moment, it’s what we’ve got.

Now, depending on who you talk to, the issue of menopausal hair loss in women either is or is not considered under the umbrella of female pattern hair loss. Either way, the issue of menopausal hair loss is a very important issue — one with which we’ve consistently aimed to help.

Telogen Effluvium

Telogen effluvium (TE) is the second most common type of Alopecia, and it occurs when there is a dramatic upward shift from the normal 10%-20% of hair in the telogen phase.

TE usually occurs as the result of a major long- or short-term stress to the body (whether hormonal or otherwise), such as child birth, malnutrition, a severe infection, major surgery, a car crash, or even extreme general stress. TE usually manifests about six weeks to three months after the actual occurrence of stress. This is the kind of Alopecia that can result in losing clumps of hair at a time. Although TE is almost always traceable to a particular event, there are cases with no obvious cause. These are very rare, however. In the case of TE, removing the source of stress usually puts the body back on course to re-grow the hair that has been lost.

The causes of TE are numerous, but as I mentioned above, there is always a link to some kind of significant stress. The most common example of short-term TE is during the period of time right after giving birth. Postpartum Alopecia, as it is sometimes known, is simply a reaction to the shock of such an immense hormonal shift in the body. A huge percentage of anagen-phase hair suddenly shifts into the telogen phase, causing, in some cases, significant shedding. But the hormonal crisis of childbirth is very short lived, so women who experience Postpartum Alopecia will generally see their hair return to normal very quickly.

Some drugs are indicated as a possible cause for TE. Antidepressants are a common source.

Chronic illness or malnutrition are also common causes of TE, as is exposure to many toxins. Chronic illness may lead to TE. A deficiency in hormones such as thyroid can also cause TE.

Anagen Effluvium
Anagen Effluvium occurs when there is a shock to hair in the anagen, or productive phase of the cycle. In this case, as the body is exposed to some substance that shuts down the healthy replication of cells, so the abundant anagen-phase hair dies and falls out without ever entering the telogen phase. The most well-known example of Anagen Effluvium is the hair loss caused by cytostatic drugs used to treat cancer patients in chemotherapy. (Another cause can be the ingestion of certain deadly poisons.)

In the case of chemotherapy, these drugs are used to inhibit rapid cell proliferation, and stop the spread of cancerous cells. However, the cells of hair follicles are some of the most rapidly proliferating, non-cancerous cells the body has, so these drugs almost always cause hair loss. Because the shock to the hair follicles is so sudden, there is no normal transition into the telogen or resting state, and in many cases all hair on the body is lost very quickly. There have been some efforts to lessen the resulting Alopecia from cancer treatments by using what is called “cold therapy.” This is a technique used more commonly in Europe than in the U.S. and Canada and involves covering the scalp with ice packs or a special hood filled with ice water during the period of time that the chemotherapy drugs are being administered. This puts the hair follicles into a kind of “suspended animation” and stops the hair follicles from absorbing the drugs. The apparent downside to this treatment is that this may also prevent any cancer cells that might be in the skin from accepting the drugs.  Apart from mentioning the existence of this ‘cold therapy’ technique, I’m not in a position to note whether it is effective or not.

However, two things are worth mentioning in the case of chemotherapy-induced hair loss. First, the loss of hair is almost always temporary. Often people begin to see re-growth of their hair within a month of the chemo treatment. There are some cases, however, where the drugs have a longer lasting effect, and actually change the structure of their hair, resulting, for example, in a shift from curly or frizzy hair to straight. Changes in color have also been documented. These effects can be permanent.

Second, there is what cancer patients commonly refer to as the “peculiar sensation” they get in their scalp after chemo treatments. It is described variously as itching, tingling, burning, and buzzing, and can be so constant as to make concentration and relaxation difficult. This “peculiar sensation” is one area where we have sought out ways to help. Under Awakening’s Sea Awakening brand, we have developed a patented formulation of Dead Sea silts and mud, essential oils and extracts, and archaeal proteins related to Haolferax Volcanii and Halobacterium Salinarum and associated with DNA replication, DNA repair and RNA synthesis.  Female and male use variations of the Sea Awakening Scalp Treatment masques are offered through discriminating hair salons and spas in the U.S. and Asia.

An organization helping women who are coping with the stress of chemotherapy is Feel Good/Look Better, a non-medical, brand-neutral public service program that helps teach skills for managing the many challenges of cancer treatment.

Alopecia Areata
Alopecia Areata (AA) is the third most common form of hair loss, after androgenic Alopecia and telogen effluvium. The lifetime risk for AA is surprisingly high – approximately 2% of the population will experience AA at some time in their lives. Researchers believe AA is an autoimmune response in which a person’s immune system attacks hair follicles, much like with rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis attack the joints or the skin. In this case the individual’s own immune system attacks hair follicles instead of bone joints. Just why or how AA develops is not clear. The most common AA treatment involves the use of corticosteroids.

Unfortunately, many people with more extensive, long-term AA find the treatments currently available do not work well. For these individuals the only practical answer is a wig and lots of emotional support. It can be depressing not to have hair, especially for children, who don’t want to be different from their classmates at school, and women. In North America and many other countries of the world, you can access a network of support agencies for people with AA. Details are on the National Alopecia Areata Foundation website (http://www.naaf.org).



 Awakening Mineral Skin Care and Sea Awakening are boutique formulators of nature-derived, vegan skin care products utilizing concentrated mineral crystals isolated from the Dead Sea, essential oils and botanical extracts.  With only a few exceptions, we call our products by what they do: Awakening HANDS treats hands, Awakening FEET treats feet, Awakening BODY treats bodies, SeaAwakening SCALP Treatment treats scalps — you get the idea.  However Awakening MUDFace is mud for the face (and feet!) — so, as with 9th grade English, there are always exceptions to every rule!

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