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Debunking Hair Loss Myths

Posted Aug 24 2008 1:49pm
DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Welcome to our webcast. I'm David Folk Thomas. Has anyone ever told you that excessive shampooing causes hair loss, or do you think that hair loss only happens after you turn 50? There are a lot of popular myths out there about hair loss, and it's often hard to tell fact from fiction.

Here to set matters straight are two experts. To my left is Dr. Peter Halperin, he's an assistant professor in the department of dermatology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York Hospital. Next to Dr. Halperin is Dr. Marc Avram. He's the same thing, assistant professor in the department of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York Hospital.

Peter, let me start with you. One, that male hair loss is genetically passed down from the maternal side of the family, and I have some concern because my maternal grandfather didn't have that much hair at the end, so should I worry?

PETER HALPERIN, MD: Hair loss is certainly genetic, David, no question about it, but not necessarily only through the mother's side. It comes from both sides. That's clearly established.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Where did this maternal side come from? Has it been more likely that people whose maternal family side were losing their hair or bald, that that was passed down, or somebody created that somewhere?

PETER HALPERIN, MD: They just tried to blame one side of the family versus the other is all I could tell.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: So I don't necessarily have to worry. Okay.

PETER HALPERIN, MD: That's right.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Female hair loss is genetically passed down from the male parent.

MARC AVRAM, MD: It's an equal myth hair loss is obviously, as Peter is saying, from both sides of the family. We still don't know exactly what gene causes it. We think it's probably several genes, and it's a combination from both sides of the family that creates each individual's unique hair loss pattern, so it's not either the mother or the father, but a combination of generations together making up each person's hair loss pattern.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Marc, sticking with you, what about hair colorings, hair spray or excessive washing leading to hair loss?

MARC AVRAM, MD: There's no problem washing your hair, combing your hair, dyeing your hair, shampooing it. I think a lot of people when they lose hair really have stress about washing their hair, because they see the hair in the sink, they see the hair in the comb. In fact, we lose hair every day. We always have. Anyone with a full head of hair loses 100, 150 hairs a day. That's normal. The problem with hair loss is not the hair that you're combing out or shampooing out. The problem is it's not being replaced normally. What you should be careful with -- you should be careful about using excessive chemicals, relaxants, hot combs. There are things that can burn the hair out and pull the hair out, but everyday shampooing, combing, blow-drying is not a problem.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: It just so happens that that's where you end up seeing more of the effects.

MARC AVRAM, MD: Sure.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: You don't see them on the carpet in your home, you see them gathering in the drain.

MARC AVRAM, MD: And you've always had that, but you just notice in more when you first notice in the mirror that you're losing your hair. You begin to notice it more.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: And that hair that you see in the drain or in the brush, will that usually grow back if -- is it cyclical?

MARC AVRAM, MD: It does grow back. The problem is, it's not growing back it did in each cycle. Hair normally cycles, just like the way we cut our nails because they're constantly growing. Hair is constantly turning over, too. What happens is, it's replaced, but it doesn't grow out to the same length or to the same width it used to, so it gets shorter and shorter and shorter each cycle over months and years to the point where it just doesn't grow anymore, and it gets finer and finer. That's why someone who has male or female pattern hair loss will often complain that their hair just doesn't have any luster. It's very dead-looking. It doesn't have any sheen to it because it's getting thinner and thinner. So that's what happened. It actually does get replaced when it falls out in the comb or in the sink. It's just, each time a little bit less.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Peter, let me toss out another one your direction. How about using a hair dryer, the myth that if you use a hair dryer a lot you're going to blow the hair right out of there?

PETER HALPERIN, MD: It's a myth, David. There's probably no evidence that shows that use of a hair dryer causes you to lose hair. That said, if you have an excessively hot hair dryer that is beyond the standard or norm, you can damage skin and damage, theoretically, the hair follicle, so you should hold the hair dryer at a comfortable length from your scalp and probably assume that you're doing no real damage.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: What about the myth I mentioned in the introduction about hair loss only happening when you reach the age of 50 or get older?

PETER HALPERIN, MD: Yes, unfortunately a myth. It often starts quite a bit earlier than that. Men even in their late teens, early 20s can begin to experience hair loss, and of course it continues throughout life, and it's not really hair loss, exactly. It is what Mark said. It's a process of miniaturization, where the hair changes through each cycles as it grows back in a smaller form, so it's not exactly you lose a hair and it doesn't come back. It comes back but it's thinner and it's a different quality, so it's perceived to be that you're losing it, but it's actually just coming back in a less robust form.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: All right, I've got you know. Let me go back to you over there, Marc. Let me see. Wearing a hat -- this one is personal to me because I just got this great Stetson when I was out in Colorado, but now I don't want to wear it too much because of this myth: Wearing a hat for long periods of time can lead to hair loss.

MARC AVRAM, MD: You can wear the Stetson. That's okay. Hats do not cause hair loss. That is a myth, and I think it may have come from the fact that often people try to wear hats or do things to try to camouflage, actually, and the process is a continual process that goes on, so while you're trying to camouflage it with a hat, you notice the hair keeps thinning, so you make a conclusion that it might be the hat. It's not. It has nothing to do with the hat.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Or other people might always see people who are more likely to wear a hat, and then when they take off the hat they've lost their hair, and they think maybe the hat caused it?

MARC AVRAM, MD: Exactly, exactly.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: What about this one? Lack of sex causes hair to thin. Either of you guys, is that true?

MARC AVRAM, MD: No. We have no evidence.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: A lot of people out there hope it's true

PETER HALPERIN, MD: There's probably no evidence to show that lack of sex causes hair to thin or that excessive sex causes hair or helps hair to grow. It's unrelated.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Is that something that is probably really outrageous, like an old tale, or somehow are there chemicals that are being produced during sex that somebody said is related to your hair, or is it just way off-base?

MARC AVRAM, MD: I think it's -- I don't know. I think there's no good clinical trials on that, but I think it's all myth. Maybe you hear about the man who doesn't have hair who's very virile, and there's just things -- I think it's just something that's kind of passed down literally through the centuries. You know, Samson with his hair, and cutting his hair and losing -- it probably goes back that far. But I think it's a myth.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Usually, if I keep thinking about those old stories about keeping kids in line in school, it's like too much of sex or whatever causes bad things, not the opposite. Now, what about the direction you face when sleeping determines how much hair you lose?

PETER HALPERIN, MD: I think that's fairly unfounded, David. I really do. It's truly a very complex problem. A lot has to do with genetics, and people want to find something very simple in their lives they can change and then stop the hair loss problem. It's just not that easy. You can sleep on your head. You'll still retain or lose the hair that genetically you're programmed to do.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: What about hair follicles being clogged somehow? How does that affect the whole thing about hair loss, or not affect it?

MARC AVRAM, MD: I hear that on late-night radio, television, things like that. The problem is really not the follicles in the skin. The problem is the root in the cells which are just about 4 or 5 millimeters below the skin, about an eighth of an inch. That's where all the action is that grows or doesn't grow a hair follicle. Anything on top of the skin in your hair follicles that you can see being plugged or not plugged has nothing to do with whether or not a follicle's going to grow. So, again, there's no basis to that.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: That's all the time we have. Dr. Halperin and Dr. Avram, I appreciate you debunking all these myths out there about hair loss. I'm David Folk Thomas. We'll see you next time.

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