Hair loss can be frustrating, overwhelming, and upsetting, whether the root cause is temporary or permanent. From the advent of toupees in the 18th century to the Hair Club for Men, started by the baby boomer generation in 1976, we continually look for new ways to combat, cove, or camouflage hair loss.
To understand hair loss—and all of the options available today for hair “restoration”— you must first understand how hair follicles work in the first place. Do our hair follicles die for good? Do they grow back again?
What is a Hair Follicle?
A hair follicle is made up of cells and connective tissue surrounding the root of a hair. The follicles are also attached to oil glands, and the glands secrete sebum, which travels up the follicle and then reaches the scalp.
In hair follicle cells, there are several specific components:
- Papilla: The tissue and vessels that nourish hair from the base of the follicle.
- Germinal Matrix: The area in the lower part of the follicle where hair cells produce new hairs.
- Follicle Bulb: The living part of the hair (which is below the skin’s surface), where hair cells are constantly dividing, and also where the presence of hormones throughout our lives can affect hair growth (such as in puberty or pregnancy).
- Bulge: This middle section of the follicle is where stem cells create new hair follicles, sebaceous glands, and epidermis.
Hair Follicle Phases and Cycles
When the hair first appears in the follicle and then pushes out through the scalp, there are several phases of growth during the hair growth cycle.
They are known as:
- Anagen Phase: When the hair starts growing.
- Catagen Phase: When the hair follicle decreases and detaches.
- Telogen Phase: Also known as the “resting” phase, this describes the period where the hair sheds, creating room for new hair to form. (While a longer telogen phase can seem like an indication of hair loss, it may not be permanent, and it does not necessarily mean baldness is imminent.).
Is My Hair Follicle “Resting,” or is it Dead?
Distinguishing between hair loss due to “resting” versus dead hair follicles is important in understanding how to treat it.
Resting hair follicles will ultimately regrow hair. There are periods in our lives when we may see hair thinning due to temporary issues such as stress or illness, but it may return over time.
If you inspect the scalp closely and see even the tiniest hairs sprouting, your follicles are simply resting and still capable of producing hair.
The death of hair follicles can be caused by trauma to the scalp or hereditary issues (such as male pattern baldness). Generally speaking, dead hair follicles cannot regrow hair.
New Developments on the Horizon for Hair Follicles
Some products on the market today are designed to stimulate new growth from damaged hair follicles, including:
DHT Blockers: Medical research has shown that the presence of excess dihydrotestosterone can play a role in blocking important hair growth nutrients; therefore, medications have been created to block the DHT instead.
Minoxidil: This is another medical treatment for hair loss that is applied directly to the scalp to stimulate follicles.
In addition to these treatments, there have also been clinical trials for procedures where the skin is cut to stimulate follicles and encourage hair growth.
Hair Follicle Health
We can all take proactive steps to protect our hair follicles and prevent hair loss.
A balanced diet is vital when it comes to healthy hair. Nutrients play an important role in growing healthy hair, so you should focus on a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins.
Salmon, leafy greens, avocados, nuts, and berries are just some of the foods you can eat to keep follicles healthy and locks strong.
Taking frequent breaks from hair dryers and other hair styling tools will also improve follicle health.
Investing in quality hair products can also improve follicle health, especially a clarifying shampoo designed to remove the buildup of chemicals in hair from color treatments or other environmental factors.
While genes may not be working in your favor when it comes to hair follicles, you can certainly mitigate hair loss with some healthy habits and take advantage of the latest developments in hair regrowth.