Hair loss

Other names

Baldness, alopecia

Possible causes

There are a number of common causes of hair loss in both men and women:

  • Alopecia areata - patchy areas of hair loss associated with obvious skin disorders or systemic diseases like SLE, syphilis, Addison's disease, vitiligo and cancer.

  • Male pattern baldness (alopecia androgenetica) – is related to hormone levels in the body. This is genetic and can be inherited from the mother or father. The cause of this condition is the male hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) that both men and women produce, which causes a shortening of the growth phase and thinning of the hair. While typical male pattern baldness results in a receding hairline and crown hair loss, women's hair loss is a general thinning of hair with loss over the top and sides of the head.

  • Telogen effluvium - is temporary hair loss of up to a third of a person's hair due an insult to the body. It usually manifests two to four months after the incident. Common causes are crash diets, exam stress, big operations, pregnancy and divorce/loss of a loved one. Growth starts normalising after three to six months and after a year it's almost always back to normal. It is more common in females and needs no treatment.

  • Hormonal problems – an overactive or underactive thyroid gland may lead to hair loss. Hair loss may also occur if male or female hormones, androgens and estrogens, are out of balance. In women, hair lose may also be related to pregnancy.

  • Medication – such as oral contraceptives, warfarin, heparin, cimetindine and propranolol. Chemotherapy is also associated with hair loss. This will resolve itself once you have stopped taking the medication.

  • Trichotillomania – a physchological problem in which the person has a repeated urge to pull and twist hair, brows, eyelashes and facial hair until they come out.

  • Fungal infections – infections of the scalp caused by ringworm (tinea capitis) can cause hair loss in children.

Home care/self-treatment

By making a few changes to your hair care routine you can minimise the appearance of hair loss:

  • Don't be rough with your hair

  • Use a comb instead of a brush

  • Be gentle with wet hair as it is more fragile

  • Speak to your hairdresser about shampoos and cosmetics that minimise the appearance of hair loss

  • Don't wear ill-fitting hats or caps

  • Cut your hair shorter as it will minimise the appearance of baldness

When to see a doctor

Speak to your doctor if you are experiencing excessive hair loss, sudden hair loss, weight gain, muscle weakness, fatigue and if your scalp is red and itchy.

What to expect at the doctor

Your doctor will ask questions about your diet, whether you are taking any medication, and if you have had recent illness and how you take care of your hair.

If you are female, your doctor may ask questions about your menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause.

A medical history and physical examination will be done to diagnose the cause of your hair loss.

Blood tests or a biopsy of your scalp may also be needed.


Hair loss due to alopecia areata may after some time reverse, growing back in full or in patches; or it may not grow back at all.

For male-pattern baldness, both male and female can use Rogaine, which is applied to the scalp without a prescription.

Propecia, an oral medication, is also available for men.

Hair loss due to hormonal problems can be treated by correcting the hormonal imbalance. If it is due to thyroid problems, thyroid treatment may be needed.

Fungal infection can be treated with antifungal medication.

treatments are not effective, surgical hair transplants can be considered. Hair is taken from another place on the body and is implanted into the thinning areas.

calp reduction can also be done. Devices are inserted under the skin to stretch areas of the scalp that still have hair, and the bald areas are removed.

most cost-effective and easy ways to disguise hair loss is to change your hairstyle, buy weaves or wigs.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
28% - 9937 votes
72% - 25974 votes