ThedaCare Health Matters

Dealing with a hair raising problem

I once had a bald man tell me “God only made a few perfect heads, the rest he covered with hair.” Hair is a part of our body that we deal with every day either washing, shaving, curling or cutting. Hair is fascinating in how it seems to grow when and where it wants and even changes colors to expose age.

Hair covers the majority of our body with only the palms, soles of our feet and lips being hairless. Some places it is thin and very tiny, while others it can be thick and long.
Hairs are part of our skin. The hair itself is a protein filament produced by the hair follicle, which is just under the surface of the skin. The follicle contains the bulb that produces the hair, glands that produce oil to lubricate the hair and tiny muscle fibers that can make the hair stand up to cause “goose bumps.”

Hair growth (or lack of it) is determined by a number of factors. The main factor in a healthy individual is genetics. The DNA strands in the chromosomes determine color, curliness, thickness and hair patterns. The main genes for hair loss are on the X chromosome so men get the trait primarily from their mother’s side of the family.

Hormone levels also affect the hair. As an individual grows and matures, the levels of estrogen and testosterone change which has an effect on hair growth. Pubic, underarm and facial hair responds to increasing hormone levels with puberty.

Hair follicles in different parts of the body have different growth characteristics. The scalp seems to have the most active hair follicles. The normal scalp has about 100,000 hair follicles and about 100 hairs fall out daily. These hairs are usually replaced, but when hair loss exceeds replacement, this can lead to thinning or baldness.

Hair loss is considered abnormal when it is associated with a disease process. On the other hand, hair loss can be normal for an individual as it is determined by genetics. Patterned hair loss is most noticeable in men, but also occurs in women.

Women can also have a patterned thinning of the hair though it is rare to have complete loss. It is reported that about 1 in 5 men will be bald, but 2 out of 3 men will have thinning of the hair. Baldness is due to the hair follicles becoming inactive and no longer producing hairs. It is amazing to me that the follicles in a certain pattern (usually the top of the head) will become inactive while facial, ear and nose hairs will continue to flourish.

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