Hair disorders is a broad category that includes the following
Alopecia: the loss or thinning of hair (two types of alopecia are
scarring, in which hair follicles are destroyed, and nonscarring, which can be
Male-pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia): the most prominent type
of hair disorder affecting, to varying degrees, half of all men over 50 years of
Hirsutism: male-pattern hair growth affecting eight percent of adult
Hair shaft disorders: usually hereditary
Signs and Symptoms
Hair disorders are accompanied by the following signs and symptoms, depending
on the type.
Alopecia (nonscarring) involves hair loss all over or in circular
areas, receding hair line, broken hairs, smooth scalp, inflammation, and
possibly loss of lashes, eyebrows, or pubic hair.
Alopecia (scarring) is limited to particular areas and involves
inflammation at the edge and follicle loss toward the center of lesions,
violet-colored skin abnormalities, and scaling.
Hirsutism involves male-pattern hair growth in women, irregular
menstruation, lack of ovulation, acne, deepening of voice, balding, and genital
Hair shaft disorders involve split ends, and hair that is dry,
brittle, and coarse, as well as skin and other
What Causes It?
Hair disorders can be caused by any of the following.
Alopecia (nonscarring)—skin disorders,
certain drugs, certain diseases, autoimmunity, iron deficiency, severe stress,
scalp radiation, pregnancy, or pulling at your own hair
Alopecia (scarring) —skin disorders,
diseases, or bacterial infections
Hirsutism— excess of androgen (steroid
hormone that stimulates development of male sex organs and secondary sexual
characteristics). This overproduction of androgen could result from certain
drugs or conditions.
Hair shaft disorders—overprocessed hair
(coloring, permanent waves, excessive heating) or certain
Who's Most At Risk?
People with the following conditions or characteristics are at risk for
developing hair disorders.
If you are experiencing symptoms associated with a hair disorder, you should
see your health care provider. A physical exam can help identify the type of
hair disorder, and laboratory tests can reveal any underlying diseases. In the
case of hirsutism, imaging may help diagnose the cause.
Having a well-balanced diet and avoiding potentially damaging hair treatments
can help prevent some types of hair loss.
The primary goals of treatment are to treat the underlying cause, re-grow the
hair when possible, and correct damaging grooming
Your provider may prescribe the following medications.
Minoxidil (Rogaine), for hair regrowth and possibly to prevent further
Tretinion (Retin-A), to decrease thick scalp layer and increase
Topical or injectable steroids
Hair shaft disorders:
Drugs for underlying diseases
Surgical and Other Procedures
Cosmetic therapies, such as surgical placement of follicle-supporting
plugs or folds
For hirsutism, possibly removal of ovarian
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
A comprehensive treatment plan for hair disorders may include a range of
complementary and alternative therapies.
Eat foods high in B vitamins and minerals, such as whole grains, dark
leafy greens, and sea vegetables; eat adequate protein.
Avoid sugar, caffeine, and refined foods.
Potentially beneficial nutrient supplements include the
B-complex vitamins, especially B5 (100 mg four times per
day), biotin (300 mcg per day), PABA (30 to 100 mg three times per day), and
inositol (250 to 1,000 mg per day)
Minerals, especially calcium (1,000 mg per day), magnesium (400 mg per
day), selenium (100 to 200 mcg per day), manganese (10 mg per day), and zinc (20
to 30 mg per day)
Vitamin C (500 to 1,000 mg three times per day), vitamin E (400 IU per
day), and vitamin A (10,000 IU per day) or beta carotene (25,000 IU per
Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA, DHA, flaxseed oil, fish oil) or omega-6
fatty acids (borage or evening primrose oil), 1 tbs. or equivalent two to three
times per day
Herbal remedies may offer relief from symptoms. Herbs are generally available
as dried extracts (pills, capsules, or tablets), teas, or tinctures (alcohol
extraction, unless otherwise noted). Dose for teas is 1 heaping tsp per cup of
water steeped for 10 minutes (roots need 20 minutes).
For bacterial infections, add coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
with goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis); for fungal infections, add
oregano (Origanum vulgare)
For stress, substitute oatstraw (Avena sativa) for
Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) 200 mg two to three times per
Topical applications of essential oils may be beneficial in skin infections
and for stimulating new hair growth. Use three to four drops each of chamomile
(Matricaria recutita), rosemary, and sage (Salvia officinalis) in
1 tbs. vegetable oil (for example, flax, borage, or olive). Massage gently into
affected area one to two times daily.
Some of the most common remedies include Ignatia, Pulsatilla, and
Sepia. Acute dose is three to five pellets of 12X to 30 C every one to
four hours until symptoms are relieved.
Acupuncture and Massage
These approaches may help address the underlying cause of a hair
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Lawless J. The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils. The Complete Guide to the
Use of Aromatics in Aromatherapy, Herbalism, Health & Well-being. New
York, NY:Barnes & Noble, Inc.; 1992:199.
Morrison R. Desktop Guide to Keynotes and Confirmatory Symptoms.
Albany, Calif: Hahnemann Clinic Publishing; 1993.
Rakel RE, ed. Conn's Current Therapy. 50th ed.
Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders; 1998.
Review Date: March 2000
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Peter Hinderberger, MD, PhD,
Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center, Baltimore, MD; Leonard Wisneski, MD,
FACP, George Washington University, Rockville,
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