Hair loss can be hard. For many people, losing something that is a such a big part of their identity can make them feel uncomfortable in their own skin. Some thinning hair is inevitable with aging, but luckily, it can also be caused by many other factors that are more under your control like hormonal imbalances, stress, or even what type of hair brush you use. With so many possible culprits, though, it may seem impossible to get to the root of the problem. But if you’re struggling with hair loss in your sixth decade and beyond, it is likely that a common condition is to blame. Read on to discover what could be making you lose your hair if you’re over 50, and how to turn things around.
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One of the most common culprits of hair loss after age 50 is inflammation, a natural response in the body that helps protect from infection and diseases. But if you are chronically inflamed, serious health issues can occur. According to Ben Behnam, MD, FASD, and medical director at hair loss treatment brand Happy Head, inflammation can damage the hair follicles, which can cause strands to fall out. Inflammation can also damage the hair shaft, making it difficult for new hair to grow.
Examples of inflammation on the scalp include dandruff, psoriasis, alopecia areata, and redness and flakiness. Each of these conditions varies, but some of the most common symptoms are itchiness, burning, and even hair loss. However, Behnam notes that not all patients will experience these symptoms.
One of the many causes of inflammation in the body—which can ultimately lead to hair loss—is an autoimmune reaction. An autoimmune reaction is when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. “This can happen in a number of autoimmune diseases like lupus erythematosus or alopecia areata, both of which can cause patchy hair loss,” says Cheryl Rosen, MD, board-certified dermatologist and director of dermatology at BowTiedLife.
Note that these conditions are somewhat rare: Only about 1.5 million Americans have lupus, per the Lupus Foundation of America. And alopecia areata affects about 2.1 percent of Americans, according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation. Rosen says autoimmune reactions can also be triggered by things like infections, stress, or certain medications.
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According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition in which your immune system turns over skin cells too quickly, causing scaly patches. A common area for these patches to develop is the scalp. The National Psoriasis Foundation says that about 8 million Americans suffer from this condition.
Dandruff, on the other hand, is a condition that causes the skin on the scalp to flake. According to Mayo Clinic, it can be triggered by dry skin, a yeast-like fungus, or sensitivity to hair products. Per The International Journal of Trichology, the condition impacts around 50 percent of adults.
Hair loss can occur with both psoriasis and dandruff due to intense itching that manually pulls out the hair. The inflammation of the follicle that causes the conditions can also slow or stop hair growth.
Fortunately, there are treatments available to improve the condition of the scalp and promote new hair growth. Rosen says they include anti-inflammatory medications, topical treatments, and light therapy.
For example, if you have psoriasis, you may be prescribed a topical steroid to reduce your symptoms, says Behnam. If you have dandruff, you may be offered an anti-dandruff shampoo, such as Nizoral, to soothe the inflammation. For cases of alopecia areata, there are injectable drugs available to reduce inflammation. Over time, hair growth can be restored. “If you are suffering from hair loss due to inflammation, talk to your doctor about the best treatment option for you,” says Rosen. That way, you can restore your strands to their healthiest state.
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