How many people suffer from hair loss?
While its arrival may be unwelcome, for many, hair loss will be a natural part of getting older. Hair loss, known medically as alopecia, is estimated to affect 15.4 million UK residents at any given time - but even that is a conservative figure. For a condition that is so widespread, hair loss can cause stigmatisation that can leave sufferers feeling self-conscious about their appearance.
Many things can cause both temporary and permanent hair loss, and coming to terms with it can be a difficult process. Hair loss may run in your family, known as male or female pattern baldness, or may be the result of stress or an underlying illness. It may even be a side-effect of ongoing medical treatment.
However, if hair loss is causing you distress, there are things you can do to tackle the complicated emotions that come with it and slow down or potentially reverse the process. If you’re experiencing hair loss for the first time, or are someone who has suffered for a while and is ready to look for advice and solutions, we have wisdom to share.
Whether you’re looking for advice from people with similar experiences on how to deal with hair loss or information on causes and treatments, our report is here to encourage you to Be Bold About Hair Loss.
How to cope with hair loss
Hair loss can cause immense psychological distress. Hair is important to people for many reasons - socially, culturally and personally. Losing your hair, whether you know the underlying cause or not, can bring on lots of strong emotions.
Hair loss might make you feel:
- Self-conscious - you may want to avoid meeting with friends or family or going outside.
- Depressed - if you haven’t found a treatment or course of action that works for you, hair loss may make you feel hopeless.
- Ashamed - if for whatever reason you believe that your hair loss is your fault, you may be embarrassed.
We surveyed 1,000 people on their feelings about their hair loss and the steps they’ve taken to regain and build their confidence. It likely won’t come as a surprise that the results show that everyone experiences hair loss differently, and accepting, understanding and tackling hair loss is a process that takes time and consideration.
We asked an even split of men and women about their emotions when first discovering their hair loss, the courses of action they decided to take and when, and the things they do to maintain their confidence further down the line.
The emotional side of hair loss
Upon first finding out about their hair loss, 83% of respondents reported feeling some level of anxiety. This is to be expected - anxiety often revolves around worrying about scenarios that haven’t yet happened. With hair loss, this could mean worrying about how you’ll look, how you’ll feel, and how people will treat you.
It’s easy to see the first few lost strands of hair and fall into a rabbit hole of imagining how a few strands become hundreds. We asked our survey participants how they felt about their hair loss again after some time had passed. Even as the reality of hair loss sets in, this feeling of anxiety and worry only drops by 5%. For those who reported feeling these things most strongly (66%), the reduction was even lower as time passed (3% to 63%).
Interestingly, while there were high levels of many negative emotions such as fear (75%), depression (71%) and shame (67%), there were some positive feelings. Just under half of respondents felt a level of positivity or confidence (45%) when they first discovered their hair loss. Maybe the discovery coincided with finding the answer to an ongoing health issue and gave them a sense of relief - for example, participants with alopecia felt more panic on the whole than those with anagen effluvium. Anagen effluvium is the name given to hair loss as a result of medication, such as when going through chemotherapy. Someone who loses their hair when experiencing chemotherapy may have already been expecting it to happen, resulting in less panic.
These percentages are the averages from all participants, but when looking at a breakdown of the responses of different genders, we can see clear differences. For example, women reported higher levels of panic, anxiety and self-consciousness than men. This is to be expected, as baldness is more commonly associated with men than women. In reality, the percentages of men and women who actually experience pattern hair loss are closer than you might expect, which goes to show that these feelings are often based on social perceptions instead of facts. Hair loss in women is just as prevalent and deserves just as much attention.
Age is another area where emotional reactions to hair loss differ. Survey participants aged 16-24 reported the highest levels of sadness and embarrassment (89%). This isn’t surprising, considering that hair loss is commonly associated with getting older, and finding out that you’re suffering from hair loss at a young age can be a shock. However, they also experienced the highest levels of love and happiness (47%) when finding out about their condition. This could be interpreted as resilience and confidence, but also as the younger generations not having the same outlook when it comes to physical appearance and norms as older people do.
Wherever your feelings fall on this spectrum, it’s useful to see the wide variety of emotional responses that can be felt in regard to hair loss - all of which are valid.
What steps do people take when experiencing hair loss?
At the time of our survey, only 37% of all participants had spoken to a doctor regarding their hair loss, making it one of the least popular courses of action on our list. The average time it took people to get in touch with a doctor was just under four and a half months - though this varied by just over a month depending on whether the hair loss sufferer was a man or a woman, with women taking action sooner. It appears that in general people would much sooner speak to their partners and immediate family members, with 66% of survey participants saying this is something they’ve done - though this still took an average of three months.
Despite the proven benefits of talking about it, the most popular course of action was to research hair loss, and this is also the step that was taken the soonest at just under three months from discovery. Turning to research, which often involves reading first-hand experiences from other sufferers, can be a great source of comfort. It provides ideas for what the future might look like and steps that can be taken. This might be something that people choose to do prior to talking to friends, family, or a health care professional, so they feel able to explain themselves and their condition to other people.
Other actions taken included investing in hair loss shampoo (60%) and speaking to friends (60%). Even less popular than speaking to a doctor, and carried out more than five months after initially finding out about their hair loss, were cosmetic solutions like investing in wigs or hair transplant surgery. Despite transplant surgery’s high success rates, and the fact that more often than not it only takes one surgery to achieve the desired effects, it may simply not be an option for people who don’t have the money or time to spare.
When looking at the results through the lens of different hair loss causes, it’s interesting to note that 100% of survey respondents with Telogen Effluvium (hair loss due to stress) spoke to their spouse or other family members. Telogen Effluvium is often associated with causes such as childbirth, severe infections, and as a side effect of major surgery. All of these relatively short-lived and high-pressure situations would necessitate leaning on those close to you for support. 100% of Telogen Effluvium sufferers surveyed also confided in friends and tried vitamins and supplements to treat their hair loss.
Of those with a specific cause for their hair loss, people with pattern hair loss are the least likely to make any attempt to change their physical appearance with synthetic hair or surgery, including:
- Getting hair extensions - 19.6%
- Getting a wig - 17.4%
- Hair transplant - 13.7%
They were also some of the least likely to speak to a doctor or try an over-the-counter treatment. This may be due to the fact that pattern hair loss is permanent and many see it as unpreventable, when there are in fact steps that can be taken to slow the process.
How to improve self-confidence when experiencing hair loss
When looking at ways to improve self-confidence during and after experiencing hair loss, one of the most common answers was working out. While excessive exercise and poor diet can actively lead to hair loss, exercise in moderation is proven to help with hair regrowth. Even if no regrowth occurs, taking control of another aspect of their health and physical appearance might give people suffering from hair loss a confidence boost. For a more immediate and temporary solution, 24-35-year-olds are the most keen to turn to wearing hats, with 27% agreeing that this is something they’ve used as a source of renewed confidence.
Those aged 16-24 show the most enthusiasm for confidence-boosting actions across the board. For almost one in four 16-34-year-olds, this includes turning to social media influencers for inspiration. Despite the power that picture-perfect influencers have to make us feel worse about ourselves, when it comes to having health conditions in common the effect can be the opposite. Nearly half (44%) of Telogen Effluvium sufferers found influencers to be a source of self-confidence, the highest percentage of any hair loss cause.
It may not come as a surprise to learn that the older people are, the less likely they are to do anything to improve their self-confidence. This apparent apathy supports the idea that many people resign themselves to the fact that hair loss is an unavoidable part of getting older - but there are products available for nearly every cause of hair loss.
Where in the UK is buying the most hair loss products?
There are a wide variety of hair loss products available on the market, ranging from topical solutions containing minoxidil to caffeine shampoos to prescription medications. When it comes to preferences in hair loss products, different UK locations favour some over others. Surprisingly (and, it’s important to note, proportionally) the tiny town of Lerwick of the Shetland archipelago is buying the most hair loss products.
The top 10 runs as follows:
Whether this means there are more cases of hair loss in these areas, or that people in these locations are more likely to be proactive in treating their hair loss remains to be seen.
What are the causes of hair loss?
We’ve mentioned some causes of hair loss, but the full list of reasons is long and inconclusive. Hair loss by be symptomatic of a larger problem or an issue all on its own.
Some of the causes of hair loss include:
- Alopecia Areata
- Medication and other treatments
- Weight loss or excessive exercise
- Stress or traumatic events
- Wearing hair too tightly (ponytails, buns or braids)
Regardless of what you suspect the cause may be, you should see a doctor if hair loss occurs suddenly, in patches and clumps, or is accompanied by irritation to your skin. You should also see a doctor or medical professional if your hair loss worries you, even if you know the cause. Emotional distress about your appearance is a valid reason to seek treatment, and shouldn’t be dismissed as a shallow concern.
FAQs on hair loss: Answered
Q1. Which vitamin deficiency causes hair loss?
Answer: There is little scientific evidence to suggest that taking certain vitamins will specifically promote hair growth. If you are malnourished and deficient in all the essential vitamins and minerals, hair loss can be one of the symptoms. A balanced diet should contain sufficient vitamins and minerals, but you may use a supplement to ensure this. The B vitamins, Biotin (B7) and Niacin (B3) are important for hair growth, but will normally only cause hair loss if there is a severe deficiency.
A form of hair loss called Telogen Effluvium is sensitive to levels of vitamin D, and you may require a blood test to determine if this or any other nutrients are deficient.
There are some vitamins, such as vitamin A, that may cause hair loss if you take too much. So be sure that you stay within the daily recommended amount.
Q2. How much hair loss is normal?
Answer: It is normal to lose between 50 to 100 hairs a day. This occurs as part of the normal growth cycle, where the old hair is lost from the follicle (exogen phase) and new hair grows to replace it.
Q3. What medications can cause hair loss in women?
Answer: There are a few medications that may cause hair loss. If you have started a new medication and you notice your hair getting thinner, you should inform your GP.
Some examples are:
- The progestogen content of contraceptive pills may contribute to hair loss in women who are sensitive to hormone changes or have a predisposition to hormonal-related hair loss.
- Oral medications for acne that contain a form of vitamin A (isotretinoin) can also rarely cause hair loss.
- Medicines used to treat breast and other cancers can often lead to hair loss.
Q4. What vitamins should I take for hair loss?
Answer: As mentioned before, there is little scientific evidence to suggest that taking certain vitamins will specifically promote hair growth. Skin, hair and nail supplements are popular, and contain ingredients including biotin and zinc, which are important for hair growth.
Q5. Does creatine cause hair loss?
Answer: It has been suggested that taking creatine supplements leads to an increase in testosterone and DHT. This was based on one trial conducted in 2009. This led to the speculation that creatine could then lead to increases in hair loss, as DHT has been shown to be one of the agents responsible for thinning hair.
However, while it may still be possible that there is a connection, there isn’t any strong evidence yet that taking creatine will lead to thinning hair. Clinical trials are needed to specifically investigate creatine’s effects on hair loss.