If you look at your scalp and see an area where there doesn’t seem to be any hair, your first reaction may well be to panic. However, the fact that you do not have hair currently growing does not necessarily mean that your hair is dead.
Our hair comes out of our hair follicles.
If these follicles die for any reason, there is no going back from it. However, hair follicles both grow dormant as a part of its natural growth cycle, but they can also go dormant when needed due to outside stresses of various kinds.
It is vital to catch your hair follicles while they are dormant and before they die.
While the follicles are still dormant, there is still hope that you can get them to start growing hair again. However, once completely dead, extreme measures like hair transplants will be needed.
The Hair Phases
Essentially, a hair follicle is a sack that is lined with certain types of cells.
These cells create the molecules that make up the strands of your hair.
As the cells make more and more of these molecules, the molecules that make up your hair get pushed together and then out of the follicle, making your hair grow.
This is a lot of work for the cells in your hair follicles, so occasionally they need to take a break. Therefore, your hair follicles pace themselves by working in a cycle made up of different phases.
One of these phases, the telogen phase, allows the hair to fall out while the cells in your follicle rest.
However, there is another type of hair phases as well. This is the cycle that starts in the womb when you first grow hair and ends with your hair follicles naturally dying of age.
These phases are lanugo, vellus, and terminal.
Lanugo hair starts forming in the womb and is very soft and fluffy. The downy hair has no pigment in it, and it disappears within a few weeks of birth to be followed by vellus hairs.
Vellus hair is still thin and soft, though not as much as the first hair.
Another common feature of vellus hair is how slippery the texture is, generally making it quite hard to style. This is the hair that young children have as their follicles start to grow.
As the cells in your hair follicles grow with the rest of you, the hair that they grow becomes thinker and stronger too. This ‘terminal’ hair has more form to it thanks to the presence of a central spine that is not present in vellus hair.
Finally, as you age, your hair follicles shrink, reverting back to vellus before dying.
Dormant Hair Follicles Vs. Dead Hair Follicles
The hardest part of telling if your hair follicle is dead or not is telling the difference between a dormant follicle and one that is actually dead. Neither one will have any sign of a hair growing out of them. This means that if you have that light ‘fuzz’ of hair, your hair cells are not dead, though they may be dying.
Even after your hair follicle cells grow dormant, they can still be alive. They can stay dormant for a few months to a few years in some cases. Part of this does depend on the cause and why the cells went dormant.
Give your hair time, try to encourage new hair growth, and get rid of any factors that may be causing your hair cells to die.
If nothing happens after a few months and you are still concerned, you may want to set up an appointment.
There are doctors available that specialize in hair loss, what causes it, and how to treat it. It is entirely possible that your hair loss could be a symptom of an underlying disease. Therefore, you should not hesitate to set up an appointment to get a few tests done.
To tell if your hair is really dead or if it is simply dormant, your doctor may request a scalp biopsy. This procedure removes a small section of your scalp so that it can be more closely examined.
The results of this will tell you if your follicles are truly dead or not.
If your doctor is hesitant to do a scalp biopsy, a second option is a hair pull test. This second test is much less invasive; however, it is also less accurate.
Simply put, a hair pull test involves pulling several strands of hair from your scalp.
Things That Kill Hair Follicles
Knowing what might be causing our hair to not grow is the first step to remedying whatever the problem is.
While there are numerous things that can potentially cause your hair cells to die, there are a few reoccurring themes.
The hair cells that make up your hair follicles need nourishment in order to simply live.
On top of that, more nutrients are needed for these cells to create your hair.
These cells will try to keep making your hair as long as they possibly can.
However, this lack of nutrients literally takes away some of the building blocks of your hair.
The result is that your hair’s texture will change, and your individual strands will get thinner. From there, the strands will become thinner and thinner until your follicle eventually gives up.
At this point, your hair will fall out when you brush your hair as the cells in your follicle focus on surviving. To help this, they will go dormant to save up their energy.
While dormant hair cells do not need much nourishment, however, they do still need some.
If your hair cells still continue to be starved, they will eventually die. They are not dead yet when your hair first falls out, though, so you still have time.
There are many factors that can often cause your hair follicles to become malnourished. You can intake all the nutrients you need, but still be malnourished if your body doesn’t absorb them.
You can also absorb all the nutrients you need, but these nutrients can be blocked from getting to your follicles.
For example, the circulation to your hair cells can be blocked or cut off in some way. This blockage prevents the nutrients from getting to your cells. Inflammation, clogged arteries, and many other things can cause this type of blockage.
Hormones And Diseases
The hormone called DHT is a very well-known cause of hair follicle death. In fact, if you are a man and are suffering from hair loss along certain parts of your hairline, 9 times out of 10 it is due to pattern baldness caused by DHT.
Women experience pattern baldness more evenly over their whole scalp. Though DHT can do a lot of damage to your hair cells, at the end of the day, it is still a hormone. However, DHT is not the only hormone that can damage your hair.
The hormones that your body makes when stressed are also damaging to your hair cells.
Where the DHT chokes out the supply of blood to your follicles, the stress hormones trigger your follicles to go dormant and prevent you from absorbing the nutrients you need.
These are just two of the potential hormones that could cause your hair follicle cells to die.
Meanwhile, there are many different possible fungal infections and skin diseases that are just as bad, if not worse. Some of these have your hair falling out in clumps.
Internal diseases, such as certain thyroid issues, can directly affect your hair too. However, prolonged illnesses of almost any kind can wear down your whole body, including your hair. These can cause indirect hair cell death.
Finally, along with diseases, there are often medications.
The ingredients of some of these medications have long lists of potential side effects. Hair loss is just one of the possibilities, and it is practically guaranteed for some treatments such as chemotherapy.
Your hair follicle cells can also die due to damage. There are two main types of damage your hair cells can be affected by.
The first is the everyday damage when you accidentally pull a strand of hair out. When a hair is pulled out before it was meant to fall out, this damages the cells of your follicle.
Pulling a hair out once or twice will not likely cause any noticeable damage. However, this damage is accumulative over time.
If given enough time, your follicle cells can heal themselves a little, but only so much damage can be healed.
Therefore, anything that pulls out hairs, whether it is a certain hairstyle or something else, can cause some follicle cell death.
Sometimes the follicle simply won’t grow back a new hair at all. However, first, it is more likely to grow back a wiry hair that lays differently due to the damage to the follicle.
The other common way that your hair cells can be damaged is from various chemicals. There are far too many damaging chemicals to name them all.
Many are found in hair products, but there can also be chemicals in the air where you work, not to mention the chemicals used in swimming pools.
In fact, it can be hard to avoid some of these chemicals entirely. Even the tap water that you shower in likely has traces of chemicals in it. Some of these chemicals are more harmful to your hair cells than others.
However, it is best to try to let as few chemicals of any kind on your scalp as possible. When you do get chemicals on your hair or knowingly put them there via a hair product, you should get them off as soon as you can to minimize the damage.
Ways To Keep Your Follicles Alive
The main way to keep your follicles alive is to avoid the problems that cause them to die. Multivitamins, exercise, and a good diet can help you get the nutrients your cells need. Hair masks and topical hair growth products, however, can often be much better at getting nutrients directly to your hair cells.
Increased blood flow is equally, if not more, vital for your hair cells.
Without the blood flowing to your cells, these will definitely die. There are ways that you can promote the blood flow and help it get to your scalp.
There are hair masks, abrasive scrubs for your scalp, and pills, on top of topical foams, creams, and liquid formulas. If these seem like too much trouble, you can even benefit from things such as exercises that will increase your general circulation.
Speaking of those hair treatments, many of those are a great way to encourage your hair cells to grow. However, be careful which hair growth treatment you use. Some hair treatments can damage your hair cells in the long-run and are better to avoid.
Neither will a vitamin be likely to help your hair much if it is DHT that is your problem.
Generally speaking, the best way to keep your hair cells healthy is to simply take care of them.
Try not to smother them in chemicals or to damage them. Hitting your head hard enough to leave a scar will very likely kill some of the cells there too, so take care of yourself period.
When our hair isn’t growing like we think it should be, we tend to want to know what is going on with it.
The good news is that any hair, even really thin ones, growing out of your hair means that your follicles are still alive.
The key is to catch your hair loss as early as you possibly can. If your hair strands are thinning, then you know you have a problem.
At this point, you can still hope to fix it. Any type of hair growth treatment will be far more likely to work if you can catch it early on.
The worse off the cells in your hair follicle gets, the harder it will be for them to heal and to get back to where they were. This will take more time, more hair treatments, and still not give you as good results.