When hair loss happens – at any age – the shock and disappointment can be overwhelming. However, for those whose balding starts at an unusually young age (whilst still a teenager), these emotions can be further complicated by the stigma. Adolescence is a time when social skills and confidence are still being developed.
In this post, I’ll discuss the topic of teen hair thinning. I’ll take a look at the most common causes, as well as signs to beware of.
In addition, I’ll share with you three ways you can begin to combat thinning and regrow your hair.
The Top 8 Causes of Hair Loss in Teens
Now, let’s take a look at the most common cause of hair loss in teens.
From adolescence to adulthood, the changes that take place in a teen’s body can be astounding. Not only are they maturing physically, mentally, and emotionally, but these changes are caused by a surge of hormones which can further boost their maturation (1).
As hormones naturally surge in the teen years, this is also a time for hormone-related conditions to awaken. These can include Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), thyroid disease, and lupus – all of which have been known to cause hair loss (or even excess hair growth) (2, 3, 4).
The physical and emotional changes experienced by teens can cause immeasurable stress. This can lead to shedding and balding, or actions that cause it (such as anxiety-induced hair pulling).
One of the more interesting causes of stress-induced hair loss is lack of oxygen to the dermal papilla (5). The dermal papilla is a structure at the very bottom of the hair bulb that contains bundles of blood vessels.
These vessels work to deliver nutrients and oxygen to the hair follicle and the strands.
When you’re stressed, shallow breathing is a common phenomenon. As such, less oxygen is taken into your body and, therefore, less can be delivered to the hair.
This means your hair is being deprived of a vital element, and it also means less waste (CO2) is being removed from the scalp.
From Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) to severe acne to depression, there are a number of conditions that may require teens take a prescribed medication.
While these medications can certainly help the condition they were prescribed for, they can also cause unpleasant side effects, such as increased shedding.
Of course, I do not recommend ceasing a necessary medication without the approval of your doctor. However, I do urge you to speak with your doctor about the side effects you’re experiencing, as they may be able to help.
4. Nutrient Deficiencies
Unfortunately for many teenagers, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet isn’t their forte. While the majority will make it through their teen years unscathed and with no long-lasting effects, a significant enough deficiency can lead to present issues.
Some common nutritional deficiencies in people from 10 to 20 years of age include protein, iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and magnesium. All of these can trigger poor health effects, including loss of hair.
5. Traction Alopecia
Typically caused by over-styling of the hair, traction alopecia is a common (but completely reversible) form of hair loss in teenagers and young adults.
Essentially, traction occurs when the hair is pulled back into tight hairstyles or over-styled with the use of harsh chemicals (such as relaxers and dyes). Headgear (such as helmets, headphones, and masks) can also cause traction alopecia.
6. Androgenetic Alopecia
While Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA), also known as Male-Pattern Baldness (MPB), is more likely to occur in men over the age of 35, about 25 percent of men who suffer from MPB will begin to see signs by the age of 21 (7).
This is a condition with many factors, though genetics plays a large role in the development and early-age expression. So if your dad, your mother’s dad, uncles, and grandfathers have it, then you might have it as well.
In addition, females can also suffer from this condition, though in fewer numbers (8).
7. Alopecia Areata
Alopecia Areata (AA) is an autoimmune disorder that causes patchy (typically circular) bald spots on the scalp and other parts of the body where hair growth occurs (9).
This form of hair loss can be present within males and females and at any age, but it’s more likely to crop up during times of stress or hormonal surges.
As an autoimmune disorder, the development of AA depends on many factors, including: genetics, environmental, hormonal imbalance, and immunology. This is why certain individuals may be more susceptible to AA.
As you can imagine, the stress and hormonal changes occurring within our early years makes this the perfect time for AA to trigger. This can mean sudden patchy balding for sufferers.
8. Undiagnosed Medical Condition
While this isn’t the most likely cause of teenage hair fall, it’s one you may want to consider if you’ve ruled out the previously mentioned causes.
In short, a variety of medical conditions can trigger shedding and balding indirectly.
These include hormonal (such as poly-cystic ovaries and thyroid dysfunction), physical (including lupus and anemia), and even mental (such as anorexia and anxiety). If left untreated, these conditions can lead to the breakdown of your hair follicles and trigger further hair fall and balding.
So, what can you do if you suspect a medical condition is the culprit?
First, make a list of your symptoms. Have you noticed an increase in mood swings or fatigue? The cause may be hormonal. Or perhaps you’ve noticed dizziness, fatigue, and general feelings of ill – these can indicate a physical problem such as anemia.
Next, make an appointment with your doctor.
You can discuss your symptoms with your doctor, and this may compel them to run diagnostic tests to rule out common conditions. You may need to undergo blood testing, or even a full physical exam.
If the problem is still undiagnosed, I would recommend you seek out a specialist.
An endocrinologist is your best bet if you believe the problem is hormonal, while a psychologist or psychiatrist can help to diagnose and treat any mental health disorders that may be triggering your hair loss and other symptoms.
Early Signs of Teen Hair Loss
When you suffer from hair loss, your chances of stopping and reversing it are significantly improved the sooner you begin treatment. This is why it’s crucial that you know the early warning signs of thinning and balding.
A Receding Hairline (in Males)
As you age, there are two types of hairlines to be aware of: a maturing hairline, and a receding one. A maturing hairline is natural and begins to take shape in adolescence and young adulthood.
However, a receding hairline is one that signals a deeper issue.
So, how can you tell the difference? The main way to tell is by studying the recession pattern.
An even hairline – one which keeps a consistent line from temple to temple – is the main sign of a maturing hairline. An uneven hairline – one that gets deeper within the temple regions – is a sign of a receding hairline (unless you have a natural widow’s peak, which further complicates the issue).
A Thinning Crown (in Females)
Unlike men, who tend to experience early-stage hair loss in the temples and forehead, women typically experience balding at the crown.
At first, such thinning can go unnoticed. This is especially true if you have thick or voluminous hair. However, as it continues, the scalp will become more visible and the hair will become thin and wispy.
Noticeable Loss on Pillow and in Drain
One of the first signs of excessive shedding that people notice is fallen strands of hair on their pillow in the morning and in the drain after showering.
Of course, this happens to essentially everyone. However, the difference is in how much you’re shedding and how quickly the shed hairs are being replaced.
Itchy, Flaky Scalp
While not everyone with hair loss will experience scalp irritation, a common symptom accompanying it is an itchy, flaky scalp.
Thin, Wispy Hair Growth
In the beginning stages of hair loss, your hair will typically regrow after the initial shed. However, the regrowth will be thin and wispy, and eventually will become so short as to not even poke out of the follicle.
How to Treat Hair Loss
It can certainly be tempting to treat your shedding with one of the over-the-counter medications targeted towards hair loss sufferers, such as Rogaine and Propecia. However, I strongly urge you against their use, especially at such a young age.
While many people will see positive results with these treatments, the results will wear off quickly after use ceases. To begin using them now, then, would mean a life-long dependence (or, a very difficult transition off of them down the line). So, what do I recommend?
Treat Hormonal Imbalances
At a time of hormone fluctuations and growth, it’s a very real possibility that hormonal imbalances are at least partially responsible for your hair loss.
Fortunately, there are ways of treating such imbalances (both natural and with medication) that can stop hair fall and reverse any signs. Talk to your doctor about your hair loss and considering hormone or other approaches to treating it.
Improve Your Daily Diet
One of the best things you can possibly do for your body – including your hair and scalp – is to improve your daily diet. This means adding in more nutritious foods and focusing on eating well-balanced meals.
The typical diet for Westerners can be extremely damaging, both to the body and the hair.
An on-the-go culture means many people resort to quick and low-nutrition meals that fill them up but don’t provide much in the way of vitamin and mineral support.
The best way to go about this change is to start slow.
For example, replace your sugary breakfast cereal with a fruit and protein (eggs). Or, cut your serving of carbs in half for each meal and supplement with a green, leafy vegetable.
The bottom line is, you don’t have to be miserable. However, moderation is key.
Perhaps the easiest tip on my list, I recommend you avoid over-styling. This is obviously beneficial for young people with traction alopecia, but it can really benefit anyone experiencing thinning.
When speaking of over-styling, I don’t just mean pulling your hair into a tight ponytail or bun. I also mean avoiding heat (such as straighteners and curlers), relaxers, and perms.
The use of too many chemicals on your scalp, in combination with the other styling issues, can cause hair loss or worsen it.
While hair loss at any age can be devastating, it can be especially so for teens and young adults. Fortunately, it is possible to stop early balding in the majority of cases and even reversal may be possible.
Of course, the approach you take will depend on the cause and severity. However, the four treatment tips above are a great start for anyone.