There’s a belief that hair loss leads to a total lack of hair and while this is certainly true in most cases, many individuals will first revert from terminal hair to vellus (dormant) hair before the hair follicle completely dies.
In this article we’ll take a look at what vellus hair is, and how it comes to grow within your follicles after balding takes place.
In addition, you’ll learn the steps you can take to reverse the effects of hair loss, and convert vellus hair back to terminal hair.
What is Vellus Hair?
Vellus hair is short, thin, lightly-colored hair that develops on the human body in childhood. This type of hair is common in both men and women (though, it’s more noticeable in women), and is a natural occurrence.
All hair goes through a growth cycle. However, vellus hair’s cycle differs significantly and is triggered by a different process.
The Vellus Hair Growth Cycle
To get a better idea of how vellus hair develops – and why vellus can replace terminal in the event of hair loss – it helps to understand what each of the body’s main hair types are.
- Lanugo. This hair is the first hair produced by fetal hair follicles, and is present on the fetus from about 16 weeks gestation to anywhere from 33 weeks to birth.
- Vellus. This hair replaces lanugo, and is commonly referred to as “peach fuzz”. It’s present in children and adults, and is essential for temperature control and sensory awareness.
- Terminal. This hair is also present in both children and adults, though is more abundant in those who have reached the age of puberty and beyond. This is the type of hair found on the head, and is thicker, darker, and fuller than both lanugo and vellus hair.
With a better understanding of the three main hair types, it’s a bit easier to see how vellus hair transforms.
This is done through puberty – more specifically, the androgens that are produced during this time – and its transition from vellus to terminal is dependent on a number of factors. These include hormone levels and genetics.
Can Vellus Hair Become Terminal?
One of the big questions you may have is whether vellus hair can turn into terminal hair? The answer is a bit complicated, so let’s take a look.
As mentioned, vellus hair is present on the bodies of both men and women. For the most part in women, the hair remains slight, light-colored, and short. In men, however, the androgens that are produced can turn from vellus to terminal.
The change is particularly noticeable with facial hair – namely, in the beard and mustache regions. However, at this stage in puberty you will also begin to grow hair in the armpits and pubic area.
So, the answer to the initial question is, yes, vellus hair can (and in the case of puberty, does) become terminal (1).
But what if this type of hair is present due to alopecia? Can it then be turned back?
The answer to this question is a bit more complicated.
For now, I’ll just say that the turning of hairs from vellus to terminal may be possible; this is because the process isn’t an exact science.
There are plenty of factors that come into play – namely, hormones and genetics – and this means the process can be hit or miss.
Side note: I believe it’s worth it to note that many users of Minoxidil claim the product can turn vellus hairs into terminal hairs. There is no research to back this claim, but many believe it has to do with stimulation of the miniaturized hair follicles.
How to Turn Vellus Into Terminal Hair
Depending on how far your hair loss has progressed, you may be able to turn vellus into terminal hair.
Consider that vellus and terminal hairs are both produced from the same follicle. This means that a follicle that once contained hairs which were vellus can contain terminal, and vice versa.
This is good news – especially because in the majority of men with Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA), also known as male-pattern baldness, their hair progresses from terminal to vellus. This means that reversal may be possible.
If you’re looking to replace vellus with terminal, however, one thing is for sure. Your scalp’s follicles need to be healthy and strong, and there’s a number of things you can do to ensure this.
One of the most important points to remember is that the follicle needs blood flow. The blood contains the nutritive substances that allow the follicle to grow.
See the diagram below where the hair bulb is connected directly to the veins and arteries.
With a reduced blood flow the follicle starts to turn from terminal into vellus.
1. Remove DHT from Your Scalp
DHT is the culprit when it comes to thinning and balding related to Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA) (2). As this condition leads to hair follicle miniaturization and, eventually, the changing of terminal to vellus hairs, then removing DHT is a good first step (3).
There are two ways to remove DHT from the scalp – internally, and externally. And while blocking DHT internally does carry some risks, it’s one of the more effective ways to combat pattern hair loss in men.
One way to do so? With finasteride.
Finasteride is an oral prescription tablet that is currently produced under the brand names of Proscar (5mg) and Propecia (1mg). The drug was initially developed as Proscar to treat Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), but researchers would soon take notice of a significant side effect: hair growth (4).
With this discovery, the drug was soon developed into a separate brand – Propecia – and FDA-approved as a treatment for AGA in 1992 (5).
Interestingly, finasteride doesn’t block DHT directly. Instead it inhibits the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase which itself plays a major role in the conversion of testosterone to DHT (6).
This means that DHT is still produced, but in reduced numbers. And with less DHT present in the blood serum and scalp, the greater the odds of reducing follicle miniaturization and healthy hair growth.
But exactly how effective is finasteride at reducing DHT?
A 1999 study asked this exact question (7). As the results showed, serum levels of DHT were reduced by 49.5 percent, 68.6 percent, 71.4 percent, and 72.2 percent in the 0.05, 0.2, 1, and 5 mg finasteride treatment groups, respectively.
More importantly, scalp DHT levels were reduced by 14.9 percent, 61.6 percent, 56. 5 percent, 64.1 percent, and 69.4 percent with 0.01, 0.05, 0.2, 1, and 5 mg doses of finasteride, respectively.
As mentioned, blocking DHT (even indirectly) internally can have some risks no matter how minimal (8). That’s why some people prefer to take an external approach.
Use a DHT Blocker Shampoo
Just as it sounds, a DHT blocker shampoo is a formulation which contains DHT-blocking ingredients. These work to remove DHT at the scalp.
There are some of these ingredients which are more ‘mainstream,’ including biotin and vitamin B12. However, a lot of these shampoos also use more experimental ingredients such as saw palmetto, pumpkin seed oil, and pygeum bark.
And while many of these ingredients still need further research to back their DHT-blocking claims, these formulations – including the Hairguard Caffeine Shampoo – can be a beneficial addition to your hair care routine.
2. Stimulate New Hair Growth
When your follicles have been miniaturized from hair loss, the best thing you can do is stimulate them.
This can lead to the growth of new hair, and there are a number of stimulation methods that are easy to incorporate into your regular hair care routine.
Massage and Scalp Exercises
As you can imagine, circulation of blood to the scalp is essential for hair growth (9). This is because circulation delivers nutrients and oxygen to the follicles, both of which are necessary for hair health.
Fortunately, increasing circulation to the scalp is simple with massage and scalp exercises (10).
Massage is the manual manipulation of your scalp with fingers. All you need to do is use your fingers to rub in a circular motion – beginning at the crown and working towards the sides and back – and perform for 5-10 minutes each day.
Of course, you can also practice hands-free manipulation of the scalp with do-anywhere scalp exercises. These simply involve the stretching and tensing of the scalp muscles (done by moving your eyebrows up and down) and will go a long way in relieving tension (and, perhaps even stress).
If you’re looking for an unconventional way to stimulate your scalp, then inversion therapy is the method for you!
Simply put, inversion therapy involves hanging upside down for a few minutes in order to increase blood flow to the scalp and follicles.
This can be done with special inversion equipment, or you can do it with the help of some monkey bars, or even by just hanging your head over the side of a couch or bed.
To further increase inversion therapy’s effects, why not massage the scalp while you’re hanging around?
3. Utilize Microneedling Therapy
This is a method which can certainly fall under scalp stimulation; however, I felt that it deserved its own how-to section because it’s a treatment method that I highly recommend.
To begin, let’s first define microneedling. Microneedling is a stimulation method that uses pin-sized needles to injure the skin. When done right, the therapy should be painless.
This method works incredibly well to stimulate new hair growth, as it triggers a trauma response by the body (11). This results in inflammation of the injured skin, proliferation of new skin cells, and remodeling of the injured area (12).
While you can see a professional for microneedling therapy – as is commonly the case for individuals who are using this treatment method for acne or scarring – you can also perform this treatment at home with the use of a dermaroller.
While a number of factors will ultimately play a role in the transition of hair from vellus to terminal – especially hormones and genetics – you can certainly help it along by creating a healthy scalp and stimulating your hair follicles.
Of course, the transition isn’t guaranteed, but that doesn’t mean that the methods outlined above aren’t worth a shot.
The simple truth is, you can reverse hair loss by treating the underlying problem, and the above-mentioned methods can do just that for many individuals, especially those with male-pattern baldness.
*This article was reviewed by Dr. Debra Rose Wilson