Every day, you lose about 50 to 100 hairs. You've seen them. They swirl down the drain in the tub or get stuck on the back of your sweater. Or, worst of all, one might get in your mouth. Gross.
Normally, when hair falls out, new hairs start forming in the same place as the old ones. But when someone has hair loss, the hairs may not grow back. Or they do grow, but there aren't enough of them to take the place of what's already fallen out. This often happens to men, who might start to go bald as they get older.
But anyone can have hair loss, even kids. The medical name for hair loss is alopecia (say: al-uh-PEE-shuh).
The hair on your head is made of keratin (say: KAIR-uh-tin), the same protein that makes up your nails. Hairs grow from follicles (say: FAHL-ih-kulz), which are very tiny holes deep in your skin. Each follicle contains a hair root, the part of the hair that is alive and growing. The part of the hair you can see, the part above the skin, is dead. (That's why it doesn't hurt to get a haircut!)
This part is called the hair shaft and it's the part of your hair that can get long. Most kids' hair grows about 1 centimeter a month. About 85 out of 100 hairs on your head are growing (the anagen phase) at any time. When a hair is done growing it goes into its resting (telogen) phase and eventually falls out. Usually, 15 out of 100 hairs on your head are in the resting phase.
Men, especially older men, are the ones who are most likely to lose their hair. This kind of hair loss is called androgenetic (say: an-dro-jeh-NEH-tik) alopecia, also known as male-pattern baldness. It's the most common type of hair loss and it doesn't affect kids. This type of baldness runs in families and happens when people get older.
So why do some kids lose their hair? A kid's hair may fall out if he or she uses harsh chemicals to dye, bleach, straighten, or perm the hair. Even drying hair with very high heat can hurt it and cause it to fall out. Too-tight braids, ponytails, and barrettes also can make hair hit the road. And hair can be lost if a person combs or brushes the hair too hard, especially when it's wet.
Here are some other causes of hair loss:
If you think you're having some hair loss, talk with your doctor. Your doctor might look at a few strands of your hair under a microscope. This will give the doctor a better look at what's going on to help decide what to do next.
For a fungal infection (ringworm), the doctor will probably prescribe some medicine to treat it. Or if you are taking a medication that can cause hair loss, the doctor might stop it or prescribe something different. If the doctor thinks that an illness is causing the hair loss, you might need more tests.
In some cases, it can take a while for hair to grow back on its own — especially if a kid has alopecia areata or is getting chemotherapy. Being bald can be upsetting and scary. Some kids wear wigs or hair extensions while they wait for their own hair to return. Others feel more comfortable just wearing a baseball cap, bandanna, or scarf.
It's always tough to be different, especially in a way that's easy for people to notice. Friends and classmates can make all the difference to someone who's dealing with hair loss. They can tease the person and make him or her feel even worse. Or they can support the kid, be kind, and remember that a person is more than just his or her hair.
Some kids have really gone the extra mile for a friend who had hair loss due to cancer treatment. How? They decided to shave their heads, too, so their friend wouldn't be the only one. What a bald and beautiful thing to do!