The modern world has a much greater awareness of the dangers of smoking and tobacco products than it once did. You’ve probably read countless reports about how smoking can promote heart disease, lung problems, and various cancers. However, you might not realize that smoking also threatens hair and may lead to alopecia (hair loss). Let’s examine the connections between smoking and hair loss so you can keep this lifestyle choice from harming your hairline.
What the Research Says
Scientists have associated tobacco smoking with androgenetic alopecia, a common form of baldness that can occur in both men and women. One study focused on 1,000 healthy men between the ages of 20 and 35, half of them smokers and the other half nonsmokers. At the end of the study, 425 of the 500 smokers had androgenetic alopecia, as opposed to just 200 of the 500 nonsmoking men.
The same researchers also analyzed the degree of hair loss among the study’s participants based on a seven-stage scale called the Hamilton or Norwood-Hamilton scale. In the nonsmokers’ group, 100 men had grade II androgenetic alopecia, with an additional 50 displaying grade III or grade IV. By contrast, 235 of the smokers suffered from grade III androgenetic alopecia, while another 120 had stage IV. While the intensity of the smoking habit didn’t appear to worsen the baldness, the team speculated that nicotine and cotinine from tobacco products might accelerate the baldness’s progression.
How Smoking Promotes Hair Loss
Smoking has many effects on the body, some of which can damage the delicate hair follicles that create and hang onto individual hairs. So far, medical science has identified three ways smoking may sabotage these follicles.
Oxidation in the body occurs due to oxygen-containing molecules called free radicals. While this process can yield benefits for the body, it can also get out of control if you have too many free radicals and not enough antioxidants to keep them in check. The resulting oxidative stress can damage the DNA in your cells, including the cells of your hair follicles. Research shows that oxidative stress pushes hair follicles into catagen, the hair growth stage that precedes telogen or shedding. Oxidative stress can even kill hair follicles.
Reduced Blood Supply
The nicotine in tobacco products can alter many physical processes, including blood flow. This chemical causes blood vessels to constrict, which reduces the blood supply to various parts of the body, including the hair follicles. The follicles cannot maintain their hair growth cycle when deprived of oxygen and nutrients in the blood. As a result, your scalp may lose hair faster than the follicles can replace it.
Inflammation and scarring
The same oxidative stress that directly damages the hair follicles can also create other potentially destructive agents called cytokines. Cytokines can prove quite valuable by killing cancer cells and aiding in inflammatory responses that help the body deal with infections. However, they can also cause trouble when the inflammatory response runs out of control. A Taiwanese study theorizes that when smokers experience oxidative stress from their habit, their hair follicles may develop inflammation that leaves them scarred and unable to grow or retain hair.
As a smoker, even the hair you retain suffers from the effects of many chemicals in the smoke. For instance, the lack of nutrients caused by reduced blood flow can make your hair unusually brittle and prone to damage. This brittle hair can also contribute to your hair loss problem by snapping off. Tobacco smoke can also alter the color of your hair, turning it lighter or making it prematurely grey.
How Kicking the Habit Can Help Your Hair
Smoking cessation may not leave you with the same healthy head of hair you once had. However, removing this avoidable obstacle to hair growth can put your scalp back on the road to recovery. Blood flow starts to improve within about three months after you quit smoking. As the follicles gain new access to the oxygen and nutrients they need, they may return to their former hair growth cycle. In the meantime, you’ll stop exposing your remaining hair to the toxic chemicals that can damage or destroy it.
No matter how obvious the benefits or your determination to kick the habit, quitting a highly addictive drug like nicotine can prove daunting. Just five to seven percent of smokers succeed in quitting “cold turkey” with no outside aid. Fortunately, you have many other options to help you stop smoking. Prescription medications can ease your nicotine cravings and your urge to smoke. Behavioral therapy can help you recognize your addiction triggers and plan a strategy for overcoming them. Some smokers have used hypnosis to get over their smoking habit.
Once you’ve eliminated tobacco from your life, you may need some extra help rejuvenating and restoring your hair to the fullest possible extent. If you struggle with hair for any reason, contact New-U today. To schedule a free consultation, click here.
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