Different types of hair loss have a multitude of causal factors, ranging from genetics to autoimmune responses and also environmental issues – and smoking is thought to be among them.
While few studies support the idea that heavy smoking is a guaranteed way to lose your hair, one notable investigation in Taiwan did find that men who smoke more than 20 cigarettes per day had a heightened risk of losing hair to the genetic condition male pattern baldness.
Dry, brittle hair, hair loss and premature greying
More widely accepted is the notion that – for want of a better term – putting ‘bad things’ into your body can wreak havoc with the hair in a number of ways. Just like poor diets and personal stress levels can influence hair health, so too can the chemical assault that comes with prolonged smoking. The net result can be hair that looks dry and feels thin and brittle. Whilst cosmetic treatments and nutritional hair growth supplements may help the hair to appear healthier, nothing beats the effects of stopping smoking.
The list of reasons to stop smoking seems never-ending – and includes the fact that studies have also found that smokers are more likely to experience premature greying. Additionally, smoking may lead to certain health conditions, including diabetes, which in turn can lead to hair loss.
With this in mind and with January the most common time of year for people to try and turn over a new leaf, it is perhaps worth pausing to think about how best someone may stop smoking. New research collated in a YMCA Exercise Intervention for Smoking Cessation Study at the University of Texas in Austin suggests the following five-point plan:
1 Find time to ease into it
The study’s authors note that cold turkey is not the best option, and that a good way to try and stop is to progressively lower the number of cigarettes you have in the weeks leading up to your quitting.
2 Find a reason to quit
Negative goals such as “I don’t want to waste money” or “I don’t want to be unhealthy” tend to be less powerful than positive ones such as “I want to save up for an amazing holiday” or “I want to be fit enough to play with my kids.”
3 Find social support
Not only can the encouragement of friends and family give you a boost, but if they are smokers it may be a good idea to ask them not to do so while they are around you. As with hair loss treatment, it may also be beneficial to some to share their journey on social media in order to help keep themselves on track, as well as providing a stream of support – something Instagram can be useful for.
4 Find your weaknesses
The Austin report suggests that it is worth identifying high risk situations before making the decision to quit; do you always feel like you need a cigarette when you have a drink, for example? There is no guaranteed fix for getting yourself out of tricky situations like this, but trying to think of a solution for if and when it happens – or avoiding such social settings in the early stages of your journey – is worth considering.
5 Find a back-up plan
Giving up cigarettes can be very difficult, so it may be wise to consider ways in which to help yourself – such as ready access to nicotine patches or gum.
Studies have found that even light smoking can still cause a variety of medical problems – possibly contributing to hair loss conditions such as telogen effluvium. This temporary thinning condition is the body’s response to factors in a person’s life that are biologically damaging, and while treatment for telogen effluvium is possible, it may be avoided entirely by removing such stressors.
Speed up hair loss
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of smoking as it pertains to hair loss is that experts believe it may accelerate the hereditary conditions male pattern baldness and female pattern hair loss in people who already have active genetic predispositions. In other words, someone who is genetically coded to start losing hair in their 40s could see hair loss begin somewhat earlier because of the effects that smoking has on the hair and body.
It is important to note, however, that some people’s DNA has not earmarked them for genetic hairloss at any point in their life, regardless of lifestyle factors. It is even possible to carry the relevant genes for male and female pattern baldness without them being active; this is why hairloss can sometimes appear to skip a generation, affecting some family members but not others.
As a general rule, smoking is unquestionably a bad idea if personal well-being – be that fitness levels, the vitality of the skin or the health of your hair, and avoiding the myriad illnesses linked to it – is important to you. One school of thought is that nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarettes can restrict the flow of blood to the hair follicles, thus impeding growth; another is that free radicals in smoke cause cell damage.
One thing that often results when a hair loss condition is first diagnosed, or excessive hair fall becomes noticeable, is worry; this is an entirely normal response, as people are usually far more attached to their hair than they ever realised – and the thought of losing it can be devastating. Luckily, hair loss treatment exists for most conditions and, when handled by an expert, the prognosis can often be very good.
Smokers and non-smokers alike who are concerned about prolonged hair shedding can usually get a professional diagnosis quickly and easily at a specialist hair loss clinic, as well as advice on how best to proceed. In many cases they will also leave with reassurance that the outlook is not as bleak as they may have feared.
The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.