For many women, their hair is their crowning glory and the recipient of much time, attention and dollars to look salon perfect. In fact, a recent survey revealed American women spend, on average, $55,000 on hair care and products over their lifetime.

So when the strands of hair in the shower drain go from a few loose pieces to a handful, panic inevitably sets in.

With more than 100,000 strands of hair on the average head, women can expect to lose a few hundred a day. But when strands become tufts, it may be more than just the normal shedding process.

While hair loss is often thought to be primarily a male concern, one in three women will deal with thinning or baldness at some point in their lives, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Hair loss can be temporary or long-lasting. Temporary hair loss can be easy to fix when the cause is identified and addressed — or difficult when it is not immediately clear what the cause is.

Tight ponytails, cornrows, buns, chignons, twists and other hairstyles that pull on the scalp for long periods of time can often lead to hair loss. Unfortunately, temporary hair loss can become long-lasting, and even permanent, if the cause is misdiagnosed or ignored.

From your body’s point of view, hair is basically a non-essential tissue, and therefore very sensitive to stress. So crash diets, poor nutrition, stress or lack of sleep can be the culprits behind temporary hair loss.

Daniel Jones, owner/stylist at Muse Salon and Spa in Johns Creek, said the issue of thinning hair is one he deals with on a constant basis with his clients. Generally, it’s a concern with women in their older years, but he’s now seeing the issue as well among his younger clients.

“I’m seeing women in their 20s experiencing thinning hair, which just amazes me,” said Jones, who travels the country as a hair care consultant to salons.

He believes early hair loss in women is often linked to the environment and exposure to toxins — including the chemicals found in plastic water bottles, which is his personal pet peeve.

He urges his clients to limit their exposure to toxins for the sake of their health and their hair, and to “feed” their hair the same way they feed their body.

“Avocados, salmon and all the good fats will grow and thicken your hair,” said Jones. “I know everyone is trying to cut out fat, but your hair needs fat to grow.”

Hair loss can also be accelerated by improper use of beauty tools and “do it yourself” treatments at home, often after watching online tutorials, said Jones. Chemical treatments should be left in the hands of professionals for best results, he said.

Short-term hair loss can be caused by certain medications, including many contraceptives, as well as by pregnancy and stressful life events. It is generally reversed when the stressors are mitigated or end, and hair usually grows back.

But for some women, hair loss is a potentially permanent medical condition known as alopecia, or female-pattern hair loss, which indicates excessive or abnormal hair loss. Treatment requires medical intervention.

“What all hair loss has in common, whether it's in men or women, is that it is always a symptom of something else that's gone wrong in your body,” according to officials with the American Hair Loss Association. “Your hair will remain on your head where it belongs [as long as] hormone imbalance, disease or some other condition is not occurring.”

Currently, Minoxidil is the only FDA-approved medicine for female-pattern baldness. Originally developed to treat high blood pressure, Minoxidil in tablet  form was found to increase hair growth as a side effect. It is now marketed in a liquid applied directly to the scalp to promote hair growth. Jones said many of his clients with hair loss find success in non-prescription hair products, and recommends women ask their stylists for recommendations. He said women may also find doctors willing to prescribe Propecia, which is marketed for male-pattern baldness and has proven to restoreb hair growth. There is a risk of birth defects, however, so Propecia should only be used by women well beyond child-bearing years.

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