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The 60-Second Baldness Test: Normal Hair Loss or Adrogenetic Alopecia?

2011-09-06 11:58

Researchers from Yale University announced last week in the journal Cell their discovery that stem cells from adipose (fat) tissue may be used to stimulate hair follicles as a way to cure adrogenetic alopecia (baldness) in men. While the scientists are searching for cellular signals that are awakening dormant hair follicles, what are the signals that the average Joe can look for to tell him if he may be going bald before there is significant hair loss? According to dermatological research, there is a simple 60-second test men can do on a monthly basis to keep tabs on their hair’s health.

Hair Follicle Life Cycle

At any point in time, approximately 90% of the hair on your head is in its growth phase. The life cycle of a hair follicle consists of three phases. The first phase—called Anagen—is the time of active hair growth, which lasts between 2-6 years. The second phase—called Catragen—is a transitional phase and lasts 2-3 weeks. The third and final phase—called Telogen—is a resting phase that lasts about 2-3 months and is when the hair follicle is shed and replaced by a new growing hair follicle, starting a new cycle of hair growth.

Old Hair Loss Standard
The old standard for monitoring hair loss was that normal hair loss amounted to approximately 100 hairs per day. This was based on a theoretical assumption that the average scalp contains 100,000 hairs, of which 10% are in the telogen phase. That puts 10,000 telogen phase hairs on your head, of which another 10% have reached their roughly 100-day life span and are ready to be shed. This then translates to approximately 100 hairs being shed per day.

However, according to Carina Wasko, MD a researcher at the Department of Dermatology, Baylor College of Medicine, the 100 hairs/day estimate is too large. In a study using sixty healthy, non-balding male subjects with one-half aged 20-40 and a second-half aged 41-60, she and her colleagues devised a research study where the participants would carefully collect lost hair follicles under identical conditions. What they found was that on average only about 10 hairs are lost per day in a normal, healthy male regardless of whether they were young or middle aged. A repeat of the test 6 months later resulted in nearly identical results.

Based on the success and accuracy of their testing method, the authors of the published study suggest that men concerned about hair loss should make a monthly self-assessment and take the results to their dermatologist should the patient ever undergo acute telogen effluvium (rapid hair loss) and need medical diagnosis.

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The 60-Second Hair Test consists of the 4 following steps:
1. Before shampooing, comb your hair starting with the comb at the back top of the head and comb forward to the front of the scalp while leaning over a bed sheet of contrasting color.
2. Count the number of hairs on the comb and the bed sheet and record the results.
3. Repeat the procedure for three consecutive days before shampooing each day.
4. Repeat the entire process on a monthly basis and take the results to your dermatologist for review.

The study is available free online at ama-assn.org.

Source: Standardizing the 60-Second Hair Count Arch Dermatol, Jun 2008; 144: 759 - 762.

Image credit: morguefile

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