Styling your son’s or daughter’s hair represents a special time of bonding between parent and child. Yet, those memories can become difficult for parents of children with hair loss. Hair loss is normally attributed with middle-aged or elderly individuals, but it can arise in children as well.
Surprisingly, a number of conditions can cause hair loss in children. While these conditions may not be well-known, most of them are not harmful to the child’s life. Still, it is always best to seek an examination by a medical professional to determine the best course of action in a treatment plan. This article provides a convenient overview of some of the most common causes of hair loss in children along with natural treatment options you can pursue.
Children with Hair Loss Typically Have a Scalp Condition
An autoimmune disease, can cause hair loss in one of every 1,000 children. Three forms of this condition exist, but they all involve the immune system attacking hair follicles. The first form, alopecia areata, usually only generates bald areas on the head. However, it can be more severe in children causing baldness or hair loss over the entire body. The second form, alopecia totalis, causes hair loss on the whole head. And the third form, alopecia universalis, results in hair loss over the entire body. A non-invasive examination of the scalp is typically sufficient to diagnose alopecia, although some medical professionals will go farther by removing some remaining hairs for further analysis. Alopecia cannot be reversed, but there are medicinal aids for stimulating hair growth including: anthralin, minoxidil, or a corticosteroid cream/lotion/ointment. Most children are able to regrow their hair in one year.
Is a form of ringworm that plagues the scalp. Caused by a fungal infection, tinea capitis produces hair loss in patches leaving black dots behind. These exposed patches may be red in appearance with scales or bumps. Children may also develop a fever along with swollen glands. This scalp condition is contagious and often spreads by children sharing items such as hats, combs, hair ties, and pillows with one another. Tinea capitis can be diagnosed by a dermatologist who will examine your child’s scalp, scrape off a little of the infected patch, and send it to the lab for testing. Treatment involves taking an antifungal medication orally for eight weeks along with regularly hair washings using antifungal shampoos to keep the infection from spreading.
A condition in which more hair follicles than the usual 10 to 15 percent stop growing and rest allowing time for old hairs to fall out and new hairs to grow in. This is a normal part of the hair growth cycle called telogen, but with an abnormal excess of hairs undergoing this phase it creates hair loss. Even though this hair loss is often as much as 300 hairs a day, it is not always noticeable. Traumatic or stressful events, like an injury, high fever, surgery, or the death of a loved one, can initiate telogen effluvium. Once children overcome the event, their hair will fully regrow anywhere from six months to one year later.
Is a mental disorder categorized under obsessive-compulsive disorder in which children pull out their own hair either intentionally as a form of stress relief or unintentionally without their realization. This disorder will also leave bald patches throughout the scalp or at least patches with broken shafts of hair. Another symptom may arise in which children eat the hair they pull out and form large, undigested hair balls in their stomach. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the best form of treatment to help children address the emotions that trigger this disorder. Once children overcome the urge to pull their hair out, their hair will regrow.
Nutrient Deficiencies and Children with Hair Loss
Like adults, children can also develop hair loss from deficiencies in minerals, vitamins, or protein. Therefore, hair loss is often a side effect of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Even children being raised on a vegan or low-protein vegetarian diet may experience hair loss. This is because the human body, and especially developing human bodies, require an adequate balance of minerals and nutrients to carry out its various processes. Some of these nutrients are essential to hair growth and health. They consist of:
- Amino acids
Alternatively, too much of some nutrients, like vitamin A, can cause hair loss. For these reasons, it is recommended that children have their nutrient levels tested regularly by their pediatrician or family physician. Once the physician identifies the deficiency, he or she will proceed with developing a diet or supplement plan to get the child back on track.
Other Medical Conditions That Cause Hair Loss in Children
Specifically infections with the bacterium, Staphylococcus aureus, can induce hair loss. Typically contracted through an exposed wound in the skin or inhalation into the respiratory tract, a Staph infection produces scaling on the scalp and can be particularly severe in infants or individuals living with diabetes, lung disease, vascular disease, cancer, or some other immunity-compromising condition.
Presents the same hair damaging and hair loss effects in children as in adults during cancer treatment. This is because chemotherapy functions by destroying cells that rapidly divide and grow like cancer cells. Unfortunately, hair cells grow at a very rapid pace to regenerate themselves, so they succumb easily to the effects of chemotherapy. However, following chemotherapy treatment, children’s hair typically grows back.
Results when the thyroid gland cannot make enough of its hormones and begins to dysfunction. In addition to symptoms of constipation, fatigue, and weight gain, individuals with this condition will experience dry, brittle hair and eventually hair loss throughout the scalp. Pharmaceutical treatment with thyroid hormone along with dietary changes that support thyroid health can reverse hypothyroidism in children and their hair should regrow within months.
Is an autoimmune condition that can prevent hair regrowth secondary to another condition causing the hair loss. Accordingly, any treatment pursued for the hair loss must address the primary cause as well as lupus which can be challenging.
Hair Loss in Children with Overall Good Health
As is often the case with medicine, there are cases where children are generally healthy, happy, and well-nourished, but experiencing hair loss nonetheless. In such cases, one of the following non-medical factors may be responsible:
As newborns grow for the first six months of life, their baby hair comes out for mature hair follicles to grow in its place. This is a normal, natural process that should not alarm parents.
Rubbing their head against the floor or bedding in their crib, infants engage in this practice until they are able to crawl, stand, sit, etc. The friction from these activities adds up over time and can produce hair loss in the parts of the head that experienced the most friction. Parents need not worry though, as their babies’ hair will grow back once the rubbing has concluded for good.
Certainly, children’s hair needs change quite a bit from their infancy into their childhood. Yet, children’s hair is still sensitive to abrasive chemicals and styling tools, Thus, bleach, dye, permanent or any other hair modifying chemical should be avoided because they damage the hair shaft. Non-toxic hair products are always preferred for children and adults alike.
Heat Styling and Trauma
Blow-drying, straightening, or curling children’s hair too often or without taking sufficient heat protection measures can result in hair loss. Consider letting children’s hair air dry or at least do not blow dry it every day. Another traumatic event for children’s hair is their infatuation with repeatedly tugging, twisting, or tossing their hair. Many children develop this habit as a replacement for thumb-sucking, but it can also damage hair follicles over time.
It may come as a shock, but even styling children’s hair can place children at risk of hair loss. Brushing or combing hair too hard, removing tangles vigorously, braiding tightly, or pulling the hair back into a ponytail can all weaken the hair follicles and make them fall out. This result is sometimes referred to as traction alopecia. When styling children’s hair, being gentle is key as well as remembering to keep all styles loose so as not to put too much stress on the follicles.
Final Thoughts on Children with Hair Loss
Aside from inspecting children’s hair periodically, parents should pay attention to how their children are handling, grooming, and styling their hair. Such observations can at least reveal a risk for hair loss and motivate parents to see a doctor as soon as possible. For, with prompt treatment and slight behavioral changes hair regrowth is possible in most cases of children with hair loss.
Alhaj, E., Alhaj, N., & Alhaj, N. E. (2007). Diffuse alopecia in a child due to dietary zinc deficiency. Skimmed, 6(4): 199-200.
American Hair Loss Association. (2010). Children’s hair loss: Causes & treatment. Retrieved from http://www.americanhairloss.org/children_hair_loss/causes_treatment.asp
Khitam, A. (2013). Hair loss in children: Common and uncommon causes; clinical and epidemiological study in Jordan. International Journal of Trichology, 5(4): 185-189. https://dx.doi.org/10.4103%2F0974-7753.130393
Watson, S. (2018, July). What’s causing my child’s hair to fall out and how do I treat it? Retrieved from Healthline at https://www.healthline.com/health/hair-loss-in-children