Hair loss became a widely discussed topic following the 2022 Academy Awards, when comic Chris Rock was verbally and physically assaulted on stage by actor Will Smith regarding a joke Rock made about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith. Pinkett-Smith has alopecia areata, an immune system condition that attacks hair follicles and causes hair loss anywhere on the body. Pinkett-Smith now shaves her head to alleviate the patches of uneven hair loss attributed to the condition.

Alopecia is the clinical term for any hair loss that occurs on the scalp or body. Hair loss can be temporary or permanent, and is attributed to various causes. Anything from hormones, to medical conditions, to heredity can dictate hair loss in men and women. Baldness, according to the Mayo Clinic, typically refers to excessive hair loss from the scalp. Hereditary hair loss is the most common cause of baldness.

Thinning, shedding hair affects both sexes, and sometimes is a natural side effect of aging. But not all hair loss is natural, and the following are some factors that can cause people to lose their hair.

  • Stress and illness: Extreme stress or illness can cause hair loss in a process known as telogen effluvium, according to Dr. Michelle Henry, a New York-based dermatologist. Mental and physical stress can cause hair growth in the body to be arrested. When this occurs, the body sheds the hair. Hair loss can occur up to three months following a stressful event or illness. Finding ways to manage or limit stress can alleviate hair shedding.
  • Heredity: Genes will dictate the color of a person’s eyes, or whether they are tall or short. Genes also play a role in hair loss. The American Academy of Dermatology says heredity can affect both men and women. In fact, hereditary hair loss is the most common cause of hair loss worldwide. Genes cause hair follicles to shrink and eventually stop growing hair. Hair loss may start in teenage years, but tends to begin later in life. There are medical treatments in the form of shampoos, lotions, and even hair implants that can stop or slow hair loss. Some may help regrow hair. The earlier treatment is started, the better its potential outcome.
  • Alopecia areata: Alopecia areata is an immune system disorder that attacks the hair follicles. Since alopecia can affect hair anywhere on the body, even eyebrows or eyelashes may fall out. Treatment may help stimulate regrowth. Doctors may suggest immunosuppressant drugs as a course of treatment.
  • Pregnancy: Hormones fluctuate greatly during and after pregnancy. Giving birth also can be a physically traumatic experience that can sometimes contribute to hair loss. Hair will likely grow back when hormone and stress levels return to normal.
  • Medications and supplements: Certain medications, such as those to treat cancer, heart issues, gout, high blood pressure, arthritis, and depression may cause hair loss. Taking too much vitamin A also may cause hair loss. Adjusting dosage or trying different medications may help.

Individuals concerned about hair loss should speak with a dermatologist who can assess the situation and plan a course of treatment.