You may have heard some hair loss conditions described as ‘effluviums’ and wondered what the term means. ‘Effluvium’ literally means outflow, and the word preceding it refers to the stage of the growth cycle at which the hair falls out.
The hair growth cycle
Rather than constantly producing hair, hair follicles go through a cycle of growing, resting and falling out, before beginning to grow hair again. The hair follicles on your head are generally all at a slightly different stage of the growth cycle at any one time, otherwise everyone would have a period of total baldness every few years! The three phases of the hair growth cycle are known as the anagen, catagen and telogen phases.
The ‘telogen’ phase of your hair’s growth cycle is the stage at which the matured hair rests before falling out. Most people shed around 80 hairs per day as part of this telogen phase, but sufferers of telogen effluvium can lose dramatically more than this.
Telogen effluvium generally presents as diffuse hair loss across the whole head, and can be caused by a number of different factors, including shock to the hair follicles from an external influence, stress, diet and hormonal imbalance. Telogen effluvium often affects women after childbirth, as the sudden change in hormones causes such a shock to the hair follicles that they shut down. This is usually a temporary issue.
The ‘anagen’ phase is the growing phase of your hair’s life cycle. “Anagen effluvium” refers to a condition where sufferers’ hair falls out during this growing phase. Like telogen effluvium, the hair does tend to fall out in a diffuse manner, but because between 80-90% of our hair is in the anagen phase at any one time, the hair loss tends to be much more rapid and dramatic than with telogen effluvium.
Anagen effluvium is generally caused by cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, which attacks any rapidly developing cells in the body, such as those found in the hair follicles, or by ingestion of a toxin, such as rat poison.
There is no guaranteed treatment for either condition. Anagen effluvium has been shown to be reduced by the use of ‘cooling caps’, which reduce the temperature of the scalp, but this is at best able to retain around 50% of the hair on the scalp.
Telogen effluvium can be treated with topical medications, but will usually resolve itself in time. Scalp micropigmentation (SMP) can provide an effective way to mask the condition in the meantime.