Smoking and Hair Loss – How smoking causes baldness

It is well known that smoking and tobacco products cause adverse health effects.  Cigarette smoking is a leading cause of numerous health problems and diseases, such as blood clots, heart disease, and cancer.  Now, recent medical research has discovered a link between smoking and increased instances of hair loss.  Although an exact relationship between cigarette smoking and hair loss is yet to be found the evidence points to a disruption in circulation as a potential cause. The nicotine found in tobacco products is known to constrict blood vessels. The carbon monoxide in smoke decreases the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. This combination decreases the body’s ability to get nutrients to your cells. To see this effect of poor circulation squeeze your nail bed until it turns white and see how quickly it returns to its natural pink color (it should be under 2 seconds). Compare the time difference after smoking a cigarette. You will see that the blushing time changes.

For the hair follicle to function at optimal levels and produce hair growth at the normal rate the cells must receive adequate amounts of oxygen, nutrients, and minerals. Since cigarette smoking has been shown to negatively affect the blood circulation system of your body, and specifically to reduce the blood flow through the scalp, it stands to reason that your hair follicles, just like the rest of the cells in your body, are being deprived the building blocks they need to work properly.

Smoking has also been shown to increases the levels of the hormones responsible for hair loss in men. A study led by the Harvard School of Public Health investigated 1241 men of medium age and compared hormone levels between smokers and non-smokers. The findings showed that dihydrotestosterone (DHT) levels were 13% higher in smokers than in non smokers and testosterone was 9% higher.

DHT is formed by the action of the enzyme 5-alpha reductase on testosterone, the hormone that causes sex characteristics in men. DHT causes androgenetic alopecia, also referred to as “male pattern” or “common” baldness, by shortening the growth, or anagen, phase of the hair cycle on genetically susceptible scalp hair follicles. This causes miniaturization (decreased size) of the follicles, and produces progressively shorter, finer hairs. Eventually these hairs totally disappear. This sensitivity to DHT is present mainly in hair follicles that reside in the front, top, and crown of the scalp (rather than the back and sides) producing a characteristic and easily identifiable pattern described by Norwood.

A report in the Archives of Dermatology states smoking may be associated with age-related hair loss among Asian men.  The study was done in 2005 on a group of 740 men in Taiwan, aged 40 to 91 years.  Asian men were selected because they have low rates of hereditary baldness.  According to researchers “Androgenetic alopecia, a hereditary androgen-dependent disorder, is characterized by progressive thinning of the scalp hair defined by various patterns.  It is the most common type of hair loss in men.”  Although risk for the condition is largely genetic, some environmental factors also may play a role.

After controlling for age and family histories, the researchers found a greater rate of hair loss among the smokers, a risk that grew with increasing smoking.  This association could be caused by several mechanisms, they note. Smoking may destroy hair follicles, damage the papilla that circulate blood and hormones to stimulate hair growth or increase production of the hormone estrogen, which may counter the effects of androgen.

Chemicals found in a cigaretteAnother theory as to why smoking may increase the occurrence of hair loss is based on general health concerns.  Cigarettes are filled with tar, nicotine, and over 4000 chemicals.  Smoking causes many illnesses and diseases, which can impair the functioning of other body systems.  When the body is not healthy the organs do not function properly which can allow poisons, infections, bacteria, and other disease-causing substances to circulate throughout the body.  These unwanted substances could further inhibit the hair follicle’s ability to maintain a normal hair growth pattern.

Aging, Gray Hair, and Hair Loss

Smoking has also been shown to accelerate the aging process and hair loss is often a symptom of aging. Smokers already know that they face an increased risk of developing wrinkles, facial discolorations, and grey hair. Recent medical findings suggest that premature hair loss could also be added to the list of accelerated aging symptoms seen primarily in smokers. A researcher at the Leigh Infirmary in Lancashire, England, found a significant increase in hair loss and graying among smokers, reporting that they are twice as likely to lose their hair or be gray at a certain age. British Medical Journal, December 21, 1996.

Bear in mind that smoking will not cause the loss of hair in those who are not genetically predisposed to it. Quitting smoking will also not make your hair stay on your head if baldness runs in your family. But smoking can worsen baldness in men when already present, so stopping smoking may prevent additional hair loss.

How to Prevent Smoking-induced Hair Loss

The most obvious and effective way to avoid hair loss caused by cigarette smoking is to stop smoking. If you’re having trouble quitting you should consult with your doctor to discuss ways to help you kick the habit. Many oral medications, patches, gum, and creams are available to help smokers beat their nicotine addiction and stay smoke free.

Once you have stopped smoking, or even while you are in the processes of quitting, you can help fight the effects of smoking on hair loss by making positive changes in your life. This includes exercising and getting proper nutrition. Cardiovascular exercise increases the heart rate and helps boost poor circulation. Strive to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least five times a week in order to strengthen your heart and increase blood circulation. You also need to add a multi vitamin and mineral supplement to your diet. Liquid supplements are the best as they absorb into your system faster and more completely than pills, thereby getting the necessary nutrients to your cells quickly.

Hair is an excellent indicator of our overall well-being. Healthy habits and daily exercise will go a long way towards increasing the number and quality of hairs on your head.

Additional Information

15 Responses to “Smoking and Hair Loss – How smoking causes baldness”

  • Didn’t know smoking caused hair loss but makes me even happier I quit smoking already. I thought I was starting to go bald about 3 years back and it was horrible, I thought no girls would fancy me any more and all those crazy thoughts.

  • Kevin from How To Get My Ex Back:

    I understand the reasoning behind this hypothesis. But the question is to what extent? There are other things as well which cause baldness. Not eating healthy is one of them. If anything, I’d say smoking will have a very slight effect on baldness, if any. It might increase the baldness on men who are already balding. but this doesn’t mean it will cause baldness in men who aren’t suffering from baldness.

    I am not advocating smoking. It’s a filthy habit and I don’t smoke. But using such bold claims against smoking is a little too much IMO.

  • Oh no. So smoking can result in baldness. I am going to quit this habit. I am beauty conscious. Doesn’t know about this hair and smoking relation before. Thanks.

  • Not really sure people have understood the meaning of this post. Yes, smoking isn’t nice if you are a non-smoker, but the point of the post was to explicitly state that there may be a relationship between hair loss and smoking.

    Personally, myself I have lived with smokers and not noticed a hair loss trend. My father smoked all my life and still has his hair (although somewhat grey at 65).

  • Chris from Outdoor Smokers:

    A lot of people think of the electric cigarette as a stop smoking device. For me, smoking electric cigarettes has made smoking more enjoyable and has removed some of the downside and even made it somewhat cheaper – so it hasn’t done much to help me quit – al least I’m not getting so many chemicals, tar and other bad stuff.

  • Jane from quit smoking:

    If that is not a reason to quit smoking then I dunno what is! I mean who wants to be bald..I would definately quit to stop that from happening! Or at least switch to an electronic cigarette.

  • Personally I would quit rather than lose my hair. Also think about what your passive smoke is doing to your family members. I got asthma due to my father’s constant smoking.

  • Zaic:

    After 36 yrs of smoking cigarettes, ive been able to stop smoking with out actually stopping cigarettes! (ive seen no-nicotine carts & e-liquid around. look for yourself

  • An added benefit is the ability for the electronic smoker to smoke in virtually any place or any environment. Pubs, Clubs, restaurants, theaters

  • Addicted? I don’t smoke. It bothers my asthma and I never liked the smell. My mother and stepfather quit smoking at the beginning of this year. My father and stepmother quit smoking a couple years ago. They all smoked for decades. None of them blame anyone but themselves for it.

  • As a smoker I am finding that I am addicted to the act of smoking as much as I am the smoke itself. I crave picking something up, putting it in my mouth, stomping it out. I need to have something to do with my hands and I find myself using cigarettes as “thinking” aids.

    I am hoping that the newest product out will help me with this. They are called vaporizers, have you heard of them? I am going to try them and even wrote a post about them. if you are as addicted to the act of smoking as I am they my help.

    I have also started a simple program to help save other lives by helping buy and distribute vaporizers to other smokers that need or want to quit. People on oxygen that still smoke are d-a-n-g-e-r-o-u-s and vaporizers can stop or at least greatly reduce people blowing themselves up while on oxygen.
    .-= Richard´s last blog ..Save Your Life, Then Save Another Life… =-.

  • Twisp from electric cigarette:

    I think this is really true. I mean the majority of people I know that smoke, are going bald or are already bald! I think that smoking is a really nasty habit and if you cant kick it, then get yourself an electronic cigarette.

  • Paula Jo from Home Garden Decor Accents:

    I knew smoking causes cancer and several other problems. I did not know it also can cause hair loss. Well, another reason to quit smoking if you don’t want look like Kojak.
    Thanks for the good information.

  • i know peple that use rogain that seem to keep their hair even thought they smoke, but other than cancer and all the other bad side effects of smoking here is another reason to quit. Its too bad its so addictive, i guess its the paint thinner in it that makes it so appealing right?
    .-= john @ San Antonio Car Insurance´s last undefined ..Response cached until Wed 27 @ 23:10 GMT (Refreshes in 23.94 Hours) =-.

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