Everyone is aware of the various negative effects of smoking on health. Whether it’s respiratory problems, lung issues that it could cause, most people know the damage it can cause to internal organs. But the effects of smoking aren’t limited to respiratory problems.
Studies have found that smoking can also cause hair loss. In a 2018 study, it was discovered that tobacco, the key ingredient in cigarettes, contains over 7,000 chemicals. These chemicals go into the bloodstream with every drag and spread to every part of the body.
While scientists have determined that 69 of these chemicals cause cancer, there are still many unknowns. Hair loss is part of the unknown. Even though it’s not clear how smoking leads to hair loss, there’s ample evidence to support it. Here, we discuss whether smoking causes hair loss and how.
Smoking affects various functions, which can increase the risk of hair loss. According to a study in 2020, androgenetic alopecia (male or female pattern baldness) is more common in male smokers between 25 – 30 years than nonsmokers in the same age bracket. 425 of 500 smokers showed signs of hair loss compared to 200 of 500 nonsmokers.
The study also used the Hamilton-Norwood scale of hair loss to grade the extent of the hair loss. 47% of smokers had grade 3 baldness, while 24% had grade 4. But only 10% of nonsmokers had grade 3 or grade 4 baldness.
Here are some of the ways smoking causes hair loss:
Smoking also causes oxidative stress. This happens when the body produces more free radicals than it needs, which happens when you smoke. Free radicals react with other body molecules and may damage the cells’ DNA.
Oxidative stress is a result of excess free radicals in the body. Tobacco smoke exposure is just one of the things that cause oxidative stress. Exposure to ultraviolet rays, radiation, and pollution can also cause it. Oxidative stress may cause damage to the hair follicles, and a study in 2003 supports this. Another study in 2018 found that cells in the hair follicles of a balding scalp are very sensitive to oxidative stress.
One of the internal effects of smoking is the damage it can cause to a person’s cardiovascular health. It can cause plaque build-up in the blood vessels. This leads to strokes, blood clots, and heart attacks. All of these conditions mean lower blood circulation. Unfortunately, the lower circulation also means that blood flow to the hair follicles will reduce. This means the body’s natural process to nourish the hair follicles would be impossible, causing potential hair loss.
Oxidative stress from smoking can also lead to drier hair by speeding up aging. Hair oil is essential for preventing hair loss, but this normally decreases when from age 45 – 50. However, smoking could make it happen at an earlier age. Smoking dries up the sebum produced by the sebaceous glands, which ultimately leads to hair loss.
Collagen has a lot of benefits for the skin and hair. The body naturally produces this nutrient, but smoking might disrupt the production. The blood flow carrying collagen to the hair follicles may reduce with smoking. This leads to lesser collagen, which will make the hair more brittle. Brittle hair will easily break and fray, hence hair loss.
Beyond the obvious damage that smoking causes, it can also suppress the immune system. Tobacco does this through chemicals such as chemokines and cytokines, which cause inflammation. Almost all cells necessary for a strong immune system, such as the B-cells, T-cells, and T-helper cells, are all affected when you smoke.
The suppression of these cells makes it possible for smoking to be the catalyst for various diseases. Alopecia areata is an example of such a disease. This autoimmune disease is a form of hair loss linked to smoking.
Endocrine diseases have also been linked to smoking, and these diseases cause hair loss. The endocrine system is responsible for maintaining the body system and works through a network of glands. Smoking tobacco can cause Grave’s hyperthyroidism. This condition leads to excess thyroid hormone production and can cause hair loss. Diabetes is also an endocrine disease and can lead to hair loss.
Cortisol is an essential body hormone for managing stress, but it also helps maintain and regulate hair follicles. The nicotine in tobacco can increase cortisol levels after a while. Excessive cortisol degrades the compounds such as proteoglycan and hyaluronan, which are necessary for hair follicle development. This leads to stress-related hair loss.
Smoking also increases cytokines level, which promote inflammation. Beyond that, cytokines also scar hair follicles, affecting hair growth and causing hair loss.
Smoking can also hydroxylate estradiol while inhibiting aromatase. The aromatase enzyme is necessary for the production of estrogen. Estrogen helps to make hair thicker and healthier. Thus, lower production also means that the health of your hair would be affected. This May lead to hair loss.
Gray hair is usually a sign of aging. But a study had found that smoking may also cause grey hair to appear early. The 2013 study found significant evidence showing a relationship between grey hair showing before 30 years and smoking cigarettes.
Smoking has several disadvantages that far outweigh any of its benefits. The damages it can cause to health are sometimes not capable of being rectified. One of such is the damage it can do to the hair. Smoking can affect hair density and hairline, causing hair loss and reducing growth in various ways. In order to deal with the effects of smoking on the hair, the first step would be to stop smoking. After that, there are several drugs and therapy for dealing with hair loss resulting from smoking.