It's really no secret that smoking is bad for you. As we've become more aware of the negative impacts that cigarette smoke has on our health, the Mad Men days of chain-smoking wherever and whenever are going up in, well, smoke.
Not only does cigarette smoke contribute to and cause significant health problems like cancer, stroke, lung disease and more, it also comes with a whole slew of undesirable side effects that can change the way we look.
That is to say, smoking contributes to making you age more quickly.
We're talking wrinkles, fine lines, sagging skin, yellowing skin and fingernails, stained teeth, and yes, noticeable hair loss.
If you're a smoker and you've been noticing that your hair isn't as thick or dense as it once was, it's likely that you're not imagining things.
In this article, we'll break down the link between cigarette smoking and hair loss, and what you can do about it.
Is smoking linked to hair loss?
In a word? Yes. Smoking is absolutely linked to causing hair loss, and for good reason.
One 2018 study counted over 7,000 chemicals in cigarettes, so it's really no surprise that regularly inhaling this many chemicals can affect every aspect of your body, including your hair.
But how does it work? As it turns out, there are many different ways scientists believe that smoking can do a number on your hair.
When it comes to androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness, smoking has been found to exacerbate and speed up hair loss.
In fact, one 2020 study compared smoking and nonsmoking men between 20 and 35 years old, looking at the impact smoking had on male pattern baldness, and the results were pretty astounding.
Where 425 out of 500 smokers were found to be dealing with some level of hair loss, the nonsmokers fared much better, with 200 of 500 participants dealing with hair loss.
It also found that in most cases, the smokers experienced far more significant levels of hair loss compared to the nonsmokers.
Although the study concluded that more research was needed to confirm conclusively which chemicals could be deemed responsible for this pattern, the link was pretty clear: smoking = bad.
Can smoking cause hair thinning?
Again, yes. Because smoking has so many negative health effects, the impact of smoking tobacco is as far-reaching as our hair follicles.
Here are some of the ways smoking can cause hair thinning and hair loss.
Oxidative stress happens when there are too many free radicals running around your body. What's a free radical, you ask? They're very reactive molecules that can cause DNA damage, and smoking makes your body produce more of them.
Oxidative stress can be caused by a number of things, including polluted air, radiation and ultraviolet rays, but let's focus on tobacco smoke.
The idea, per this 2003 study, is that the chemicals in cigarettes trigger oxidative stress, which in turn can lead to DNA damage that reaches all the way to your hair follicles impairing the hair growth cycle.
Meanwhile, this 2018 research review states that if you're genetically prone to balding, your scalp is likely to be more sensitive to oxidative stress.
Decreased blood flow to your hair follicles
Smoking cigarettes can reduce your blood flow and impact your overall heart health.
ABIOMED reports that "nicotine causes your blood vessels to constrict or narrow, which limits the amount of blood that flows to your organs".
The thing is, blood flow is absolutely crucial for healthy hair follicles. Our hair needs oxygen, as well as nutrients and minerals, and they're all delivered via blood vessels.
What this means is that reduced blood flow to the scalp and hair follicles means fewer nutrients delivered to your hair, which can promote hair loss and leave your hair dry, brittle and damaged.
Other ways smoking can contribute to hair loss
- It may affect your immune system: Smoking is pro-inflammatory and immunosuppressive, which means it can stop your body from fighting diseases where hair loss is a symptom.
- It depletes collagen: This leaves hair dehydrated and prone to thinning and breaking.
- It reduces essential vitamins A and C in your body, which help produce collagen.
- It can cause diseases of the endocrine system, like hyperthyroidism and diabetes, which can lead to hair loss.
- It can increase your cortisol (or stress) levels.
Common causes of hair loss
From genetic hair loss to stress-induced hair loss and beyond, there are actually a whole lot of common causes of hair loss.
While some causes can be treated with lifestyle changes or over-the-counter medications, others may require prescription medications.
When it comes to hair loss, though, the quicker you deal with it, the better your chances are, though.
Conditions like early-onset androgenetic alopecia (or, male pattern baldness) do result in permanent hair loss, so early intervention will be a key player in how long you're able to hold onto your hair.
Here are some of the most common causes of hair loss.
Male pattern baldness
Androgenetic alopecia, aka male pattern baldness, is a genetic condition that is also the most common cause of hair loss.
Usually beginning in your 20s or 30s, smoking is believed to speed up the balding process.
Stress, anxiety and trauma
Telogen effluvium is a type of stress-related hair loss that occurs roughly three months after your body goes through a stressful event, or a period of chronic anxiety.
It can also be brought on by things like crash dieting.
Your body will always prioritise its vital functions — the bodily processes which keep you alive. So, when you're not getting enough of certain nutrients, your hair can be one of the first red flags, as the body doesn't prioritise it over its more essential functions and organs.
Physical damage to the scalp
Traction alopecia occurs as a result of physical damage to the hair. Think tight hairstyles, overuse of heating tools like straighteners and curlers, as well as chemicals and extensions.
It's common knowledge that the medications used in chemotherapy cause hair loss, but there are other prescription medications that can promote hair loss, as well.
These include lithium, beta-blockers, warfarin, heparin, amphetamines and levodopa.
Crash dieting, weight loss surgery, or any other rapid weight loss can trigger telogen effluvium.
While moderate consumption of alcohol shouldn't be cause for concern when it comes to your hair, heavy drinking or alcohol abuse can trigger hair loss and other health conditions.
Hair loss can be a side effect of a number of illnesses and medical conditions.
These include autoimmune diseases like lupus and alopecia areata, thyroid disease like hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, hormone imbalances, and fungal scalp infections like ringworm.
Does quitting smoking help hair growth?
Stopping smoking will improve your health in numerous ways, but will it help the hair growth cycle?
When you quit smoking, your body begins to repair the damage that's been done by all the chemicals and toxins.
Quit.org reports that "over time, your risk of cancer, lung disease, and many other serious diseases will be much lower than if you keep smoking".
Within just six hours of quitting, your blood pressure begins to stabilise, and within three months, your blood flow will improve.
As a result of this, your hair will once again begin to receive the oxygen, minerals and nutrients it needs, but that doesn't guarantee that you'll suddenly produce healthy hair.
If you're dealing with male pattern baldness, your hair will need some encouragement and assistance to regrow itself, but with cigarettes out of the way, you'll be able to give your hair the best chance at restoration.
Does hair get thicker after quitting smoking?
Although quitting smoking will help restore the natural hair growth cycle, this doesn't necessarily guarantee thicker hair.
While quitting smoking will improve blood circulation and overall health, hair loss as a result of male pattern baldness is permanent. However, that doesn't mean that all hope is lost.
There are ways to treat male pattern baldness, and to delay and prevent further balding and thinning hair, allowing you to hang onto your hair for as long as possible.
How to treat smoking-related hair loss
Obviously, the first and most important step toward treating smoking-related hair loss is to stop smoking.
This will not only prevent further smoking-related hair loss, but it will give your body the best shot at restoring its natural hair growth cycle, and allow your hair to receive all the oxygen and nutrients it needs to restore your hair health.
Healthy lifestyle changes, like getting all the necessary nutrients into your diet and regular, moderate exercise will also help give your body the best shot at hair restoration.
There are also some over-the-counter treatment options you can try at home, which include:
- Hair loss shampoo: Pilot's Hair Growth Shampoo and Conditioner are designed to promote healthy hair growth, and lay the groundwork for thicker, healthier, and happier hair follicles
- Hair loss vitamin supplements: Pilot's Biotin Hair Gummies support the synthesis of Keratin, the protective protein that makes up your hair (and makes it stronger and less prone to damage)
When it comes to hair loss, it really is a race against time, so it's important to treat it as soon as possible.
At Pilot, we're all about helping you figure out exactly what's causing your hair loss, and developing an individualised hair treatment plan.
Developed by Dr. Russell Knudsen, a hair loss expert with over 35 years of experience, we've found that there's no one-size-fits-all approach to combating hair loss. Instead, our hair treatment programs focus on getting each person the right treatments, in the right doses.
Using a combination of lifestyle changes, over-the-counter treatments and prescription medications, we're happy to report that over 80 per cent of our patients are able to retain their hair, so what are you waiting for?
Photo Credit: Lionsgate Television