QUESTION: What causes hair texture changes? I used to have very soft and glossy hair. However, now after years of hairless (androgenetic, FFA & LPP) and treatments (injections, topical clobetasol & oral medications) my hair is very dry, dull, almost straw-like. Are these texture changes due to aging, the hair loss conditions or perhaps the treatments? Conditioners do not seem to help. Thank you.
Thanks for the great question. There are many causes of hair textural changes. In your case specifically, the causes are probably "multi-factorial" rather than a single cause. Let’s take a look at some of the more common causes of textural changes and how they apply to the question you have raised.
Consideration 1: Scarring alopecia
Many patients with scarring alopecia notice changes in their hair texture, especially a change to a drier, more brittle and slightly curlier hair texture. As the name suggests, scarring alopecia is associated with the development of scar tissue or ‘fibrosis’ under the scalp. Such fibrosis affects how hairs emerge from the scalp. Hair frequently twist and turn as they emerge from the scalp and sometimes even rotate 180 degrees. We call this twisting and turning ‘pili torti.’ Individuals with pili torti will notice a hair textural change.
Scarring alopecias are universally associated with loss of the oil glands (sebaceous glands) in the scalp. One can not have a scarring alopecia without having a reduction in the oil glands. These oil glands lubricate the hair follicle. The destruction of sebaceous glands during the process of scarring alopecia contributes in part to the drier texture.
Scarring alopecia also affects the quality of the hair that is produced. Commonly there is hair breakage on account of the much weaker fibers.
Consideration 2: Hormonal changes
A variety of hormonal changes can lead to drier, coarser hair. About 15 % of women are affected by thyroid disease and this a common cause of textural changes. The incidence fo thyroid disease is much more common in the conditions that you mention including lichen planopilaris (LPP) and frontal fibrosing alopecia (FFA) and so thyroid status should always be carefully evaluated in patients with scarring alopecia.
With approaching menopause, the declining estrogen levels and imbalances in the ratio of androgens to estrogens also results in drier hair. Women who are predisposed to develop androgenetic alopecia may notice that the hair becomes finer and some may notice the texture changes too. About 40 % - 50% of women with frontal fibrosing alopecia (FFA) and lichen planopilaris (LPP) have androgenetic alopecia.
Consideration 3: Heat and chemicals
A variety of products that are applied to the scalp can lead to the hair becoming drier, and more brittle. Products containing alcohol are frequently a culprit. This includes hairsprays but many other alcohol containing cosmetic products as well. Products such as minoxidil lotion, and topical steroids may contain alcohol-based ingredients which also dry out the hair.
Consideration 4: Inflammatory scalp diseases
A variety of scalp conditions that are associated with inflammation can lead to altered hair texture over time. Conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis can lead to drier duller hair. Many individuals with FFA and LPP have co-existent seborrheic dermatitis and if present, this should be treated.
Consideration 5: Androgenetic alopecia (AGA)
Androgenetiic alopecia (AGA) is also a cause of hair textural changes. Although we discussed AGA in the context of hormonal changes above (see "Consideration 2"), androgenetic alopecia can also cause textural changes irrespective of any hormonal abnormalities. In fact, 85 % of women with androgenetic alopecia have normal hormone levels. In women, androgenetic alopecia is also known as female pattern hair loss and in men, male pattern balding.
Women with AGA often notice the hair is finer and some notice the hair becomes curlier. Others notice the hair becomes flatter and less likely to hold it's original shape, curl or wave.
Consideration 6: Aging
Hair "aging" is a poorly researched area and poorly defined in general. Age-related changes in hair, independent of the hormonal changes that can occur with age, can also lead to textural changes in the hair.
There are a variety of reasons for hair textural changes. One can usually determine the cause of the textural changes with a full review of one's story (i.e. the medical history) along with an up close examination of the scalp. Most of the time blood tests are also needed.
Thanks again for the great question.