Air Pollution & Environment Hair Loss

can the environment affect your hair?

Where you live, and the conditions that accompany it, can either amplify or compromise health. Environmental hair loss is a condition caused by your physical environment or environmental triggers.A physical environment is where you spend the most time; at home, work, or even the gym. Each environment contains risk factors like toxins, mold, pollution, air particles, moisture, humidity or dryness. Exposure can cause a biological reaction in the body, and symptoms include dryness, itching, scalp pain, irritation, and hair loss.Extreme and sudden physical shock can also trigger environmental hair loss. Examples include chemotherapy treatments, excessive dieting, medical illness, or any stressor that significantly disrupts the hair growth cycle.

can the environment cause hair loss?

Climate, pollution, medical illness, and extreme dieting can all cause environmental hair loss. 

Air Pollution

The adverse effects of air pollution are universally known. Yet startling evidence reveals that indoor pollution can be just as toxic to our health. Our skin and hair live on the frontlines of air particles, pollution, and dust. Hair follicles react to pollutants in the same way they do in cases of Androgenetic Alopecia (Male Pattern Hair Loss) and Alopecia Areata (Sudden Hair Loss). Hair falls out in patches and can lead to irreversible cellular and follicular damage. Cigarette smoke is another pollutant that can dry or damage hair follicles. As 40% of men smoke, as per the World Health Organization, cessation is crucial for optimal hair health.

Extreme Dieting

Diets that emphasize severe calorie restriction, linear nutrition, or sudden and drastic changes to food intake can send the body into shock. Many men over-consume protein for performance enhancement, which can increase cancer-risk, disrupt calcium homeostasis, and overall cause physical harm to the body. Extreme dieting or isolating certain foods can send the body into self-preservation mode. Instead of feeding the minimal supply of nutrients to the nutrient-dependent hair follicles, the body cuts funding and allocates nutrients to life-giving functions.

Medical Illness

Cancer and autoimmune diseases are the most common diseases associated with environmental hair loss. Hair loss can occur as a symptom of an autoimmune disease like lupus, or as a side effect of the treatment, such as chemotherapy for cancer. 


Where you live influences the type of hair you have. For example, a tropical climate can lead to dry, frizzy hair from repeated sun exposure. Humidity can also cause excessive dampness, and cold weather can weaken hair strands and cause them to fall out.

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS OF hair loss due to the environment

The first signs of environmental hair loss appear differently for each person, but general symptoms include:

• Diffuse thinning (overall hair loss) across the scalp
• Severe scalp dryness, itching, and irritation
• Inflammation and redness at the root
• Patchy hair fall
• Oily scalp
• Total hair loss
• Dandruff


Visit a dermatologist, who will conduct a comprehensive review of your medical history, recent changes in health habits, and take a physical exam. Diagnosis may require a Trichoscopy (scalp biopsy analysis), which will reveal one of the following issues:

The findings will lead to one of the following diagnoses:

Anagen Effluvium

When your body experiences a traumatic environmental shock, it’s shaken on a cellular level. Hair cells within the follicle need to divide to grow, and this happens during the Anagen (growth) phase. When something foreign invades the body, such as chemotherapy or radiation, cells stop dividing, and hair sheds and falls out in large quantities. Anagen Effluvium, also known as Chemotherapy-Induced Alopecia, is a common side effect of cancer treatment.

Alopecia Universalis

A rare hair loss disorder that affects one in 4,000 people and results in total body and scalp hair loss. Alopecia Universalis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks cells, mistaking them for foreign invaders. Environmental triggers like stress and medical illness can activate total hair loss across the scalp, face, and body.

Sensitive Scalp Syndrome

Ongoing exposure to air pollutants (both inside and outside) can lead to Sensitive Scalp Syndrome. Airborne particles, smoke, and gases cause scalp dryness, redness, and irritation. While exposure doesn’t guarantee a physiological reaction, it’s most common to people who encounter excessive dust, wind, smog, chemical fumes, or have recently relocated to a drastically different climate. Symptoms include itching, irritation, dandruff, diffuse thinning, and excessive shedding.


Certain environmental shocks are avoidable, like smoking or extreme dieting. Others, like medical illness, come as a blindside. A healthy diet and smoking cessation can powerfully reverse environmental hair loss. Air pollution requires finesse to counterbalance and neutralize free radicals. Air purifiers, mold inspections, and minimal exposure to pollutants can minimize the effects of Sensitive Scalp Syndrome.Medical or cancer-related hair loss is typically unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean it’s lifelong. Most environmental triggers, such as chemotherapy and radiation, cause temporary hair loss. While the experience is emotionally and physically painstaking, the hair follicles will resume regrowth after you complete treatment.


Once your doctor or dermatologist has isolated the environmental trigger and diagnosed the associated condition, you can begin treatment. Treatment options will vary case-by-case and according to the specific cause. 

Cosmetic Solutions

Cosmetic solutions are topical ointments, serums, and hair beauty products created to enhance the natural appearance of hair.

Popular cosmetic solutions include:

• Restimulate growth with daily, topical application of low dose (2% or 5%) of Minoxidil.

• Ask your doctor about options for prescribing Finasteride, a medicinal hair loss pill.

• For air pollution, one study found that adding antioxidants to shampoo and massaging the scalp for 3-5 minutes twice a week helped to remove free radicals and pollutants from the scalp and hair. Nourishing the hair shaft and strands with coconut oil also stimulated hair to reenter the growth phase.

• If nutrition plays a role in environmental hair loss, a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, protein, and omega fatty acids can reinvigorate hair cells with vital growth nutrients. The addition of nutritional supplements can also expedite recovery.

Some forms of hair loss from environmental shock may take longer to treat, such as chemotherapy-induced hair loss. In the interim, cosmetic solutions can help you retain your masculinity, stamina, and confidence.


René Wig

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