Categorized | Causes

Smoking as a Cause of Hair Loss in Men


Smoking is a well-known contributor to ill-health; in fact statistics show that it is the single and most preventable cause of death. Smoking has long been diagnosed as a cause of lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema; it is also known to affect skin health and to accelerate the aging process. In recent years however, it has also been connected to hair loss in men and studies were set in place to determine if true. Due to the toxic nature of smoking and the vast cocktail of chemicals within each cigarette, there was always a high probability that it could impact the hair follicles and cells.

There are over 4,000 chemicals released from a lit cigarette. 69 of the chemicals released in the smoke have been identified as a cause of cancer. Chemicals include: ammonia which is used as a household cleaner, carbon monoxide which is released in car exhaust fumes and cadmium is found as an active component in battery acid. Formaldehyde is a well-known embalming fluid, tar is used for paving road surfaces, arsenic is a rat poison and hexamine is found in lighter fluid for barbecues. While this list is by no means extensive, it is easy to determine that these are harsh and potentially dangerous chemicals which can and do have disastrous effects on the human body.

So can cigarettes also affect hair loss in men?

Hair is made up of keratin – the structural material that makes up skin, hair and nails. At the bottom of the hair shaft, the hair follicle forms an anchor as the hair is planted into the hair bulb. Within the hair follicles, there are cells which divide and then serve to grow and these then build the hair shaft. Blood nourishes the hair follicle and also brings hormones that act for modification and hair structure. Although hair growth varies, the average would be around 0.5 inches per month, but the growth cycle goes through 3 distinctive phases – usually, for those experience hair loss, the patterns shift again.

Male pattern baldness has been a consistent problem for many to face, in fact approximately two –thirds of the male population globally suffer from it. While male sex hormones are known to be partially responsible for the condition, it would seem that those who smoke are more under risk than was previously considered.

Researchers at Chung-Ang set out to determine the association of both drinking alcohol and smoking on hair-loss and they also took into consideration any environmental factors. Patients who participated in the research were evaluated to ascertain personal factors and this included smoking, and drinking alongside the usage of current medication, diseases and family history. The research which began in March 2011 and culminated in February 2012, evaluated 3,114 Koreans who had androgenetic alopecia. Research indicated that those who were in the group containing smokers and drinkers experienced more severe hair loss than the others. Women appeared to be less affected however, there were fewer numbers within the relevant group to be able to confirm.

Although genetics continued to be the main factor responsible for hair loss, the results were clear that smoking and drinking alcohol also had a detrimental effect with alcohol making the hair thinner and weaker. It increased the secretion of sebum at the hair follicles. Nicotine was found to obstruct the flow of blood to the hair; caused through greater contraction of blood vessels.

Additional research groups verified that those men who smoked 20 cigarettes a day were likely to experience more significant hair loss than those who had never smoked at all.  Research data confirmed that smoking could actually damage the genetic structure of the hair follicles that determine hair growth and if smoking also damaged the cells at the roots, there would be a problem for blood and hormone circulation. The scalp secretes sebum and this oil serves to protect the skin and also moisturizes hair but if the sebum becomes combined with chemicals, pollutants and dead skin cells, it can actually clog the pores on the scalp and embed within the epidermis which is the top layer of dead skin. This can certainly reduce hair growth.

Hair loss can have a detrimental effect on all who experience it.  It can affect sufferers professionally as well as personally while some men struggle to come to terms with it experiencing a significant lack of confidence and even depression as a result. Most male-pattern baldness starts very gradually, with a thinning of hair at the temple area and then the crown begins to develop a characteristic bald spot. This typically happens as men head into their thirties. Without a doubt, genetics play a key part in hair loss and it is likely that if the father is bald, the son will also begin to lose his hair too. But other factors such as smoking, drinking and stress should also be considered as culprits to avoid.

So smoking clearly does have a negative impact on the health of hair and causes hair loss. It reduces the circulation of blood via blood vessels to the scalp and pollutes blood which then serves to impact the liver and other vital organs. In addition, it damages cells at the follicle level and, the deadly cocktail of chemicals may also serve as a block to the scalp pores preventing hair growth or recovery.

With the psychological impact of hair loss, awareness has to be created so that the general public realizes that there is a very real connection between smoking and hair loss.