.Hair loss is something that we find to be common with old age, heredity, or due to stress or sickness. There are other reasons for hair loss, however, that are not so benign. We live with, use, and ingest many chemicals in today’s society in our homes and at work. Some of these chemicals can cause health issues and hair loss and it is important to notice when hair loss may be due to chemical exposures. Many chemicals are in products such as paints, electrical equipment, cleaning chemicals and even products designed to be used on our hair and bodies. Here are a few of the types of chemicals that can cause hair loss and what to do about it.
Many products we come in casual contact with can contain chemicals such as heavy metals, and toxins like lead, mercury, chromium, and arsenic. Household pesticides may contain arsenic or formaldehyde, for instance. Many arts and crafts supplies can also contain these types of chemicals. Metal shavings from these activities may also end up in your hair and cause hair loss. You should always keep chemicals such as these stored in a safe place. Also use them with care according to the instructions on the label. Always make sure to wash your hands after use. Keep your hands away from your mouth when working with these chemicals so you don’t ingest them.
If you do ingest them and have acute symptoms, call your local poison control or emergency number for help. These toxins can be dangerous in even minute quantities. If you suspect your hair loss is due to chemical exposure, work with your doctor to identify the potential chemicals and an appropriate treatment.
Many hair growth shampoos contain ingredients such as caffeine and natural DHT blockers to help promote hair growth. However, ingredients in shampoo, such as sodium laurel sulfate (SLS) or polyethylene glycol (PEG), can strip your hair of oils, break down proteins, and cause hair loss. Many shampoos pair salts with the SLS and PEG as a thickener. However, salt can also lead to a dry, itchy scalp and hair loss. As an example, “No More Tears” baby shampoo contained a chemical call Quaternium-15 that contained formaldehyde. It was only recently removed from the product. Formaldehydes and parabens (methylparaben and proplyparaben) can encourage hair loss and upset your hormonal balance.
There are other ingredients in hair care products that may cause allergic reactions and lead to scalp irritation that can lead to thinning or brittle hair. Chemicals such as diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA), fragrances and artificial colors (appears as FD&C and D&C in the ingredients) and propylene glycol can all result in irritation and thinning hair. This is in addition to the alcohols contained in almost all hair care products that can dehydrate your hair.
To avoid hair loss from these sources, it is a good idea to pay attention to your ingredient labels. Also, try to choose natural hair products or organic hair products. You can’t avoid all of these chemicals all the time, but you can cut down on your exposure and find the right product for you and your hair.
A variety of chemicals that occur in nature can cause hair loss when ingested in sufficient quantities or small quantities over time. These include arsenic, found in nature but also treated lumber and common pesticides, as well as boric acid from the natural compound boron. Arsenic is a substance you are probably familiar with from any number of murder mysteries. It is the poison of choice in many plays and books. But it is present in soil, air, and water as a natural substance. Boric acid can be a dangerous poison that can have an acute (fast-acting) effect or long-term (chronic) effects. Boric acid was once used as medicine for wounds. This acid can be found in a wide variety of products from roach motels and cosmetics to glass and cleaning chemicals. But one of the symptoms of exposure to both arsenic and boric acid is hair loss.
Another chemical that has shown a propensity to induce hair loss is thallium. While this chemical comes from industrial activities such as coal burning and metal smelting and is used in semiconductors, the most common exposure for humans was through cigarettes by inhalation. Testing found that tobacco absorbed the thallium, deposited by industrial activities, from the soil while it was growing. So, most human exposure came through inhaling tobacco smoke. However, thallium containing soils also ran off in rain water to streams. Once in the streams the thallium was ingested by plants, fish, and other aquatic life that humans later ingested as food. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), however, hair loss is caused by ingesting large amounts of thallium over a short time.
There are many chemicals that we are exposed to every day in our modern lives. Most are harmless and are encountered in small doses. However, different people can be sensitive to different chemicals in different quantities. In all cases, if you experience rapid, sudden hair loss and feel that it may be due to chemical exposure, seek the guidance of a physician to determine the cause.