For many people, one of the most noticeable effects of smoking on their appearance is hair loss. Smoking can cause significant hair loss or thinning for some people, changing the way you look.
This change in appearance can affect how we feel about ourselves, so understanding how smoking causes hair loss and how this could impact you, may give you the motivation you need to kick the habit for good.
So, how does smoking cause hair loss, and how can quitting help? Keep reading to find out.
Can Smoking Cause Hair Loss?
You’ve probably heard lots of smoking hair loss myths, but did you know that several studies have confirmed a link between the habit and early-onset baldness?
One 2020 research project found a strong correlation between consistent smoking and early-onset androgenetic alopecia, a form of hair loss that affects both men and women (also known as male or female-pattern baldness).2
The research found that out of the 500 smokers who took part in the study, 425 had some degree of hair loss. In comparison, out of the 500 non-smokers included in the study, only 200 showed signs of hair loss.
The smokers in the study also experienced a more severe level of hair loss than the non-smokers, with around 47% of the smokers having grade 3 (deep recession along the hairline) or 4 (hairline recession and vertex balding) hair loss, compared to 10% of the non-smokers.
So, there is a clear link between smoking and hair loss, but what happens to your body when you smoke to cause early-onset baldness?
How Smoking causes Hair Loss
While there is a clear connection between smoking and hair loss, there are many theories about how regular smoking leads to early-onset baldness.
One key theory is that smoking causes oxidative stress by increasing the production of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are molecules that react easily with other molecules in your system and can potentially cause damage to the DNA of your cells. An overproduction of free radicals can also be caused by radiation, pollution and UV rays.
But how does this affect your hair? A 2018 study found that cells in hair follicles in balding scalps are particularly sensitive to oxidative stress.3 This means that, if you’re prone to hair loss or are already experiencing thinning, regular smoking is likely to make your hair loss worse and speed up the balding process.
Reduced Blood Flow to Hair Follicles
Another reason smoking can cause premature hair loss is that it restricts blood flow in the body. Regular smoking damages both the heart and its connecting vessels, reducing the blood flow around your body, especially to your hair follicles. This means the amount of nutrients that reach your scalp are also reduced, which can accelerate hair loss and cause damage to the hair left on your head, making it look dull and lifeless.
Damaging Your Existing Hair
Smoking may also cause hair loss by damaging the hair that is left on your head. Smoking promotes the release of cytokines, proteins that can increase inflammation and cause scarring of the hair follicles. This scarring can make your hair more brittle and prone to falling out. Smoking can also lead to low estrogen levels, which can significantly impact your hair growth cycle and the health of your locks.
Smoking can also cause early onset of grey hair and make your hair drier, increasing the chances of hair loss.
Does Quitting Smoking Help Hair Growth?
Despite the damage it can cause, smoking-related hair loss is reversible if you can give up the habit for good. If your hair has already started to thin, giving up cigarettes should also help you hold onto your remaining locks for longer.
By quitting smoking, the level of free radicals and cytokines in your body will decrease, minimising their harmful impact. Your estrogen levels should also go back up, helping your hair grow back stronger and thicker.
Studies have also shown that smokers see a significant improvement in their cardiovascular health within just a month of quitting.4 This can increase the flow of blood and nutrients to your hair follicles, helping to boost the health of your hair and minimise hair loss.
Alongside keeping your hair healthy, the improved cardiovascular function from quitting will help to cut your chances of a stroke or heart attack. In fact, if you quit smoking before the age of 50, you’ll reduce your chances of dying within the next 15 years by around 50%.
If you’re ready to stop smoking, there’s a lot of help out there to support you on your quitting journey. The NHS runs services for people wanting to quit, including a helpline, one-to-one counselling sessions and access to a variety of stop smoking aids. You may also be prescribed medications to help you give up or be recommended nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).
Book an appointment with your GP or call the Smokefree National Helpline to find out more about the help and support available and start improving your hair health today.