Does regular use of permanent hair dye/bleach cause baldness?
December 4, 2017 8:21 AM   Subscribe

My mom permanently lost most of her hair by age 40. I recall seeing photos from when I was born (she was 30 then) and she still had some hair but it was very wispy and you could very easily see her scalp. My dad says it's because she regularly dyed/bleached her hair starting at age 14. Is this really a thing?

I have always been paranoid about hair loss after seeing how much it affected my mom's self esteem and how people treated her. She started wearing a wig by 40, but then died a few years later so I can't ask her about it. My dad never let me color my hair as a teen because he insisted it would make me go bald like my mom. Even as an adult he gives me shit anytime I color my hair.

I know for sure from both my dad and grandmother that my mom started bleaching her hair around age 14 and she stuck with it religiously. No one else in our family has had early hair loss so I'm not sure if it's genetic. However, she was also in really bad health for the last decade of her life (hence dying young) and never went to the doctor so nothing was ever diagnosed that could have explained it.

I'm just curious, is it really a possibility to permanently lose your hair from dying or bleaching it regularly? Or is it more likely that she had an undiagnosed condition? If the latter, is there anything I should be aware of to look out for myself? I am 37 and still have a full head of hair so maybe I'm in the clear, but I want some reassurance.
posted by joan_holloway to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If regularly colouring your hair caused baldness there would be an astronomical number of bald women. It is much more likely that it was caused by unrelated to the hair dye.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:39 AM on December 4, 2017 [16 favorites]

It depends if she was a double or single process. If she was a double process (actually bleaching the strand to white before adding color back in) that is super harsh and can contribute, I'm sure. You can burn your scalp with bleach and I have no doubt that is terrible for your hair follicles.

More commonly I think it is caused by hormone imbalance, or possibly genetics. A million other possibilities.
posted by jbenben at 8:40 AM on December 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

Some women lose their hair just like men do. There are conditions that can cause it, too, like thyroid disorders. I think it's a weird, mean thing that your dad is doing by saying hair dye caused her hair loss. I can say anecdotally that I've dyed my hair at least a few times a year, every year, since I was 14ish until now (33 years old) and I have no evidence of hair loss. Still an insane about of thick hair.

I've thought about this, because my paternal grandmother had somewhat typical hair loss as she got much older, and I think I would rock a wig (or wigs). This would suit my style though. YMMV.
posted by ancient star at 8:41 AM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

No idea if this is relevant here but one cause of alopecia is autoimmune disease.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:53 AM on December 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Another vote for this likely had nothing to do with the hair dye. I, and many other women I know, have been coloring our hair years and years and still have the same thick heads of hair. My mother, on the other hand, has never colored her hair despite going grey very early, and her hair is thin and you can see her scalp. She's always had thinner hair.

Bleaching damages the hair that's already growing, and can burn your scalp if it's not done right. But I can't imagine the number of repeated and serious scalp burns it would take to actually damage the follicles enough to make someone go bald. As mentioned above, if regular bleaching/coloring did that, we would have many more bald women.

It's much more likely this was due to genetics or an underlying medical condition.
posted by thejanna at 9:49 AM on December 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

Or is it more likely that she had an undiagnosed condition? If the latter, is there anything I should be aware of to look out for myself?

The things I think you should probably be on the lookout for are most likely to be either PCOS or thyroid problems. What I've heard, which may not be correct, is that thyroid tends to involve hair thinning generally, whereas what I've seen of PCOS is that the pattern is much more what you'd call "male-pattern" because it's androgen-based, so hairline receding frequently coupled with hirsutism (facial hair and such) which you might not have noticed if she was doing diligent hair removal. So yeah, probably watch for hypo- or hyperthyroid, PCOS, and any related metabolic issues like prediabetes.

Someone I'm close to has severe problems related to PCOS (and in particular prediabetes and severe sleep apnea) and I'm seriously worried about her making it to 45, so yeah, the sorts of things that can cause hair loss can definitely cause health consequences that could have been fatal.
posted by Sequence at 10:11 AM on December 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Dye and bleach damage the hair that’s already there; continual bleaching can certainly cause breakage— but breakage isn’t baldness, where you lose hair at the root and it doesn’t grow back.

It’s not always easy or possible to find the cause, but women do get alopecia. PCOS, nutritional deficiencies, other hormone imbalances, severe trauma, even stress and aging can also contribute. I suppose it’s possible to be allergic to dye or bleach but I think she would have noticed if she were scarring her scalp to the point that hair wouldn’t grow, and it would have been too painful to continue.

I don’t think your father knows what he’s talking about but I can see why he made the connection. If you do ever start to lose hair, see your doctor or derm (neither of them will attribute it to dye.)
posted by kapers at 10:47 AM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ask if she used hair curlers - because back in the day that was common and combined with bleaching - hair in really tight curlers - the hair would pull out easily. I remember my mom putting curlers in my hair - so tight!
That would contribute - but I think it was underlying health problem.
posted by cda at 12:32 PM on December 4, 2017

My dad says it's because she regularly dyed/bleached her hair starting at age 14. Is this really a thing?

No, it's not a thing, but this is a fairly common sort of confirmation bias that I've heard before. In particular, from people of a certain generation/culture where a certain level of vanity was viewed as a little inappropriate. (The older ladies in my family were ok with hair dye, but wouldn't let girls wear lipstick until they were older because it makes the natural color of your lips fade. Um. No. But they believed it.)
posted by desuetude at 12:38 PM on December 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

Frankly, I think your dad is full of shit. I'm sorry this doesn't directly address your question, but your story sounded so familiar it's making me angry just thinking about it. My dad said the same thing about my mom. Except it wasn't that her hair fell out because she dyed it--it was that she started losing her hearing because she went to concerts (My mother's mother also had hearing loss. Was that because she lived through the Blitz, or was it genetics? Only a man can decide!) Also, I was sure to make my leg hair grow in all thick and dark if I started shaving it.

So yeah, maybe your dad did his own research and talked to doctors who said dying causes hair loss! But for all the reasons folks have mentioned upthread, and the general track record men of a certain generation have in diagnosing mansplaining whatever ails their wives/daughters, I doubt it.
posted by gueneverey at 12:46 PM on December 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

You know there's zero truth in this, right? If all it took was bleaching to make hair go away permanently, the laser and waxing industry would go bankrupt. Also, tell your dad that shaving their beards turn men into mansplaining assholes. It must be true, there's so many of them...
posted by Jubey at 1:12 PM on December 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

It is not a thing. The part of your hair changed (and yes, weakened) by these chemical processes is not alive. Similarly, despite what hairstylists may have told you, trimming your hair will not make it grow faster. Balding is caused by changes to what your follicles are doing. They slow down and eventually stop producing new hairs. Generally due to hormonal changes but also due to malnutrition or other health problems. Or sometimes, just mysteriously.

Women going bald or having thinning hair is actually not that uncommon. If you search here, you will find many questions about dealing with it.
posted by ewok_academy at 1:15 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Bleaching can sometimes damage the hair that's already there, causing it to break off, but it does not keep new hair from growing back, or otherwise cause hair loss or baldness. If someone is already experiencing hair loss, bleaching/dyeing can appear to hasten it because there's less hair there to make up for the hair that breaks off.

More likely your mom had a hormonal condition like PCOS or a thyroid disorder.

If you start getting concerned about hair loss, please see your doctor. It won't be related to your hair dye, and there's likely treatment available. (I had PCOS-related hair loss that has now been reversed with medication.)
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:56 PM on December 4, 2017

My Mom and her friends not only had their hair dyed they did the perm every six weeks plus lots of curlers and teasing. I think all that processing and pulling may have had something to do with their thin hair.
posted by PJMoore at 11:58 AM on December 5, 2017

I’d be more worried about what your mother did die of, and whether that is genetic. Her hair loss was almost certainly caused by her health problems, not by bleaching or dyeing her hair.

The bottom line is that most people lose at least some hair as they get older. Anemia (ferritin levels below 60, even if hemoglobin is normal), thyroid issues, elevated androgen levels, plain old aging. My hair began thinning from anemia, but has largely reversed after taking iron supplements for a year. You can’t change your genes, but regular physicals and blood tests will help you stay on top of your endocrine system.
posted by Autumnheart at 1:23 PM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone for reassuring me that my bullshit detector was right about this. My dad has always been really weird about denying pervasive family health issues and blaming things on personal behaviors instead. My mom really was in terrible health and we have no way to know what it could have been that caused this. But! I was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism and am working with my doctor on addressing that, so it's interesting to hear this may be related.
posted by joan_holloway at 6:53 PM on December 6, 2017

« Older Conflicting advice about what to do after being...   |   Where is the "just right" luggage? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.