For decades, humans have speculated about what causes hair loss. From genetics to weather, studies try to pinpoint why we must part with our luminous locks. If you wear a hat, you may be familiar with one such theory that gained traction in the 20th century — claims that wearing a hat could cause hair to fall out.

So, is it fact or fiction? Can wearing your favorite headgear cause you to go bald? Fortunately, research says no. Read on to get the facts about how hair grows, what really causes it to fall out, and what you can do to combat hair loss today.

Behind the Myth: Do Hats Cause Hair Loss?

The myth claims that wearing a hat can suffocate hair follicles and result in baldness. According to hair care professionals, this is simply not true. Hats do not prevent air from reaching the scalp. If your hat feels comfortable, there’s nothing to worry about.

But wait, there's more. This hair loss myth also says that wearing a hat prevents blood circulation. Blood delivers nutrients to your hair follicles to help hair grow, so restricting circulation could cause hair loss. But wearing a comfortable hat will not prevent circulation to the scalp. So, you don’t need to leave your favorite hat at home for your hair’s sake.

Related: How Much Hair Loss Is "Normal"?

Can Swim Caps and Wigs Cause Hair Loss?

While a hat-wearing habit doesn't pose any danger to airflow or blood circulation, there are two items that can: swim caps and wigs. A swim cap is designed to be airtight and can restrict blood flow, but you would have to wear one all day, every day to cause hair loss. And it's unlikely that anyone wears a swim cap 24/7. However, a wig is a different story because some people may choose to wear it much of the time. Hairstylist Brooke Shawn cautions, "Constant wearing of a tight wig, as well as sleeping in a wig, can impair blood supply to the hair follicles."

Also: How Often Should You Wash Your Hair?

Understanding Traction Alopecia

While hats do not cause hair loss, it's still important to choose appropriate headwear. According to seasoned hairdresser and esthetician Essie Button, "Wearing even a very tight hat will not affect hair growth. However, hair may be lost by the very act of pulling a tight-fitting hat off and/or cramming dry or brittle hair into a hat."

Over time, wearing ill-fitting headwear can lead to a condition called traction alopecia. This results from long-term, severe strain on hair follicles. For example, daily use of hard hats, helmets or religious head coverings could cause traction alopecia if worn too tightly. Styling your hair in tight braids (especially after using a relaxer), wearing a tight ponytail or bun or using heavy hair extensions can also strain your hair enough to make it break or fall out. If you notice frequent tension on your strands from headwear or styling, you may face traction alopecia in the future. But there’s good news: By removing the cause early, hair restoration is possible.

Read: How Fast Does Hair Grow?

True Causes of Hair Loss

We know that wearing a hat doesn’t cause hair loss. But what about what does cause it? Many factors can play a part in the loss of your hair — from inherited traits to your overall health. Here's more.

1. Genetics

By far, the most common cause of hair loss in men and women is genetics. This type of hair loss, known as androgenetic alopecia, occurs most frequently in white men, with 50% of white males affected by age 50. On the other hand, only 38% of women over age 70 are affected. If you’ve heard the terms female- or male-pattern baldness, those are common names for androgenetic alopecia. In both cases, the trait is inherited, and hair loss occurs gradually.

Men with male pattern baldness inherit hair follicles that are sensitive to Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a byproduct of testosterone. The sensitivity to DHT causes follicles to shrink, shortening their life span and eventually preventing hair growth. Male pattern baldness often begins with a receding hairline and thinner hair on the crown of the head. Over time, this progresses to baldness across the top of the scalp.

Female pattern baldness appears differently, with hair thinning on the crown of the head. Sometimes this extends to the sides of the head, but it spares the hairline. Fortunately, in both men and women, this condition is non-scarring, so scar tissue never replaces the hair follicle and prevents growth. If you notice thinning, seek medical advice right away to learn about treatment options.

Read: Can Zinc Help Hair Grow?

2. Hair Care

Practicing proper hair care helps grow luscious locks. However, some common styling practices cause damage. Tugging on your strands with a brush can pull out hair. And using heat-styling tools like blow dryers (especially on high settings), hot combs, flat irons and curling irons can weaken hair and make it prone to breakage. Additionally, frequently wearing tight hairstyles or heavy hair extensions can cause traction alopecia, which could lead to permanent hair loss. But there’s good news: All of these causes of hair loss are preventable, and hair restoration is possible if you remove the cause early.

See: 12 Habits for Thicker Hair

3. Health and Nutrition

In order to grow healthy hair, your body needs essential nutrients, like protein, zinc, iron and vitamins. Eating enough calories and a balanced diet are good ways to minimize the chance of hair loss. Plus, choosing to live a healthy lifestyle with low stress and regular exercise encourages growth, whereas unhealthy habits like smoking can cause inflammation in the body that leads to hair loss.

Read: Eat These Foods for Healthy Hair Growth

4. Illness

Some medical conditions also result in hair loss. For example, thyroid disease, anemia caused by iron deficiency and malnutrition can all cause similar types of hair thinning to androgenetic alopecia. Hair loss is also a common side effect of some medical treatments, like chemotherapy, and an uncommon side effect of other medications. It’s important to seek medical advice to rule out health conditions as an underlying cause of hair loss.

Also: These Medications May Cause Hair Loss

What To Do If You’re Experiencing Hair Loss

Regardless of what causes hair to fall out, losing our precious locks can be emotional and stressful — but there is hope. Learn more about what could be causing hair loss and how to improve hair wellness.

Consult a Doctor

Most hair loss is not permanent, and hair restoration is often possible if you identify the cause early. A doctor, such as a dermatologist or trichologist, can evaluate your health information and use tests to rule out nutrient deficiencies and underlying medical conditions. Once you know the cause, you can determine the best treatment plan together.

Choose Proper Headwear

Temporarily wearing a hat or other head covering will not cause hair loss. In fact, it can boost your confidence if your hair thins. Just be sure your headwear fits properly. The hat should not tug on strands while being worn or removed.

Practice Proper Hair Care

Hair wellness needs a good care routine, especially when hair is thinning and prone to damage. Dermatologists recommend washing with a gentle shampoo and conditioning after each wash. To reduce tugging your hair while brushing, add a detangler or leave-in conditioner to your routine.

Read: How to Detangle Your Hair With Minimal Damage

Limit Heat Styling

Heat weakens hair and damages already fragile locks. If you need to blow dry your hair, wrap it in a microfiber towel first to absorb excess water, which will shorten dry time. Then, use the lowest heat setting on your hairdryer. You can further reduce heat stress on your strands by minimizing the use of hot tools like curling irons and flat irons.

Avoid Putting Strain on Your Hair

When pulling hair back, use friction-free hair ties to reduce strain. And, if you wear tight hairstyles, try these tips from the American Academy of Dermatology Association to fend off traction alopecia.

Realted: Is Your Ponytail Too Tight?

Reduce Stress

Research has linked severe stress with increased hair loss. Reducing stress on your body and mind not only restores balance to your daily life but improves hair health as well. The good news is there are many ways to manage stress and promote well-being, even when confronting life's challenges.

Focus On Hair Health for Best Results

Remember, your hair health reflects your overall well-being. Whether you’re facing hair loss because of ill-fitting headwear, a health condition or just genetics, it’s important to find a holistic approach to hair care that’s right for you. Everyone deserves to know the confidence that comes from looking and feeling your best.

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Photo credit: Aaron Birch/Unsplash

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