The traditional narrative surrounding hair loss is that it is caused by dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Most scientists believe that DHT binds to receptors in the hair follicles that causes miniaturization in people who are genetically predisposed to hair loss. This has lead to the development of treatments like finasteride that work to block DHT, and most of the time these are the primary methods used to try to combat hair loss.
But what if there is a different culprit behind hair loss, one that is hardly ever talked about?
A relatively new theory that has surfaced is that scalp calcification may be a major contributor to androgenic alopecia (AGA; pattern hair loss).
In this article we are going to talk about what scalp calcification is, how it is theorized that is contributes to hair loss, and the research surrounding it. By then end you may have a new perspective on hair loss and might consider taking a different approach to overcoming it.
What is scalp calcification?
Scalp calcification is essentially the buildup of calcium on your scalp. Just like dead skin, oil, and more, when calcium builds up it can cause several problems for the hair and scalp.
Scalp calcification occurs due to two factors: hard water and calcium deposits.
Let’s start by talking about hard water. Hard water is water that is typically obtained from an underground source and contains many minerals. It is also what most people shower with.
When hard water mixes with some of the chemicals found in shampoo, it causes a reaction that creates a byproduct called “soap scum.” The cohesive properties of soap scum cause it to stick to the hair and scalp and build up over time. Soap scum also contains calcium, which naturally hardens over time which eventually leads to calcification.
No onto calcium deposits.
Calcium is naturally found in the body. More likely than not you have heard your dentist and/or doctors talk about it because it is a crucial component of bone and teeth structures, but those aren't the only places you find it; it is also present in the bloodstream.
There are several conditions that can lead to the overproduction of calcium in the bloodstream. In some occasions this can lead to buildup occurring in the blood vessels connected to the scalp, which causes calcification and subsequent problems with hair loss.
How scalp calcification contributes to hair loss
Now that you know how scalp calcification happens, let’s talk about how that applies to hair loss.
First we will discuss the problem that hard water-induced calcification can cause.
When calcification occurs due to hard water the problem is primarily external as the soap scum and calcium buildup is occurring on the surface of the skin. This buildup can cause hair follicles to become clogged.
When hair follicles become clogged it is much more difficult for the hair to grow. If prolonged, clogged follicles may lead to an interruption, and in extreme cases a complete cessation, of the hair growth cycle. This means that until the follicles are cleared the hair will not grow as long and/or thick as it normally would which, in short, means it causes thinning.
When scalp calcification occurs due to calcium deposits in the blood there are a whole different set of issues that can occur.
Calcium buildup in the blood causes less blood flow, and blood flow is vitally important for hair growth.
Blood carries vital oxygen and nutrients and delivers them to the hair follicles. The hair follicles need those vital compounds to grow and complete healthy cycles, and without adequate blood flow the process of miniaturization may begin to occur.
Therefore, if calcium buildup in the blood vessels in the scalp gets to a point where it is restricting blood flow, it will begin to negatively affect the hair follicles in a similar manner that DHT does by catalyzing the process of miniaturization.
What does the research say?
While all of this makes sense from a theoretical standpoint, in order to confirm we need to look at the research surrounding scalp calcification in relation to hair loss.
One study (1) took a look at the relationship between calcification and AGA. Researchers found that chronic scalp calcification leads to a decrease in oxygen and nutrient supply to AGA-prone hair follicles which can lead to follicle miniaturization and eventually baldness.
Unfortunately that is the only study of its kind that looked directly at the correlation between calcification and hair loss. Although, it is pretty well-established in scientific literature that calcification impairs blood flow (2,3), meaning that when it occurs in the scalp the same is likely to happen. The link between low blood flow and hair loss has also been confirmed (4).
This is the extent of the research that we have backing the calcification theory at the moment, although there is one more interesting thing to note:
Scalp massages have been shown to improve blood flow and reduce hair loss (5). The way that scalp massages work is by mechanically stimulating blood flow and breaking up scalp calcification. Could there be a correlation there? It could be worth further investigation.
The theory that scalp calcification may cause hair loss is plausible. Although the research is not entirely sufficient, what is available confirms the theory.
Both clogged hair follicles and low blood flow have been shown to cause hair loss to worsen, now we just need to establish a link to scalp calcification. But, until more research is done the best you can do is try and combat calcification with scalp massages (learn all about them here) and make sure you continue to use proven treatments such as minoxidil, finasteride, and more to ensure that you are tackling hair loss from all angles.