Updated: Dec 11, 2020
If you have begun to lose your hair, you may have started to notice small, thin, colorless hairs where your otherwise “normal” hair used to be. These are called vellus hairs and they are immensely important if you want to take control of your hair loss.
In this article, we are going to discuss what vellus hairs actually are, how they come to be, and how you can effectively turn them back into healthy terminal hair.
What is vellus hair?
Vellus hair, commonly called “peach fuzz”, is the translucent hair that develops during early childhood. Most people have it covering the entirety of their body from their arms to the back of their ears. Most of the vellus hair on your body will not turn terminal, but in certain areas, for instance facial hair in men (and the hair on your head of course), it transforms into thicker, colored, “normal” hairs. These terminal hairs are what you see on your head before hair loss occurs.
In a perfect world, you would be born with vellus hair on your head, it would develop into terminal hair when you are young, and it would remain that way for the rest of your life. Unfortunately, that is not the case for a lot of people.
Hair loss and vellus hair
For those dealing with androgenic alopecia (pattern hair loss), that perfect world scenario is something to be envied.
When hair loss occurs, your terminal hairs begin to be reverted back into vellus hair, but how does this happen?
As you may (and should) know, DHT is mainly responsible for male and female pattern hair loss, but the term “hair loss” isn’t exactly fitting for what is going on. You do not just all of the sudden lose your hair, what is actually happening is a process called miniaturization.
See, your hair follows a distinct cycle of growth where it goes through three phases: the anagen (growth) phase, the telogen (resting) phase, and the catagen (transition) phase. When you have healthy terminal hair the anagen stage lasts anywhere from 3-5 years which allows it to grow long, thick, and healthy. Miniaturization is just a fancy term for the shortening of the anagen phase.
Once you are undergoing miniaturization, each time your hair completes a growth cycle the next anagen phase will be shorter than the previous one. As the anagen phase gets shorter and shorter, the hairs length, thickness, and pigmentation will suffer as a result. Eventually this leads to, you guessed it, vellus hair growing where healthy terminal hair once was.
Even though there is still technically hair present, vellus hair is so small and colorless that it leads to the appearance of thinning. Vellus hair also receives a smaller supply of blood which only exacerbates thinning.
Fortunately, as long as you have vellus hair present you still have a chance of overcoming hair loss. It is only when the hair follicle is completely gone that it has no chance of ever turning into a terminal hair again. Nurturing vellus hair back to life is the most important aspect of combatting hair loss. In fact, every single hair loss treatment developed for androgenic alopecia is targeted, in some way, at protecting and nurturing vellus hair.
How to turn vellus hair back into terminal hair
I’ll say it again: protecting and nurturing vellus hair is the most important thing if you want to beat hair loss. Unless you undergo a hair transplant it is the only way that you will get your hair back. So, how do you do it?
You need to do two things: protect and nurture.
First, to protect vellus hair means to stop the process of miniaturization from continuing to damage your hair.
The most effective way to do this is to block DHT (more in this article here). Treatments such as finasteride, dutasteride, or other natural DHT inhibitors have been shown to reduce the amount of DHT in your scalp which slows down, and in some cases can stop the progression of hair loss.
Although DHT blockers offer internal protection, you also should be taking steps to ensure that your delicate vellus hairs are protected from potential external damage. This includes limiting sunlight exposure, not scratching your head, showering with cold water and more. Once you have both internal and external protection of your hair you can focus on the next step: nurturing vellus hair back to life.
Essentially what I mean by nurturing vellus hair is promoting regrowth. There are a lot of treatments that are targeted towards this and most, if not all of these treatments work to increase blood flow in different ways. This is because blood cells deliver vital oxygen and nutrients that the hair uses to grow (1). Also, like stated earlier, vellus hair naturally receives less blood from the body, making it even more critical that blood flow is increased.
Currently, there are several treatments that are likely effective at increasing blood flow including minoxidil, low-level laser therapy, and more (using a combination of several treatments, in my opinion, is the most effective way to increase blood flow).
Just as it takes a long time for hair loss to develop, it takes a long time to recover. Similarly to how during miniaturization the hair growth cycle is shortened, after treatments are started it will begin to get longer. Expect to wait at least 6 months, but likely closer to a year to gauge if you respond well to the treatments or not.
If you still have vellus hair, a combination of the proper treatments and protecting/nurturing it may be able to turn it back into healthy terminal hair.
Hopefully this article provided a more realistic insight into how hair loss occurs and helped you understand that it is not just your hair falling out, but rather a slow process that turns healthy hair into vellus hair. By protecting and nurturing your vellus hair, as well as maintaining a positive and optimistic mindset, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to have some degree of success in bringing those vellus hairs back to life.