The body is known for being odd sometimes. (Why do your knees sound like that? What's that smell?) Still, if you suddenly notice you're losing hair on your legs, you're probably going to step back and ask yourself: What the heck is going on?
Turns out, legs that now look freshly shaven (when they haven't been) can have multiple causes; some are relatively normal or benign, while others need a medical workup to diagnose and treat.
Video of the Day
So, if you've noticed hair loss on your legs, here's what may be going on:
1. You’re Getting Older
Add this to yet another change that age brings: "Hair loss on legs in elder adults is relatively common, especially in men," Michelle Tarbox, MD, board-certified dermatologist and associate professor in dermatology at Texas Tech Physicians in Lubbock, Texas, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
"Everyone will have a little less hair on their legs than in their youth," Dr. Tarbox says. "Hair is very metabolically demanding — it needs a lot of blood flow and oxygen," she explains.
Poor circulation stymies nutrient delivery to hair follicles, which can affect hair growth. This change can be exacerbated by chronic conditions that are more prevalent with age, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
In addition, sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone wane as you get older, and those hormones help fuel hair growth.
You can’t stop aging (even if you feel younger than your years). However, you can maintain the healthy habits that promote good blood vessel function, such as exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and quitting smoking.
If you have a chronic disease, make sure you’re following the management plan recommended by your doctor.
2. It’s Friction
Do you sport tight socks or compression garments? Do you tuck your jeans into tight boots (something Dr. Tarbox sees with cowboys)?
Friction and compression can affect hair growth on your legs, she says. Namely, hair can be rubbed off, while reduced circulation can slow growth. If this is the cause of hair loss on your legs, you'll notice you're losing hair on the area covered by these items of clothing.
If this hair loss bothers you, you may have to change up your style, if possible. But keep in mind: If you need to wear compression garments on your legs for medical reasons, you should continue to follow the directions of your doctor.
3. You Have Diabetes That's Not Well Managed
Chronically high blood glucose levels damage blood vessels, and when blood vessels are harmed, circulation is, too. And as we've learned, poor circulation can lead to hair loss.
What's more, chronically high blood sugar can also affect nerves. A complication of diabetes is called diabetic neuropathy, which is nerve damage that affects your ability to feel, notes the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
"Often this affects the lower extremities, starting from the foot and going up to the leg," Dr. Tarbox says. "Nerves are important in maintaining skin health," she says, and healthy skin means healthy hair.
Managing your diabetes is mission number one, per the NIDDK. Work with your doctor to find ways to keep your blood sugars in a healthy range. If you have neuropathy, check your feet and legs daily to make sure they’re in good health.
4. You Have Peripheral Arterial Disease
Peripheral arterial disease (also called PAD) is a narrowing or blockage of blood vessels that travel to your legs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (This happens because plaque accumulates in these arteries.)
The likelihood of developing PAD increases as you get older, per the CDC, and having PAD ups your risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Because PAD affects circulation in your legs, the disease can cause you to lose hair in that area. That said, just because your legs are smooth now doesn't mean you have PAD.
"Usually if PAD is the reason, hair loss on the legs is not the only change we see," Dr. Tarbox says. Other signs and symptoms include pain in the legs with activity, leg weakness and smooth, shiny skin as well as cold or numb toes.
Treatment for PAD includes taking medicine to improve blood flow, such as aspirin, quitting smoking, getting regular exercise and surgery in some cases, notes the CDC. Talk to your doctor if you think you have PAD, so you can work on a treatment plan together.
5. It's a Thyroid Problem
The thyroid — a little butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck — controls a lot of your body's processes, including growth and metabolism.
"Thyroid abnormalities often decrease hair growth all over the body," Dr. Tarbox says.
Hair loss can happen in people with hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), per the Cleveland Clinic. And while hair loss complaints are often focused on the scalp, "anything that can make you shed scalp hair can make you lose body hair, too," Dr. Tarbox says.
If you have other signs of thyroid dysfunction, such as unexplained weight loss or gain, problems regulating your temperature (you always run hot or cold), irregular periods, constipation or diarrhea, mood changes or fatigue, see your doctor, who may want to do a blood test to check your thyroid levels.
6. You Have Alopecia Areata
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease where your immune system misfires and mistakenly attacks hair follicles, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). The disease runs in families, though most people do not have a family history.
According to Dr. Tarbox, alopecia areata can affect the hair on your scalp and body, causing circular or ovular bald patches or total hair loss.
Although autoimmune diseases like alopecia areata are lifelong, you can manage the condition. The immune attack on your hair follicles doesn’t kill them, per the AAD, which means it’s possible to regrow the hair on your legs (and elsewhere). Treatment may include medications and depends on where hair loss is located and the severity of hair loss.
When to See a Doctor About Hair Loss on Your Legs
"Most of the time hair changes are a normal part of aging, but if they're significant or severe or present with other changes, that's cause for concern," Dr. Tarbox says.
In that case, make an appointment with your doctor. Make sure you record other symptoms you may be experiencing, and bring your notes to your appointment. That can help your doctor determine what may be going on.
1. Do People With Diabetes Lose Hair on Their Legs?
High blood sugar can damage blood vessels and nerves, which can lead to hair loss on legs. But managing blood sugar levels will help preserve healthy blood flow and nerve function.
2. Can Hair Loss on Legs Be Reversed?
By treating the underlying reason for hair loss, such as managing diabetes or addressing friction from clothing, your hair can grow back.
3. Why Has My Hair on My Arms and Legs Disappeared?
There are many different reasons why you may have lost hair, which include the normal changes that occur with aging, chronic diseases like diabetes, autoimmune conditions like alopecia areata and thyroid dysfunction.
If you're concerned, see your doctor, who can help determine if there's an underlying health problem that should be addressed.
4. Which Vitamin Deficiency Causes Hair Loss?
Some vitamins and minerals are connected with hair loss, as these micronutrients support hair follicle health. (And healthy hair follicles grow hair.) Important hair growth vitamins include vitamins B, C and D, as well as minerals iron and zinc, according to a 2019 review in Dermatology and Therapy.
Was this article helpful?
150 Characters Max
Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for your feedback!
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.