Some amount of hair loss can be an expected part of the aging process, but hair loss in certain sites, such as the legs, often has a specific cause. Sometimes this hair loss, or alopecia, is related to friction, from socks or clothing, but it can also be caused by poor blood circulation, illness, or drugs. If you notice you are losing hair on your legs, consult your doctor for a diagnosis.
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Frictional alopecia is hair loss caused by repetitive friction, commonly from tight socks, jeans or trousers. This rubbing or chafing can damage hair follicles, leading to hair breakage and hair loss in the area where the friction occurs. Friction can also discourage hair growth in affected areas. While this type of alopecia does not cause scarring, sometimes the hair does not grow back even after the source of the friction is removed.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a common cause of hair loss in the legs. This condition is usually caused by atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty plaque and the narrowing of the vessels that carry blood from the heart to the legs. PAD is characterized by impaired blood flow to the legs and feet, which deprives the hair follicles of vital nutrients -- causing hair loss or impairing hair growth. PAD is more common in smokers and in people with heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Illness and Medications
Hair may not grow, or may fall out in areas affected by persistent eczema, rashes, or due to scarring from severe folliculitis, a bacterial infection of the hair follicles. A variety of medical conditions can cause alopecia, however in most of these, the hair loss is not specific to the legs. For example, alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that can cause clumps of hair loss anywhere on the body. In some cases, the disease progresses to complete body hair loss. Thyroid disease and malnutrition are other examples of conditions that may lead to hair loss all over the body. Chemotherapy treatment, along with several other categories of medications, can also cause all-over hair loss.
If you notice hair loss in the legs, see your doctor. While sometimes the cause of this hair loss is not medically worrisome, this symptom may be a sign of a medical condition. In some cases, the hair may grow back once the cause is identified and treated. If your hair loss is accompanied by any other symptoms including leg pain, skin rash or any other unusual symptoms, see your doctor.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD