When it comes to hair loss, many people automatically think of men. In reality, hair loss in women is quite common. Here’s a primer on the causes and treatments for losing your locks.
By the numbers
Even though it’s most often associated with males, hair loss is a common complaint among women. Just check out the stats:
- 30,000,000: The number of American women who experience hair loss during their lifetime.
- 40: The percentage of women who experience some sort of hair loss by the age of 40.
- 75: The percentage of women who may experience thinning hair after menopause.
Interestingly, hair loss manifests differently in women than it does in men. Women rarely “go bald”; instead they may experience the following:
- Increased shedding
- Loss of volume
- Loss of hair on the scalp
- Changes in hair texture
Normal hair growth
Before you can wrap your head around the complex issue of hair loss, it’s important to understand how hair grows in the first place. According to Heather Brannon, M.D., dermatology expert for About, healthy hair has three phases of growth:
- Anagen phase: a period of active hair growth that lasts between two and six years for every strand. Typically, more than three-quarters of hair is in this phase.
- Catagen phase: a transitional period that lasts between two and three weeks. During this time the "root" of the hair strand is diminished, and it rests just beneath the scalp . About 3 percent of hair is in this phase.
- Telogen phase: a period of resting that lasts up to 14 weeks before hair sheds. Between 10 and 15 percent of hair is in this phase at any given time.
Trauma or damage to the hair follicle disrupts this natural cycle. Damaged hair follicles may fail to produce new hair shafts (the part of hair that’s visible above the scalp) or start producing them at a reduced rate, leaving the hair appearing thinner or not as full. Also, hair tends to look thinner when more hair follicles are in the resting phase.
Triggers and treatments
There are countless causes for female hair loss, ranging from hormones to heredity. It’s important to understand what’s triggering your hair loss before you can treat it. Here’s a list of triggers followed by their treatments.
- Heredity. While we most often associate genetic hair loss with men, it’s also to blame for female hair loss. Inherited hair loss is often referred to as androgenic alopecia. It’s linked to an excess of certain hormones called androgens that interfere with the hair growth.
However, according to dermatologist and hair loss expert Ted Daly, M.D., on WebMD, experts avoid using this term. Instead, they refer to it as female pattern hair loss, because this term better reflects the many other causes — in addition to genetics — that may lead to hair loss or thinning in women.
Again, unlike men, women with female pattern hair loss don't go entirely bald. Instead, hair loss and thinning is spread out evenly over the entire scalp.
- Tackle this trigger: Dr. Daly emphasizes the importance of a correct diagnosis for treating female pattern baldness and recommends visiting a doctor that specializes in this area. For the most effective treatment, extensive testing should be completed to determine whether other causes might be contributing to the hair loss. Once diagnosed, treatments may include oral or topical medications, surgery or wigs.
- Pregnancy. During pregnancy, increased levels of certain hormones cause the body to retain hair — making it thicker than usual. When hormones return to normal after pregnancy, the extra hair falls out, which can be alarming for new moms. Fortunately, however, patterns of regular hair growth typically return approximately three months after giving birth.
- Menopause. Hormonal changes are normal during menopause. Unfortunately, between 50 and 75 percent of women experience thinner hair due to these hormonal fluctuations.
- Tackle this trigger: Hormone replacement therapy may help restore healthier hair during menopause. Discuss this option with your doctor, because along with some benefits, this kind of therapy also comes with potential risks. In the meantime, you might want to try a thickening formula. Phyto Phytocyane Revitalizing Serum is a botanically derived formula that restructures the hair fibers to promote thicker, healthier hair.
- Nutrition. Extreme dieting or nutritional deficiencies can trigger sudden hair loss or thinning. Nourish and prevent the appearance of aging hair by adjusting your diet to embrace foods with the following ingredients: protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron and vitamins A and C.
- Tackle this trigger: Strive to eat well-balanced meals to maintain a full, healthy, vibrant head of hair. You can also strengthen weak strands from the inside out by adding a supplement to your diet. Elon Matrix 5000 Complete for Hair contains biotin, silica and L-cysteine to encourage hair growth.
- Medications. Many prescription drugs and medical treatments may cause hair loss or thinning. These include retinoids, gout and blood pressure medications, anti-depressants, some birth control pills and chemotherapy treatments.
- Tackle this trigger: If you believe that medication might be to blame for your hair loss or thinning, talk to your doctor about alternatives. But never discontinue medications or alter dosages on your own.
- Stress. Stress-induced hair loss can cause hair to remain in the telogen — or resting — phase of growth. Eventually, within a few months, these hairs fall out. Known as telogen effluvium, this type of hair loss can be triggered by emotional stressors such as death or physical stressors such as severe weight loss or surgery.
- Tackle this trigger: Hair that’s lost from telogen effluvium typically grows back when the stressor is resolved; however, complete recovery may take months. To prevent stress-induced hair loss, try to maintain a healthy mind and body. Exercise, do yoga, meditate or find some other practice that’ll help to reduce your anxiety and stress levels. Whether the stressor is physical or emotional, be sure to seek medical attention for telogen effluvium.
- Natural aging. As we age, the rate at which hair is able to grow slows, resulting in thinner hair. Over time, hair also loses its elasticity, hair follicles shrink, growth slows and sebum and keratin production diminishes.
- Hair treatments or styling. Excessive brushing can cause hair to break. Heat from blow drying or hot irons can also damage the shaft.
Also, certain hairstyles might trigger some hair to fall out. Today Show health editor Judith Rechman, M.D., explains, “pulling hair tight in a ponytail and the repeated tractions of hair extensions and tight braiding can cause some hair loss, especially in the temple area.” She also points out that chemical treatments — including coloring and permanent formulas — can cause hair loss as well.
If your hair is unusually thin or falling out, seek out a medical professional that specializes in hair loss. Rita Louise, Ph.D., of About, warns that hair loss may be the early warning sign of a more serious disorder such as lupus, a thyroid disease or diabetes, so it’s important to talk to your doctor if you notice unexpected thinning or hair loss.
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