You’ve probably lost track of how many times you’ve seen late-night infomercials, online advertisements, or billboards promising a hair loss fix for men. That’s likely why when we think about hair loss in general, images of a balding man tend to come to mind — rather than images of a woman with thinning hair.
While men do tend to experience more hair loss than women on average, it’s not exactly a rare issue among the female sex. In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, 40 percent of women report that they have visible hair loss by age 40. That’s nearly half the population, and yet it seems as if no one’s having a conversation about female hair loss. If you think about it, though, it’s unsurprising. There’s a lot of shame associated with female hair thinning and balding, and advertisers targeting men — as if women aren’t affected — doesn’t help.
“Hair loss can be very embarrassing for women, and so it can be very difficult for many to be open about it,” notes Dr. Dominic Burg, a scalp scientist and trichologist for evolis™ Professional. “Hair is a key component of style and beauty, and a reflection of youth. Because of this, going through hair loss can be an emotionally devastating event for many women.”
Based on a recent study conducted by evolis, they found that 40 percent of women with thinning hair said they had lost their confidence, and 20 percent said they had even fallen into depression.
The more we discuss “taboo” topics like female hair loss, the sooner we can erase the stigma shame that’s associated with it. Further, understanding why it happens, who’s more prone to experiencing it than others, and what treatments are available can be incredibly empowering.
How and Why Female Hair Loss Happens
To understand hair loss, we first have to understand hair growth and the natural cycling pattern of the hair follicles.
“Hair follicles are actually little organs, much like other organs of your body,” says Dr. Burg. “What makes them unique is the way they grow and regenerate.” Hair grows from the follicles in a special pattern known as the hair cycle. According to Dr. Burg, your strands go through periods of growth that last about five to seven years, which are followed by periods of rest [that are] about three months long. After that is “fall,” or the shedding phase, and once that is complete, the cycle begins anew with the growth of a brand new hair from the follicle.
Dr. Burg explains that the follicles cycle asynchronously, which means that they all operate on their own schedule instead of together. This results in losing, on a “normal average,” 100 hairs per day during the falling phase.
The hair cycle has quite complicated physiology and biochemistry, and like anything complicated, it is very easy to upset the balance and get out of control. As is often the case, hair loss in women is caused by a number of factors ranging from race and genetics to vitamin deficiency and stress.
“Genetics is the primary reason for men and many women, but women experience loss more commonly from stress, lack of certain nutrients like vitamins D, B and zinc, and hormonal changes,” notes Michelle Blaisure, a certified trichologist and the product and technical specialist for Bosley Professional Strength.
Other causes could be hypothyroid and hyperthyroid issues, diabetes, and alopecia areata. Blaisure also notes that stress on the hair follicle from weaves, tight braids, and ponytails can weaken the hair follicle over time, which could lead to hair loss.
Ongoing stress and hormonal changes are especially important factors to pay attention to, notes Dr. Arielle Levitan, a board-certified internal medicine physician and co-founder of Vous Vitamin™, LLC.
“We often see women ‘shed’ hair after having gone through a major illness or stressful time period, [which] will improve after several months,” she says. “Hormonal hair loss can be triggered by pregnancy (in postpartum women typically shed hair for up to two years), menopause, changes in oral contraceptives, or other hormonal imbalances [such as those] caused by thyroid or adrenal issues.”
Additionally, some people may be more susceptible to hair loss than others. That includes women with autoimmune disorders, and those with one or both parents who have genes that trigger genetic hair loss. Interestingly, research shows that Caucasians may have a higher rate of genetic hair loss, while Native Americans may be less likely to inherit that genetic predisposition.
Signs You’re Experiencing Hair Loss
Because hair can thin very gradually, it’s important to look for more subtle signs of increased loss.
“Often, hair loss will initially be noticed as a reduction in thickness of the ponytail or a widening of the partline. Sometimes women will notice more hair in the brush, or they will be able to see their scalp shining in the mirror when under a spotlight,” says Dr. Burg. “The scary statistic is that many women won’t notice there is a problem until they have lost as much as 50 percent of their hair.”
For that reason, it’s important to act swiftly if you’re concerned. Not only does addressing the issue early on prevent more loss, it also allows you to treat hair follicles before they’ve regressed too far. However far along the hair loss is, though, know that a number of effective treatment options are available to you.
Treatment Options for Female Hair Loss
Naturally, your treatment plan will depend on the cause of the hair loss. If persistent stress is the root of the issue, you’ll need to take steps to minimize or eliminate it, such as meditating, reducing commitments, or getting more exercise.
If it is genetically driven, one of the leading options is Minoxidil. This is a medication that is found in various over-the-counter hair-thickening products, such as Bosley Professional Strength Healthy Hair Regrowth Treatment For Women ($35). Minoxidil products can also be prescribed at a higher strength. Whether you choose OTC or prescription, it’s best to speak to your doctor to see if this is a good fit for your needs.
There are also a number of new, emerging treatments to consider for genetic hair loss, such as platelet – enriched plasma injections, a multi-step treatment that involves harvesting the patient's own blood, processing it, and re-injecting it. Another treatment is low level laser therapy, where infrared laser beams are used to boost hair growth. Both are still new to the market but have shown promising data and results. We advise consulting a doctor and conducting your own research to determine what treatments are best for you, and to learn about potential side effects.
If you suspect that a vitamin deficiency is the culprit, it’s important to address the issue on a case-by-case basis with a professional. “A personalized multivitamin that is tailored to an individual’s needs — based on diet, lifestyle and their medical concerns — is the ideal way to get the right vitamins in appropriate amounts,” says Dr. Levitan.
There are a number of companies that provide customized vitamin services, such as Dr. Levitan’s Vous Vitamins. “Customers take a brief online survey on our website and based on the information they share about their diet, lifestyle and health concerns — including hair loss or thinning hair — they get a multivitamin tailored to their exact needs,” she says. Unlike other companies that might offer similar products, Vous Vitamin reduces your needs down to one pill versus a packet of multiple tablets. The pill is also developed under the care of doctors. (However, you should absolutely talk to your doctor before starting a new vitamin regimen to ensure it’s best for you.)
[Editor’s note: As always, talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any new treatment, medication, or supplement.]
For underlying hormonal cases, it’s also important to consult a doctor for a tailored treatment plan. In some cases, such as postpartum hormonal shifts, it may be a matter of waiting for a new hair-growth cycle to complete. Other hormonal causes can be treated with medications or even a change in birth control. Again, always consult with your doctor before changing your routine.
Proof That There’s Hope
“Because there is a lack of open discourse, many women feel isolated or alone in their hair loss and feel ashamed to open up, when in fact statistics tell us that it really is a very common challenge,” says Dr. Burg. “Fortunately, there are a number of available treatments for women that are experiencing hair loss. As long as there is an actively growing follicle, then they can usually be revived and restored.”
The best way to do this is to pinpoint the cause — ideally with the help of a professional — and to utilize products and treatments that support the hair cycle. A proactive, consistent approach can truly prevent more loss and promote healthy growth.
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