10 reasons why women suffer from hair loss
The majority of women don’t need to worry about losing their locks when they reach a certain age like men do. Male pattern baldness is common amongst men, however, that doesn’t mean women are exempt from this change, either! Women can experience thinning hair, a receding hairline, patchy hair loss and even female pattern baldness, too, despite it not being as common.
Hair loss is sometimes known by its medical term alopecia, but when we think of alopecia, complete hair loss comes to mind; on the head, eyebrows and eyelashes. This isn’t always the case, as alopecia refers to any stage of hair loss.
There are many reasons why women can suffer from hair loss, which we’ll discuss in greater detail in this guide. Occasionally, hair loss may be an indicator that something isn’t quite right, or it might be the result of normal changes like pregnancy or the menopause.
So, don’t get yourself in a tangle! Keep reading to discover the cause of your hair loss and learn about some effective treatments you can try to encourage that hair growth.
What are the different types of hair loss?
There isn’t just one type of hair loss – in fact, there are several different types. Some are genetic while others are typical of stress-related hair loss. They all display varying symptoms, severities and levels of permanence, too.
Androgenic alopecia is a genetic type of hair loss that’s better known as male and female pattern baldness. It’s characterised by a receding hairline and the slow disappearance of hair from the crown, but most women will only notice hair changes from their late forties.
Alopecia areata starts suddenly, resulting in patchy hair loss, usually present in children and young adults. For some people, this type of alopecia causes total baldness, however, for the majority, hair will return within a few years.
Alopecia universalis causes all of your body hair to fall out – yes, that includes your eyebrows, eyelashes and pubic hair!
Telogen effluvium is when your hair temporarily thins across the scalp due to the changes in your hair’s growth cycle. Many of the hairs on your head enter a resting phase at the same time, stopping growth. This causes hair shedding and, subsequently, thinning.
Trichotillomania or ‘hair pulling disorder’ is a psychological disorder where you cannot resist the urge to pull out your own hair. You might pull out the hair on your head or on other parts of your body, like your eyebrows or eyelashes. It’s more common in children.
Traction alopecia is caused when your hair is frequently pulled and put under stress. It’s common among women who wear tight braids or ponytails, or those who use a lot of heat and dyes. Thankfully, it can be reversed if you stop the damage, but if you don’t step in soon enough, it can cause permanent hair loss
What causes hair loss in women?
Discovering the cause of your hair loss isn’t an easy task. It can range from genetics to taking too much or too little of certain vitamins. Some things are more obvious to detect, like chemotherapy, drastic weight loss, stress or whether you’ve just started or switched-up your contraceptive pill. If you’re unsure about the cause or you’re worried about your hair loss, you should always book in to see your GP for advice.
Hair loss during pregnancy and postpartum is normal, despite it not being particularly common. When you’re pregnant and even after you’ve given birth, your hormones will be going through some vast changes.
You may find that your hair has become thin or experience an increase in hair shedding. This peaks around four months postpartum, but thankfully, you’re likely to regain your normal hair growth within six to nine months after giving birth.
Just like when you’re pregnant, when the menopause hits, your body is going through a lot of hormonal changes. Research suggests that during the menopause, your body produces less of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which help hair to grow and stay on the head. Thus, when these hormone levels drop, hair grows slower and can become much thinner.
When these hormones decrease, it triggers an increase in androgen production, a group of male hormones. These androgens shrink hair follicles, causing you to lose hair. Sometimes, these hormones can result in hair growth on the face.
Like all medicines, the contraceptive pill can cause side effects in some people. You might find that your hair loss starts when you start taking the pill or even after you stop taking it. If you’re particularly sensitive to the hormones in the contraceptive pill or you have a history of hormone-related hair loss, you could be at risk.
Extreme stress, like the loss of a loved one or a difficult divorce, can cause many different types of hair loss, such as telogen effluvium, trichotillomania and alopecia areata. Thankfully, it’s possible for your hair to grow back in time, but how long this takes will differ for everyone.
Drastic weight loss
If you’ve noticed hair loss and you’ve recently lost a lot of weight in a very short time period, whether it’s through crash dieting or weight loss surgery, this could be the cause. Drastic weight loss puts stress on your body, and it’s likely you wouldn’t be getting enough essential vitamins and minerals, protein and healthy fats for your hair to stay strong and healthy.
This seems like an obvious one, but your hair can fall out during chemotherapy. The drugs used during chemotherapy treatments are powerful, necessary for attacking growing cancer cells, but these drugs can also attack other cells in your body, including your hair roots.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t just affect the hair on your head, but your entire body. Some of these drugs are more likely to cause hair loss than others, with some causing hair thinning and bald spots to complete baldness. For the majority of people, this hair loss is temporary and you can expect to see new hair growth within three to six months after your treatment finishes.
Taking too many or too little vitamins
Both taking too much of certain vitamins and being vitamin deficient are equal contenders to hair loss. Over-supplementing selenium, vitamin A and vitamin E have been linked to hair loss, while being deficient in vitamin C, vitamin D, iron, zinc and biotin (vitamin B7) are known to contribute to hair loss, too.
Some types of hair loss are genetic, like female pattern baldness, otherwise known as androgenetic alopecia. It’s very similar to male pattern baldness, but hair loss in women usually occurs in different places. Although female pattern baldness is typically hereditary, your age and hormones can also play a role.
Conditions and disorders
There are a range of conditions that can cause hair loss in women, from thyroid disorders and anaemia, to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and skin conditions like psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. This is why it’s important to diagnose and manage the underlying cause of your hair loss – odds are, once the condition is under control, so will your hair loss.
Certain hairstyles and hair treatments
Consider this: your hair loss might be self-inflicted. Do you have cornrows or tightly braided hair? Or maybe you frequently style it with heat and use dyes and chemical treatments – even roughly towel drying your hair can cause damage!
These things can take its toll – your hair isn’t invincible, after all! They can cause something known as traction alopecia, and it can cause permanent hair loss. But if you spot the signs early and seek treatment, the issue can be resolved.
Hair loss treatments
To you, it’s not just hair – it’s a big part of your appearance, personality and sense of style, and losing it can impact your confidence and self-esteem. Fortunately, there are hair loss treatments available that may be able to help.
Let’s start with minoxidil, which belongs to a group of medicines known as ‘vasodilators’, meaning it works by expanding the blood vessels and improving the blood flow to the area affected by hair loss. Additionally, it’s thought to reverse the shrinkage of hair follicles and extend each follicle’s growth phase, resulting in thicker, healthier hair.
Minoxidil is the active ingredient in numerous hair loss treatments such as Regaine, and there are plenty of minoxidil products suitable for women. Just like minoxidil, there are other cost-effective options like steroid creams and injections, to high-end solutions like wigs or a hair transplant.
You should bear in mind that many forms of hair loss get better over time, so it’s always recommended to speak to your GP first to properly diagnose the underlying cause of your hair loss before seeking treatment.
Losing your hair might seem like a normal part of life, especially if you’re getting older. But that doesn’t mean it hurts any less when you spot a bald patch or you’re finding an alarming amount of shedding on your hairbrush.
The best thing to do if you’re struggling with hair loss is to find the underlying cause. Hopefully, once you know what’s causing your hair loss, it will be easier to treat and manage. If you need further information on the causes of hair loss in women and what you can do to cope, visit the NHS website.