Female Pattern Hair Loss – Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Female Pattern Hair Loss – Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

 

Female pattern hair loss or female pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia) is a type of hair loss that affects women. Male pattern baldness is a similar condition, but the hair loss occurs differently. Those with androgenetic alopecia have a stunted hair growth cycle and tend to be prone to increased hair shedding.

Typically, female pattern hair loss is a hereditary condition, meaning it’s caused by the genes inherited from your parents. However, hormones and age are factors that can increase the likelihood of a person developing it, especially after the menopause when the estrogen levels drop.

There are three stages medical professionals use to determine the severity of female pattern hair loss, and the earlier you seek treatment, the more hair you can save. Although there isn’t a cure for female pattern baldness, there are a wide selection of women's hair loss treatments that can help to protect your current hair and encourage new growth.

Symptoms

Whereas male pattern hair loss begins at the front of the head and gradually recedes until the person is completely bald, female hair loss occurs differently. Women may experience hair thinning at the crown and top of the scalp, starting with a widening at the hair part. It’s rare for women with this medical condition to have near or total baldness and those who do experience it are less likely than men to have a receding hairline.

Hair loss stages

Three stages are used to describe female pattern hair loss and they differ slightly to the signs of male pattern baldness. The first, known as type one, is characterised by minimal hair thinning that can be camouflaged by certain hair styling techniques. Type two features reduced volume and visible widening at the hair part. Type three is when there’s extreme hair loss at the crown. By this stage, as the hair is so thin, it will take on a transparent appearance and the scalp will show through.

Causes

Mostly, female pattern hair loss is hereditary, meaning it’s caused by your genetics or family history. This results in a genetically shorter hair growth period and a longer period between when your hair sheds and grows. Genetics can also cause smaller hair follicles and thinner strands.

Other factors may be at play, too, including:

  • Your age (the older you are, the higher the risk)
  • Hormone changes, like the menopause
  • An increase of male androgen hormones (an example of this is PCOS)
  • Heavy blood loss from menstrual periods

You can find out more about the other causes of hair loss in women by reading our in-depth guide on reasons why women suffer from hair loss.

Who is at risk?

Women at risk of developing androgenetic alopecia include those who have a genetic history of the condition, women who are in the menopause, have heavy periods, and those who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

PCOS is a common hormonal condition that affects how the ovaries work, meaning many women with the condition struggle to conceive naturally. It can lead to irregular periods, excess hair growth or hair thinning, acne and weight gain. 

Diagnosis

When diagnosing female pattern hair loss, your GP will start by examining the pattern of hair loss on the scalp; additionally, they may also take a blood test to measure hormone levels, serum ferritin and thyroid function.

When to see your GP:

Losing some hair is normal. In fact, we lose around 50-100 hairs per day without noticing.

It’s when you notice a sudden change in your hair’s thickness or a severe amount of hair loss that it’s time to make an appointment with your GP.

The same applies if you develop bald spots or you’re losing hair in clumps.

Treatment

During the first stage of female pattern hair loss, you’re likely able to hide the early signs of hair loss through adopting a new hair styling technique. Eventually, however, it will become too difficult to disguise. 

Thankfully, there are treatments for female pattern hair loss available. It’s recommended getting a diagnosis early to not only protect your current hair, but to encourage new hair to grow. 

Medical treatments

Minoxidil is an over-the-counter (OTC) topical treatment for both men and women suffering from pattern baldness. Minoxidil 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. It’s recommended for women to use 2% minoxidil, while for men it’s 5%. Minoxidil isn’t suitable to be used if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. If you’re unsure, speak to your doctor for advice.

There’s another prescription medicine known as Finasteride, a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor that works by blocking the DHT hormone in your scalp. This hormone can reduce the growth cycle of hair, causing thinning and hair loss. However, Finasteride is only suitable to be used for the treatment of male pattern baldness; there isn’t a female alternative.

Alternative treatments

Alternative women’s hair loss treatments include caffeine shampoo, which works by stimulating the hair follicles into producing new, healthy hair growth. Some people claim that supplements can promote hair growth, but there’s no clinical evidence to support this.

Hair transplants, wigs, extensions and weaves are also an option for those suffering from female pattern hair loss, but they can be expensive. It’s important to bear in mind that by frequently putting your hair under stress by wearing tight hairstyles or attaching weaves and hair extensions increases your risk of developing traction alopecia.

Living with alopecia

Living with female pattern baldness doesn’t just affect your outer appearance; it can impact your self-esteem and lower your confidence, too. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for female pattern baldness, but it can be managed with the treatment options listed above. 

Hair growth is unpredictable and can take time, so it’s essential that you’re patient with yourself. However, life will be easier if you try to accept your hair loss and learn to live with the change in your appearance. Start by making a list of all your good qualities and focus on celebrating them.

There are also alopecia support groups here in the UK where you can meet and socialise with other people living with alopecia, something that may help you to accept your condition.

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Alexandra Moses - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Prescribing Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Prescribing Pharmacist on 17 November 2022
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