While some might think of premature hair loss or balding as an experience that only plagues men, female pattern hair loss can also affect women as much as it does men.
In a study done by the University of Naples, researchers found that, similar to male pattern balding, the likelihood of a woman experiencing hair loss increases with age. While only 12% of women age 20 to 29 were reported to have experienced some level of hair loss, women aged 80 and beyond were 60% more likely to experience hair loss.
Women can experience hair loss for various reasons ranging thyroid issues, environmental factors (like stress), and hormonal imbalances. Here are some of the most common causes of female hair loss:
You might notice thinner hair and significant hair loss when you are going through a particular stressful period of your life. This is usually caused by a condition called Telogen Effluvium which forces your hair into the final phase of hair growth (otherwise known as the telogen phase).
By pushing hair into the telogen phase, it causes hair loss and prevents new hair from growing and replacing it. It is possible that telogen effluvium can cause hair loss 2 to 3 months after the stressful period that brought it about.
Fortunately, telogen effluvium is not permanent and can be reversed should you diagnose it early and treat it (either with dietary changes, lifestyle changes or medication). With early treatment, it is likely you will be able to regrow your hair back to its original length and thickness.
An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) or underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can lead to the development of weak and brittle hair, eventually leading to hair loss if left undiagnosed and untreated. This is because of your thyroid’s role in the development of hair growth. If your thyroid is either underactive or overactive, you may not be able to grow enough hair to keep up with the hair you lose on a daily basis.
Thankfully, thyroid-induced hair loss can be reversed once you have diagnosed and treated the issue, and your hair is likely to be able to grow back to its original length and thickness.
It is common that hormones are the reason that both men and women experience hair loss. More specifically, this is due to a hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or “DHT'', a byproduct of testosterone. While testosterone is necessary for your body function properly by ensuring that your bones and muscles are strong and that your sex drive is healthy, it can also be converted into DHT.
DHT is capable of affecting the health of hair through a process called “miniaturization”, where it can cause the receptors in the hair follicles to weaken and die. This means that DHT-affected hair follicles could stop growing permanently, if left untreated.
Menopause can cause a drastic shift in hormonal levels in women, and it can also trigger hair loss as well. Besides there being a decreased production of female hormones (such as estrogen and progestin), menopause can also cause an increased sensitivity to DHT production.
In a study done by the Sao Paulo State University, researchers found that women between the age of 50 to 60 years old were more likely to experience not just a decline in hair density, but were more prone to experiencing menopausal hair loss. If identified and treated early, menopausal hair loss can be reversed.
Rapid weight loss can cause hair thinning and noticeable hair loss. Similar to stress, drastic changes in weight can affect your hair due to telogen effluvium.
When you suddenly reduce your calorie intake and the macronutrients you consume, this strains your body which in turn brings about hair thinning and hair loss. This is commonly experienced by people who engage in restrictive and unhealthy diets to lose weight quickly. Should you lose weight more gradually (exercising at a recommended pace and consuming only a small calorie deficit), you will not cause your body strain and it is unlikely you will experience hair loss caused by telogen effluvium.
Fortunately, hair loss caused by rapid weight changes is not permanent and can be reversed. If you gradually adopt a healthier diet plan, engage in healthier lifestyle, and take the necessary medication as prescribed by your doctor, it is very likely that you will regain all the hair lost and be able to grow your hair back to its original thickness.
Should your iron levels be low, it is possible that you are anemic and that it is causing you to lose hair. Iron deficiency can be caused by a multitude of reasons, from intestinal disease to having a diet that is lacking in nutrients (specifically iron). It is common that women experience iron deficiency due their periods.
If you suspect that you are anemic and that your hair loss could be caused by it, it is important that you speak to your doctor about testing your iron levels. They will most likely suggest that you take iron supplements as well as making changes in your diet to include the necessary macronutrients. Fortunately, hair loss caused by iron deficiency can be reversed once your iron levels have returned to a healthy level.
It is important that you first determine the root cause of your hair loss. Once that is done, it will be easier to determine the most appropriate and effective form of treatment. Here are some ways to effective treat female hair loss:
If your hair loss is caused by iron deficiency or drastic weight loss, it is important that you consult a doctor to determine a dietary plan that includes the necessary macronutrients and a healthy caloric intake. While it might not produce instantaneous results, dietary changes will gradually improve your hair’s thickness and rate of growth.
If your hair loss is caused by stress, the most effective way to treat it is to make changes to your lifestyle so that stress can be managed and minimised. Some ways to reduce stress is to limit your intake of stimulants (like nicotine and caffeine), exercise regularly and engage in mindful meditation. Again, while it does not produce instantaneous results, engaging in methods to reduce stress will eventually lead to your hair regrowing over time and returning back to a healthy state.
If your hair loss is caused by hormonal levels and increased DHT levels, it is possible that shampoos that include the ingredient Saw Palmetto can be used to treat hair loss and improve hair growth. This is because saw palmetto works on a hormonal level and prevents the conversion of testosterone into DHT, thus allowing hair to be grown back.
If your doctor has determined that your hair loss is due to your body’s DHT levels, they might prescribe you with Finasteride, a medication meant to block and prevent your body from producing any DHT. By preventing the conversion of testosterone into DHT, it is likely you will be able to regrow and regain the hair loss over time.
Fabbrocini, G et al. “Female pattern hair loss: A clinical, pathophysiologic, and therapeutic review.” International journal of women's dermatology vol. 4,4 203-211. 19 Jun. 2018, doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2018.05.001 (Link)
Ramos, Paulo Müller, and Hélio Amante Miot. “Female Pattern Hair Loss: a clinical and pathophysiological review.” Anais brasileiros de dermatologia vol. 90,4 (2015): 529-43. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20153370 (Link)