Until recently, the problem of hair loss in women was believed to be uncommon. Recent research, though, has revealed that it is far more widespread than previously thought. Some estimates say as many as 25 million American women (or more) experience noticeable hair loss and the distressing effects that often go along with it. Female hair loss causes are somewhat different than those typically found in men, and the emotional effects can be quite different as well.
Appearance of Hair Loss in Women
The appearance of hair loss in most females is usually different from its appearance in men. Women usually do not go bald or partially bald, and they generally do not have bald spots on the crown of the head. In women, hair loss typically shows up as overall thinning of the hair, both the quantity of hair on the head and the thickness of each individual hair. Some women do have a receding hairline, but rarely as pronounced and noticeable as what many men experience.
Emotional Effects of Hair Loss in Women
A woman’s self esteem and sense of self are typically much more dependent on the way they look than is generally the case for men. Of course, men find it distressing to lose their hair, but for females the emotional effects can be particularly devastating.
When you think of how much money and effort goes into advertising women’s hair care products, styling products, cosmetics and hair care appliances such as blow dryers and curling irons, it is easy to understand why women find it so distressing to experience hair loss. Our society places so much emphasis on looks, especially for women, that female hair loss can lead to a great deal of emotional pain, anxiety, and even trigger episodes of depression.
Medical Causes of Hair Loss in Women
The most common female hair loss causes are related to medical conditions and hormonal changes. While many are similar to those experienced by men, many more are specific to women.
Hormones – Women experience far more hormonal issues than men do, and at a much greater frequency. Pregnancy, childbirth and menopause are all conditions unique to women that can affect the amount and permanence of hair loss and cause balding.
Medication – Several medications can cause or contribute to female hair loss, including anti-depressants, blood thinners, birth control pills, anti-cholesterol drugs and chemotherapy drugs.
Illness/Surgery – Many common illnesses can cause female hair loss, such as diabetes and thyroid over- or under-activity, as can conditions that put the body under stress such as high fevers or major surgery.
Other Causes – Anemia, anorexia, bulimia, excess vitamin A, fungal infections, and zinc or fatty acid deficiency can also be the cause of hair loss in women.
Genetic Causes of Hair Loss in Women
Female pattern baldness, or androgenetic alopecia, is estimated to occur in 15% or less of American women. The chemical process in the body is similar, in that hormones and dehydrotestosterone (DHT) combine to cause hair follicles to shut down. Even though the chemical process is the same, the appearance of the hair loss in females is generally different, with women experiencing general thinning of hair rather than the bald spots or pronounced receding hairline so common in men.
Some experts theorize that differences in hair follicles between males and females may contribute to differences in the appearance of hair loss. In men, hair tends to grow straight up out of the follicle, causing oil and other secretions on the scalp to build up and block follicles. In women, however, hair tends to grow out of the follicle at an angle, allowing oil and secretions to flow more readily out of the follicle.
Everyday Causes of Hair Loss in Women
Women subject their hair to many everyday stresses that can lead to hair damage and hair loss. A few such female hair loss causes include:
o Harsh shampoos
o Hair coloring
o Hair bleaching
o Permanent waves
o Frequent use of blow dryers, curling irons and other heated appliances
o Improper or harsh brushing and/or combing
o Frequent wearing of tight ponytails, braids, and other hair restraints
While these things generally do not cause immediate or permanent hair loss in females, they do often lead to dry, damaged hair that is more likely to break off and thus appear thinner and more brittle. In women whose hair is already thin due to hormonal changes that come with aging, actions such as these can have a large impact on hair appearance.
Women experiencing hair loss should consult their doctor for an accurate diagnosis of what is causing them to lose hair. In the case of an undiagnosed condition such as diabetes or thyroid problems, treating the medical condition can often stop and even reverse hair loss problems. If the doctor finds that hormonal issues related to menopause and aging are the cause, then he or she is the best resource for information and advice on effective female hair loss solutions.
Topical Hair Loss Treatment
There is only one topical female hair loss treatment approved by the FDA for use by women – minoxidil. This medication is marketed under the name Rogaine and is readily available over the counter in most drug stores, grocery stores, and online.
Rogaine is effective at restoring hair growth and decreasing the appearance of thinning hair in women, but it often takes several months for results to become noticeable in most females. It is quite easy and convenient to apply in the privacy of home, but must be continued indefinitely in order to maintain hair regrowth. If Rogaine use is discontinued, any hair that has regrown will be lost once again.
Surgical Hair Restoration
Surgical hair loss treatments such as hair grafting are quite effective for male pattern baldness, but because the nature of hair loss is different in women, females are generally not good candidates for such treatment. Hair grafting is a process of harvesting hair from actively growing parts of the head and transplanting them to areas of thinning and dormant growth. Because females tend to lose their hair all over the head instead of in a concentrated location, grafting does not usually have much effect. For those women who do have definite balding spots or patches, though, surgical treatment may be an option. It is best to consult an experienced hair restoration surgeon who will diagnose the cause and suggest a suitable solution.