Hair loss is commonly considered an issue for men (two thirds of all males can expect some hair loss by the age 60), but women make up 40 percent of all hair loss sufferers.
In the normal cycle of hair growth, it is natural to lose up to 100 hairs per day. If you are losing more than that, or if parts of your scalp are becoming prominent, it could be a sign of excessive hair loss
The medical term for hair loss is alopecia. The most common type of hair loss is called androgenic alopecia, which is an inherited tendency to stop producing new hairs. In women, this is referred to as female pattern hair loss.
Each hair follicle produces a single hair that normally grows about a half inch per month for about 4 to 6 years. It then goes into a resting phase and loses the hair before growing a new one. The number of hair follicles entering the resting phase is equal to the number of hair follicles starting the growth phase, so the number of hairs on the head remain the same.
With androgenic alopecia, an increasing number of hair follicles never recover from the resting phase, resulting in a scalp with less hair. This loss of active hair follicles may take place over months or years before it is noticeable.
Although androgenic alopecia occurs in both men and women, the pattern of hair loss is different. Instead of the receding hairline of male pattern baldness, in women the hair becomes thinner over the whole scalp, and the frontal hairline is usually spared.
Other causes of hair loss in women include:
- Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that attacks the hair follicles, shrinking them and inhibiting hair growth
- Hormonal changes, such as pregnancy, menopause, or low thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism). Many women notice hair loss about 3 months after they’ve had a baby. This is due to high levels of pregnancy hormones that keep the hair follicles from entering the resting phase. When the hormones return to pre-pregnancy levels, a large number of hair follicles enter the resting phase all at once. This results in a significant numbers of hair falling out at one time. After a few months, the normal cycle of growth and loss starts again.
- Constant pulling from hair that is tightly pulled back in a cap or in cornrows or ponytails (traction alopecia)
- Stressful events, such as major surgery
- Medications that can damage hair follicles, such as chemotherapy or blood thinners
- Fungal infections (tinea capitis)
- Chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or lupus
What Are Some Treatments for Female Hair Loss?
Although the vast majority of hair loss isn’t life-threatening, the emotional effects of a changing appearance are enough to make most women seek treatment.
Your doctor will determine the best treatment for your hair loss by diagnosing the cause.
If your hair loss is caused by a medication or underlying disease, your doctor may switch your medication or recommend treatment of the underlying problem.
Hair loss that cannot be corrected using those methods, such as androgenic alopecia, may be treated with a medication to stimulate the hair follicles.
One such medication is topical minoxidil (Rogaine), which is available over the counter in formulations for men and women. Minoxidil can stimulate hair growth and slow down hair loss, but it cannot “cure” baldness. It may take up to 6 months to see any results.
Hair transplants are also an option.
If adequate treatment is not available for your type of hair loss, you may consider trying different hairstyles or wigs, hairpieces, hair weaves, or artificial hair replacement.
Is Hair Loss Preventable?
In general, androgenic alopecia (female pattern hair loss) cannot be avoided. However, you can prevent additional hair loss by not wearing your hair in ways that can pull on it (ponytails, cornrows, or tight rollers) and avoiding hot oil treatments or perms, which can scar the hair follicle.
Where can I learn more about female hair loss (balding)?
Female hair loss and pattern baldness (International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery)