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Hair loss in women

In the words of Elizabeth Steel, hair loss is miserable enough for a man: a downright catastrophe for a woman. A survey by Hairline International, the baldness support group, found that 78% of its female members no longer felt like women, 40% said their marriage had suffered and 63% had considered suicide.

Women who lose their hair often worry that they are going bald like a man, and that their hormones are becoming masculinized. In fact, patchy baldness (alopecia areata) and total baldness (alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis) are unrelated to hormones and occur equally commonly in men and women.

Thinning hair after the menopause

Like men, most women develop widening partings and thinning of the hair all over the scalp with age; this is normal. It actually starts in the teens or early 20s, and by the age of 50 over half of all women have thinning hair. After the menopause, thinning of the hair is more pronounced. Hair can also become thin at the front, similar to the male pattern. This is because the hair follicles are responding in exactly the same way as in balding men to the testosterone in the blood. All women have testosterone; this is perfectly normal. The balding does not mean that the woman has more testosterone; it simply means that the hair follicles on her scalp are oversensitive, which is probably inherited. The hair will eventually not become any worse. There is no need to worry that you will become completely bald.

Hair loss and other symptoms

A few women develop male pattern baldness with other problems such as growth of hair on the face, lumpy acne, deepening of the voice and irregular periods. In rare cases, this can mean that too much testosterone is being produced by a tumour, so it is important to see your family doctor so that appropriate tests can be done.

Causes of thinning hair in women

Thinning hair may be caused by:
  • age (most old people have thinner hair than when they were young)
  • heredity (some people are programmed to have thin hair, particularly as they get older)
  • a hormone disorder (particularly an underactive thyroid gland)
  • drugs
  • iron deficiency (most likely in women who are vegetarians)
  • severe mental stress (such as bereavement), 2–3 months previously
  • severe physical illness of any sort, 2–3 months previously (particularly a high fever or severe infection – the hair grows again when the body has fully recovered)
  • childbirth (it is common to shed a lot of hair for 1–6 months after childbirth, but it usually grows again afterwards)
  • systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, a disease affecting the connective tissue)
  • damage from bleaches and relaxers, which can make the hair become ‘soapy’ in texture and break off (Afro-Caribbean hair is especially vulnerable).

Treatments for thinning hair in women

Looking after your hair. Just because your hair is thinning there is no need to avoid hairsprays, careful perming or hair dyes. These will not worsen the problem. In fact, perms and hairsprays lift the hair and disguise thinning. However, you should avoid bleaches and hair relaxers. Short, bouncy hairstyles give lift and body. It is also all right to use hair colorants on thinning hair, but darker shades may make thinning more obvious.
 
Diet. Low stores of iron in the body can sometimes cause hair loss so, particularly if you are vegetarian, ask your doctor for a blood test. Iron-rich foods include lean red meat, game, offal, egg yolks, dark green leafy vegetables and pulses. Vitamin C helps your body to absorb iron. Although hair follicles need plenty of the essential amino acids – the building blocks of proteins – it is doubtful whether increasing your intake of protein or taking amino acid supplements will really help.
 
Regaine (minoxidil) produces slight hair regrowth in about 50% of women with thinning hair, and moderate regrowth in 13% (after 32 weeks of treatment) (New England Journal of Medicine 2007;357:1620–30). Only the 2% strength is suitable for women. (The higher strength, used for men, can cause facial hairiness and dermatitis in women, but is sometimes used in special cases.) A few women (about 1 in 20) using Regaine notice hairiness of the face, even though the lotion is only applied to the scalp. Hairiness occurs on the cheeks, above the eyebrows and sometimes on the upper lip and chin. The reason for this is not known; perhaps the Regaine is carried in the blood from the scalp to the face, or maybe it is rubbed off onto a pillow that is in contact with the face while sleeping. If Regaine is continued, facial hairiness usually lessens over a year; if the drug is stopped, it goes away within 1–6 months.
Oestrogens used to be prescribed for women with hair loss, but no proper research has been done to find out whether or not they worked at all. They are seldom prescribed now because Regaine is more effective.
 
HRT, depending on the type, can affect the hair. If you are taking HRT containing progestogen, ask your doctor for a third-generation type of progestogen HRT, which is less similar to male hormones and may be better for women with hair loss.
 
Drug treatment. If you have male pattern baldness (receding at the front and balding on the crown), you need to see your family doctor for some tests. Male pattern baldness is treated with Regaine or cyproterone acetate (as in polycystic ovary syndrome). Another drug, spironolactone, is promising, but needs more research (British Journal of Dermatology 2005;152:466–73). The drug finasteride (used for male baldness) is used for women only in special cases; it could affect the developing baby if a woman became pregnant while taking it (British Journal of Dermatology 2005;152:466–73).
 
Hair transplantation. If you are very distressed by thinning hair, and Regaine has not helped, you might consider hair transplantation, which can be done for women as well as men.
 

Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Friday, February 1st 2013

 


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Comments on this article

Posted by Debbie on 21/06/2016 at 12:06

For all you young people.... Stress may cause thinning hair.... So, if you have long hair cut it shoulder length.... Wear cute hats and scarves... And please don't stress over it...we women tend to notice it more than anyone else... Prob no one is even looking at it except you.... Lol... So chill!!

Posted by OptionalTshepo on 26/03/2016 at 12:40

I consulted aDermatologist who prescribed minoxil 5 and denovate ointment .used it 5 times. I stopped using it and hair falling in on the crown and hair line. I tried jamacan castor oil on hairline and used olive oil and cocconut oil on the scalp. I d id 'nt see improvement .it was slight .baby hair on hairline.but it was recidng and becoming thinner on the crown.now i use cocconut oil only. I also drink black strap mollasses.I dont know if i 'm wright or wrong .I do'nt know the cause. Please help

Posted by LizaF on 24/03/2016 at 12:11

I regrew my hair and you can too. -I've been bleaching my hair on and off since forever. My hair wouldn't grow any longer it would just snap off. I've dreamed about having thick, long hair. And when I say dreamed, I mean it quite literally. So i decided to do something about it. My friend suggested Biotin when we were talking about my hair loss. I’ve tried like 4 different brands until i found that the best one for me. Now i’m 26 and I've been taking Biotin every day for years. My hair and nails grow SO much quicker. Hair has increased in the rate and are so long now. Also my energy levels are high. I remember that at the beginning i did heavy cardio and interval training which helped me lose weight fast but i did not realize how biotin played a part in my weight loss until AFTER i stopped working out. I continue to take biotin every day and now that I am no longer on my diet i eat whatever i want and i don't gain weight. It appears the biotin may be keeping my metabolism to the level it was at during my training. So i highly recommend it to you. For me the best is www.certifiedbiotin.com my friends

Posted by ellison on 31/01/2016 at 06:33

Anything which get interferes with hair follicles or the growth cycle of hair can trigger hair loss. Though stress is not a primary factor, it may lead to negative effects on the body, which in turn weaken, or damage the hair.

Posted by Steve on 19/01/2016 at 05:48

Hair loss can be treated in many ways. Rosemary oil extract applying also helps in reducing hair fall.

Posted by Steve on 01/12/2015 at 02:11

Thyroid hormone imbalance also leads to hair loss and increase in weight among women.

Posted by A guy on 08/08/2015 at 01:21

Girls, don't put too much thought into your hair, a lot of different women with short, long or even no hair are beautiful. You girls tend to overthink how you look, we men are much simpler.

Posted by neha on 11/07/2015 at 01:41

I m 21yrs old.. My hair get thinner day by day.. I m so worried about my hair.. Even I face the problem of irregular period.. What should I do plzzzz tell me...

Posted by Optional on 21/05/2015 at 05:42

I think this condition is too much to commit suicide. I know what it feels because I had been there; combing hair with large clumps in the brush thereafter. I was frustrated and I realized that it made my situation worse even more. I was in the early 40's when I reached the peak of menopausal period and that was where my misery started. They said, at my age it's normal to experience hair loss but as the time passed by, it just getting worse. So, I did ask what would be the home remedy to treat hair loss; DIET/HEALTHY LIFESTYLE is always on the list. I eliminate the pizza/pasta meals. I have also known that garlic consumption affects hair growth due to its high level of allicin. However, I can't take the raw garlic but I tried I just couldn't bear its stinky smell. So, I bought garlic supplement from amazon. Hoping that it may help those who suffered the same condition as mine: http://www.amazon.com/Top-Rated-Odorless-Garlic-Supplement/dp/B00OYK3MMA

Posted by Optional on 03/11/2014 at 03:59

I'm 50 years old and recently I had emergency surgery for diverticulitis and ended up with a colostomy bag.after about 2 months I noticed my hair was coming out in clumps every time I brushed it. I had my thyroid checked but I don't have the results back yet but I am also having IV therapy for iron infusions since I had my gastric bypass my body doesn't absorb vitamins and minerals.my hair up until 2 weeks ago was full and fine now all of a sudden I end up with enough hair to make a wig each time I brush it put my hands through it wash it it's awful. I really am at a complete loss and stressing over it completely all the time not sleeping I don't know what to do I just want to cry all the time

Posted by niharika on 22/10/2014 at 04:30

When i was of 15yrs my all hair starting loss one day was likethis i suddenly seen my hair was totally unseen

Posted by Optional on 28/08/2014 at 12:08

Hello, I'm 31 and I started to loose hair from the age of 19! I have tried different sort of treatment including, hormonal tablets, Minoxidil 5%, anti-depression tablets, vitamin B, D, Iron supplements , especial shampoos...but no changes and I still suffer for my thin hair.

Posted by Optional on 26/08/2014 at 05:20

I have a sister at the age of 8. She has been going bald for 2 (two) years. Right now she has lost almost all of her hair. And It has begun to loose not only hair? but also eyebrow. Please help me to find recovery and doctor/clinics//

Posted by Optional on 19/08/2014 at 02:34

HOW CAN I TELL IF MY HAIR LOSS IS CAUSED BY HORMONAL DEFECTS OR OTHERWISE.MY HOOVER CANNOT COPE WITH THE AMOUNT OF HAIR I LOSE ON A DAILY BASIS.WILL I BECOME BALD REALLY ANXIOUS

Posted by Anonymous on 22/06/2013 at 01:59

Im only 16 and my hair is quite lengthy (gets to around the end of my back) but its horribly thin and I'm scared of styling it in case it makes it thinner. My parents claim that its due to over washing it,do hair oils work to make hair fuller?

Posted by fc on 03/12/2012 at 12:10

Hi, my hair has got thinner Is breaking and now is so thin I have a reli short ponytail I'm reali worryed my hair used to be rite down mi back now its above my shoulders .help

Posted by Jehnavi on 31/07/2012 at 07:17

For some guys, non-surgical treatments like Rogaine (minoxidil) and Propecia (finasteride) work for many years to not only slow the progress of further hair loss but also regrow hair that has already been lost. http://www.regainefoamreviews.co.uk/how-regaine-works-understand-it-before-use.html

Posted by Optional on 17/07/2012 at 07:35

since i was born i've had a small bald patch (about the size of a 10p, maybe bigger) on the side of my head. i'm not sure what i should do about it? it's really hard to live with it since i can't really do anything with my hair! please help

Posted by Dennis on 11/07/2012 at 02:12

I believe that a lot of hair loss problems in women are caued by the over use of hair dryers and hair straighteners that are to hot. Another problem is also the way hair is combed. I invite you to check out my site at http://ow.ly/bjvrx to see some of my ideas and solutions.

Posted by oldwoman on 19/04/2012 at 08:05

WHEN necessary where can I get a wig ?

Posted by kellee chastain on 04/03/2012 at 05:33

over the past 4 years my hairloss started out in big round patches gone and would actually regrow after about 18 months and now its all gone but 10% is left and ive noticed in the past 6 months im getting the circular patches in my pubic area it cant be alapecia i had cat scratch fever 6 months before it happened and they only gave me one bag iv of keflex dont know if it has anything to do with it but im almost completely bald and its affected me getting a job and doing daily activities when its in public i need help what medacines would help please help me this has ruined my life and i cannot afford a wig

Posted by Optional on 12/05/2011 at 10:06

I was an egg donor and a couple of months after my hair started coming out, round the front, back and sides. I went to the doctors and spoke to a lady doctor and she said it was the drop in hormone, which I believe this is why this has happened, also was over stimulated. She said it could fall out up to 6mths. The same thing happened after childbirth and it did grow back. It has just started coming out again it will be a year in June that I did this. Is this normal? Spoke be a man doctor other day and didn't seem to understand anything about it, put it down to stess but I don't believe it is.

Posted by Optional on 21/12/2010 at 02:55

Reassuring information but hard to live with the problem.

Posted by prairiegirl on 10/10/2010 at 01:55

I have been losing huge handfuls of hair every time I shampoo, and only recently was diagnosed as being hypothyroid. In my case, this is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the thyroid, and it is hereditary - I am 4th (known) generation with this condition. I am now on medication for the thyroid condition and hopefully the hair loss will improve. The emotional reaction to hair loss when I've always had thick, curly long hair has been a bit difficult to control. I now begin to understand what my aunt went through when she lost all her hair because of alopecia years ago.

Posted by Misc_M_29 on 21/06/2010 at 02:12

Solutions for hair problems for men would be good here - I have a strange condition where some of my hairs are turning white. I can cut these out and my hair looks fine for a few weeks but they soon return. When I have my hair cut really short, again it's a very nice blonde colour. However, after a while, the colour goes white right at the very tips on some of the hairs. What exactly is going on? Am I deficient with something? Is this caused by illness - I have been having some illnesses although the doctor assures me there is no connection. I am baffled as to why this is happening and cannot seem to find a solution anywhere. Any ideas? Also, why do women have so many more hair dyes than men?

Posted by Shavonda Hull on 24/01/2010 at 09:07

My hair is going bald at the top of my head,what can I use to treat this.

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Fascinating facts

We each have about 100 000 hairs on the scalp

It is normal to lose 50-100 hairs from the head each day

Each hair on the head grows for about 5 years before being shed

Eyebrow hairs grow for only 10 weeks

Scalp hair grows at a rate of about 1 cm (just under half an inch) a month

A survey has shown that about 7.9 million men and 1.6 million women in the UK have hair loss problems

Each year, American men spend about $900 million on efforts to regrow hair

In the USA and UK, there has not been a bald President or Prime Minister since the television age began

In Old Master paintings, saints are often depicted as bald

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