Hair loss in women

Hair loss in women

Hair loss is difficult for both sexes to accept but can be even worse for women. Baldness in men is viewed in a different way to women with the latter seeing it as a loss of femininity and their self-esteem. Plus society has a negative view of baldness in women.

Bald men are seen as sexy and virile, bald women are viewed as 'butch' and unfeminine. Female hair loss is less understood and consequentially, less easy to deal with.

Common causes of hair loss in women

Hair loss in women occurs for hormonal rather than genetic reasons although they can inherit this tendency from their parents. If you are a woman whose father (or mother) or both parents went bald then you will do the same.

These cases are called 'female pattern baldness' and are a form of androgenetic alopecia which is caused by over stimulated hair follicles. Find out more about this condition in our male pattern baldness section.

This is the main cause of female hair loss but is not the only factor. Other possible causes include:

  • Thyroid problems, e.g. under active/over active thyroid
  • Menopause
  • Pregnancy
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Mineral deficiency
  • Side effects of medications, e.g. cancer drugs
  • Skin disorders, e.g. lupus
  • Trichotillomania (obsessive pulling out of the hair)
  • Poor diet/crash dieting
  • Scarring alopecia
  • Psychological trauma, e.g. stress
  • Over enthusiastic use of hair products, e.g. bleaching
  • Over use of hair styling techniques, e.g. colouring
  • Illnesses

Effect of female hormones on hair loss

Why are hormones most likely to be the cause of female hair loss? The reason for that is that women experience fluctuations in hormone levels much more than men. These hormonal changes occur during pregnancy and the menopause.

Pregnancy and hair loss in women

Female hormones such as oestrogen tend to increase during pregnancy which impacts on the normal hair growth cycle. The end result is an increase in hair growth, caused by a rise in oestrogen levels which then boosts the hair follicles, triggering a growth of new hair.

It shifts hairs into the 'anagen' (growth) stage which results in longer, thicker and shinier hair. But this is short lived.

Oestrogen levels fall after childbirth which forces the hair follicles into the 'telogen' (shedding). Hair is lost but not replaced by new hair growth which results in significant hair loss.

This is a temporary state of affairs: the body returns to its pre-pregnancy state after childbirth which causes the hair growth cycle to return to normal. But it can take up to 6 months for things to return to normal.

Menopause and hair loss in women

The menopause is characterised by falling oestrogen levels which causes a range of effects on the body one of these being hair loss. As oestrogen levels drop, testosterone levels rise and even though these are minimal compared to those in men, they still have a dramatic effect.

This rise in testosterone results in the production of the hormone derivative dihydrotestosterone which triggers a form of hair loss usually seen in men. This male pattern baldness causes hair loss at the front and top of the scalp but does not usually result in bald patches.

Night sweats, hot flushes and mood swings are common features of the menopause which cause a great deal of stress. One of the effects of stress is hair loss which occurs due to the transmission of signals to the hair follicles which shifts them into the resting stage. Hair is lost as normal but no new growth takes place which leads to an irregular hair growth pattern. This leads to thinning hair and eventual loss.

Dieting and female hair loss

Extreme or 'crash diets' are another cause of hair loss. More women than men go on diets, many of which are extreme to say the least. These crash diets mean a lack of essential nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals which are important for good health and that includes hair health. A reduction in these especially Vitamin A weakens the hair follicles leading to hair loss.

This is more of a problem for women who follow a weight loss diet, often too strictly, which then impacts upon their health.

Hair styling and female hair loss

Many women enjoy using various hair styling products and techniques to improve the appearance of their hair. These include colours, bleaching, perms and braiding. But an excessive use of these can lead to damaged hair which then falls out.

Over enthusiastic use of a hairbrush and/or hair straighteners can also weaken the hair follicles. Avoid excess use of these and tight hairstyles such as braiding.

Treatment for female hair loss

Most hair loss cases in women are temporary and straightforward to deal with. But there are situations where women require treatment with hair loss drugs or a hair transplant.