Female Hair Loss is quite a sensitive topic because hair is one of the most precious assets for women. The hair is one of those areas of the body that usually gets the most attention. Consequently, it is relatively easier to notice if there is a change in hair color, hair contour, or a significant amount of hair loss.
Hair loss in women occurs acutely, and it may take just a few days to weeks before you start noticing thinning areas of the scalp, patches without hair or bald spots. But first, what is considered abnormal hair loss in women?
What Is Female Hair Loss?
Most people are under the misconception that hair loss occurs only in men. But this is not true, because even the commonest type of hair loss – androgen alopecia, which is caused by androgenic hormones is the commonest cause of hair loss in women.
But hair loss is not always abnormal. Studies have shown that more often than not, daily hair loss in women is due to a physiologic process and not due to a disease or an illness. The hair is constantly growing in a cycle that has become popularly known as the hair growth cycle.
The hair growth cycle is divided into four steps including anagen, catagen, telogen, and exogen. The anagen phase is also known as the active growth phase. This period of rapid hair growth lasts for about 2 to 7 years. The duration is largely dependent on genetic factors and explains the difference in hair length and hair structure for women.
The catagen phase is a transitory phase. Here, the hair growth rate has reduced and the duration for this phase may last between 2 to 3 weeks. The third phase of hair growth is the telogen phase. It is also called the resting phase. This phase can last up to 100 days and is also influenced by genetic factors. In the telogen phase, hair strands remain in the follicles loosely attached as they wait to be shed off for new hair to grow.
The final phase of hair growth is the exogen. This is the phase of active hair shedding as new hair replaces the old hair. According to the American Academy of Dermatologists, it is estimated that you can shed as much as 50 to 100 strands of hair per day.
Although it is impractical to count hair strands, this number can be significant if you have longer, thicker and fuller hair – and this may be a reason to cause worry.
The Different Types of Hair Loss
Broadly, hair loss is classified into two categories based on the cause. For women, it can either be a genetically induced hair loss or a reactive hair loss.
Women who are genetically predisposed to hair loss present with a slow progressing hair thinning that may be noticed predominantly as a receding hairline. In rare cases, hair thinning may start from the top of the scalp as is common in men. Female pattern hair loss, the most common cause of hair loss in women, is genetically induced and occurs when the sensitivity of follicles to androgens is increased.
Reactive hair loss is shedding and/or thinning of hair that occurs due to a trigger. Telogen effluvium, which is an abnormal shedding of hair is caused by several triggers including, but not limited to, stress, medications, disease conditions and nutritional deficiencies.
Common Triggers of Hair Loss in Women
Here are some of the common causes of hair loss in women.
Genetic susceptibility causes a specific type of hair loss called female pattern baldness. It is the classic androgenic alopecia occurring in women. Androgenic alopecia in women may present as a rapidly receding hairline or generalized thinning of scalp hair. Occasionally, you may notice hair thinning starting from the top of the scalp. Some of the presentations are common for men, but diseases don’t read literature and are not bound by statistics. Any of the presentations can occur.
Iron deficiency is the commonest nutritional deficiency in the world that affects women and is one of the well-known nutritional causes of hair loss. Zinc is also an essential mineral whose deficiency has been linked to hair loss. Moreover, studies have shown that one symptom of vitamin B deficiency, especially Vitamin B3 (niacin) and Vitamin B7 (biotin) is hair loss.
Stress is the commonest cause of telogen effluvium, the type of hair loss associated with excessive daily shedding of hair. Stress characteristically pushes the hair follicles into the resting phase (telogen) quite early. This shortens the growth phases and eventually increases the number of hair strands falling off in the exogen shedding phase.
Thyroid disease is also one of the commonest diseases affecting women. When affected, the thyroid gland, which is located in the anterior part of the neck, can either produce more thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism) or fewer hormones (hypothyroidism). All of these conditions are associated with brittle and poor-quality hair that thins out easily.
Specific Women Concern for Hair Loss
Certain hair loss concerns are specific to women. Here are the most commonly asked questions:
Can Contraceptive Use Be the Reason for My Hair Loss?
There is no doubt that current birth control mechanisms are very effective at achieving their intended purpose. But there is increasing anecdotal evidence that these contraceptives can cause or worsen hair loss in women. The reason is based on the influence of contraceptives on hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Based on their influence on hormonal levels, birth control can worsen pattern hair loss in women. Besides, some women have reported that contraceptives can cause temporary shedding of hair like what can be witnessed in the initial days of pregnancy.
It has also been noted that temporary hair shedding occurs when you stop using certain contraceptives. This phenomenon is similar to postpartum moulting after pregnancy – a period that is also characterized by hormonal imbalance.
What Is the Relationship Between Hair Loss and Menopause?
Menopause is a stage in the life of women when the ovaries no longer release eggs every month and menstruation stops. It is characterized by a marked decline in the levels of estrogen and progesterone. When the blood levels of these hormones reduce, the growth of hair is slowed down and the hair strands become thinner and brittle. This process occurs over time and may explain the poor quality of hair in some older women.
How to Handle Hair Loss in Women
The initial step in treating hair loss is recognizing that your hair shedding is abnormal. From your daily hair care routine, you have a rough idea of the average amount of hair shedding to expect. When this amount increases, you should be suspicious about reactive hair loss. Androgenic alopecia may not present with acute symptoms and may be noticed only when your hairline starts receding or when your hair starts thinning.
Once you have identified that your hair shedding is abnormal, it is advised that you go to a doctor for an accurate diagnosis. Even if you buy the best remedies in the market, you may not achieve good outcomes if you don’t know what you are treating. For instance, your problem may be a nutrient deficiency such as iron deficiency anaemia. Even if you use the most expensive hair loss products, your hair will continue thinning. But once the diagnosis is known, all you’ll need is iron supplements.
There are several hair treatment remedies ranging from topical medications, shampoos, hormone therapy, mechanical treatment, laser light therapy, and hair transplantation. All these depend on your diagnosis and the amount of money you are willing to spend on treatment.
Hair loss is not an uncommon occurrence in Female Hair Loss. It is fairly normal to shed a few hairs every day. But if you notice that you are shedding more than what you consider normal, you can talk to your doctor to give you an accurate diagnosis of what is causing your hair loss. Your plan for treatment will depend on your diagnosis.