Hair loss is a reality for many people, but it's certainly not exclusive to men. In fact, less than 45 percent of women go through life with a completely intact, full head of hair. But what causes hair loss in women, and can we do anything about it? Let's find out.
All hair loss is not the same, and there are, unsurprisingly, many potential causes of hair loss in women. Here are a few of the most common types and their causes (and keep in mind this list is not exclusive — your physician will be the one to help you discover the cause of your hair loss, which may not be included here).
According to Dr. Robert Nettles, hair loss expert and the founder of Stop and Regrow, the single most common cause of hair loss in women is androgenetic alopecia, also known as female pattern hair loss.
"Unfortunately many doctors and even dermatologists are not aware of quite how pervasive it is with women, and we often see patients in our clinic after their local physical or dermatologist has told them either they are imagining it or there is nothing that can be done," he says.
It has a genetic component, and it's inherited by around 25 percent of women, Nettles says. While this can affect men and women, it affects both sexes differently. In women, hair loss is generally diffuse — instead of developing a bald spot or a receding hairline like men tend to do, women instead experience a gradual, all-over thinning.
Another common cause of hair loss in women is telogen effluvium. This type of hair loss is also diffuse and is usually caused by physical stress, such as experiencing a severe illness, surgery, childbirth and so on. It can also be caused by medications. This type of hair loss isn't always permanent — generally, recovery happens on its own in around six months.
Alopecia areata is where the hair loss appears in patches, often circular, and is thought to be autoimmune in origin.
There are also a number of disease processes that can result in hair loss. Thyroid disease, scalp infections, diabetes, lupus (or other autoimmune diseases) and others can be the culprit. Hormones can also deal your shining crown of hair a blow — even the biologically normal process of menopause.
Hair loss can be attributed to vitamin deficiencies, says Dr. Arielle Levitan, cofounder of Vous Vitamin. "Many women do not know that they run low in iron or Vitamin D, which are some of the most common offenders," she explains. "As a physician of internal medicine, I see women all the time very distressed about thinning hair." A simple blood test can help determine some of the more common culprits.
Hair loss treatment really depends on the type of hair loss you're experiencing and what the causes are. This means your physician will need an accurate diagnosis, and for those with underlying medical conditions, treating the disease can often lead to less hair loss or regrowth.
For women who are experiencing hair loss due to vitamin deficiencies, there are various strategies you can put into place to improve your outcome. "Repleting vitamin D with healthy doses of D3 and correcting iron deficiency — by giving supplemental iron paired with vitamin C for better absorption — is essential, and biotin, a B vitamin, can be added to help the process, as it acts as a building block for new hair," says Levitan. "The challenge is this is a slow process, and it can easily take three to six months to see hair thickness and amounts improve."
For those with female pattern hair loss (androgenetic alopecia), the solution can be a little more complex. There are medical treatments available, however. Dr. Ken L. Williams Jr., surgeon, founder of Orange County Hair Restoration in Irvine, California, and author of Hair Transplant 360 — Follicular Unit Extraction, notes that the only FDA-approved medical treatment for this type of hair loss is Minoxidil 2 percent topical treatment. He also states that it seems to work better for women than for men.
There are other medical treatments available, so be sure to check with your doctor to find one that's right for you and your hair-loss situation.
It's important to keep in mind, however, that one treatment may not be the ultimate solution for your own head of hair. "Where hair loss becomes complex for women is because quite often there are multiple causes happening at once," says Nettles. This is why it's crucial to get a proper diagnosis and custom-tailored treatment.
Also, even if medical reasons have been ruled out, it's a good idea to look at your overall diet and see if there are improvements that can be made. Jeanette Kimszal, a registered dietitian-nutritionist, recommends ensuring there is adequate protein in the diet in addition to eating foods high in iron, vitamin B's and vitamin C.
Unfortunately, there is no single solution that can halt hair loss or regrow hair. It's vital to consult with a doctor who can explore medical reasons and work with you to find an answer that might be able to work for you. Hair loss is certainly no fun, but there is a chance that with proper diagnosis and treatment, you may be able to do something about it.
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