Hair Loss in Women
Losing your hair can affect your confidence and self-image, but once you know the type and cause of your hair loss, there could be a treatment.
Published: Tuesday 12 September 2017
There are different types of hair loss; it can be sudden and unexplained, or more gradual but no less worrying. It can affect many in your family, or perhaps just you, at any age. Hair loss in common, with around half of women over the age of 65 losing hair due to female-pattern baldness, which is inherited.
The Hair Growth Cycle
Hair follicles go through cycles with long growth phases, and shorter resting phases. While the old hair is resting, the new hair begins its growth phase.
Growth phase - this is the first phase in the cycle and lasts between 3 to 5 years. The hair grows roughly a centimeter in a month and normally, about 85% of your hair is in this phase. The growing phase determines the length of the hair.
In those women with female-pattern hair loss, the hair follicles are still active but the growth phase is shorter.
Transitional phase - The second phase usually lasts about 2 weeks, where the cells at the base of the hair stop growing as the follicle shrinks and detaches.
Resting phase - The hair follicles enter a 3 months resting period. On average, 10-15 percent of our hair is in this phase. Then the hair is shed to make room for new hair to replaces it and the growth cycle starts anew.
Signs of Hair Loss
Losing some hair is perfectly normal as the old hair is shed but here are some signs that you are losing more than you should.
- Keep an eye on the amount of hair lost in the shower or when brushing out your hair.
See if there is a history of hair loss in your family, as female pattern hair loss can be inherited from either side.
- Pay attention to the pattern of the loss - is it on the crown of the head, or in round, bald patches?
- In the early stages of hair loss, it is likely that you will notice that your parting will become more sparse.
Causes of Hair Loss in Women
Female-pattern hair loss, or androgenetic alopecia, is genetic and can be inherited from both sides of your family, so study your family history to see if they had hair loss. The condition is affected by genetics, hormones, and age. The hair follicles shrink over time and the growing hair becomes thinner and lighter compared to usual. It is these changes to the hair follicles that interrupt the cycle of hair growth and leads to thinning hair in women.
Rapid hair loss when you do not have a history of hair loss in your family could be a sign of something else, so speak to your doctor to find the cause behind it.
There are several causes of hair loss in women but hereditary hair loss is the primary culprit. Other factors include:
- Stress - or a traumatic event can cause the hair to fall out temporarily as many of the hair follicles go into the resting phase.
- Thyroid gland - issues with the thyroid gland, which regulates hormone levels, can also cause hair loss. Generally, once the levels of hormones has been stabilized, the hair will grow back over time.
- Diet - lifestyle changes such as in your diet can result in the hair follicles going into the resting phase. Moreover, lack of nutrients such as iron and protein can starve the follicles of their needs and prevent continued growth. In these cases, the hair can grow back when the levels of nutrients has been replenished but it can take a few months.
- Pregnancy - the changes in estrogen hormone levels cause the hair follicles to go into the resting phase, but this is not permanent and those experiencing this type of hair loss should see their hair grow back in a few months.
- Alopecia areata - is a non-hereditary autoimmune disorder that results in smooth and round patches on the scalp. It is usually rapid and not related to your family history in hair loss.
Another cause of hair thinning in women is over-styling, including those hairstyles that put the most tension on your hair - cornrows, extensions, braids, and ponytails all pull on the hair and can result in traction alopecia.
Authored by Iris Barbier
Born in France, Iris moved to the UK to study Biological Sciences at London Metropolitan University. Upon graduating, Iris moved up north, where she completed an MA in Science Journalism at the University of Lincoln.
As a qualified science journalist, Iris uses her expertise to write content for Pharmica’s online Health Centre. She ensures our patients get specialist knowledge on medical conditions and how to treat them.