Hair Loss in Women — Why it Happens & What to Do

Hair loss in women. It’s one of those nasties of life we don’t like to talk about. For whatever reason, there’s a lingering, dated and inaccurate sense that only men go bald. And maybe that’s why women who experience thinning hair feel embarrassed and even ashamed about it. Studies prove this. According to Dr. Alan Bauman, a board-certified hair restoration physician, studies have linked hair loss in women to depression, anxiety and social withdrawal.

But why can’t we talk about? It’s certainly a common enough problem. Dr. Bauman says that more than half of all women over 40 experience hair loss. And Dr. Ken Williams, founder of Orange County Hair Restoration in Irvine, Calif., tells me that hair loss affects 30 million women in the U.S. We gals should be able to step up, ask questions and find solutions — without feeling like freak shows.

So, I did just that. I recently reached out to several reputable physicians to get real-live answers (rather than the anonymous, vague explanations that are so rampant online). I’ll cover lots of territory here, so feel free to use the links below to jump to the info you need:

The Causes of Hair Loss in Women

Genetic Causes

Some 25% of women are genetically predisposed to hair loss. The official name for this condition is Androgenetic Alopecia, but it’s also called Female Pattern Hair Loss or FPHL. An FPHL diagnosis means the hair loss is caused by a certain group of hormones that are messing with the growth cycle of your hair.

Woman with Androgenetic Alopecia. Photo courtesy of Stop and reGrow Hair.

This is where things get complicated. Many factors, from illness to menopause, can affect your hormones. And, worse yet, “the science of female balding remains misunderstood,” says Dr. Williams of Orange County Hair Restoration. “We don’t understand all the genetic codes at work. There are most likely other types of enzymes as well as hormone receptors and blockers that have yet to be discovered.”

Here are a few things we do know about FPHL:

  • Dr. Williams estimates that FPHL accounts for 95% of female hair loss.
  • Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse says FPHL typically causes a widened center part and thinning at the crown. This is quite different from male pattern baldness, which shows up as a receding hair line.
  • According to Dr. Nettles, founder of Stop and reGrow Hair, once FPHL starts, a woman will lose about 4% of her hair each year if she doesn’t seek treatment.

FPHL is the most common culprit for female hair loss and also the most difficult to treat.

Emotional Causes

Severe stress has a role in two types of hair loss: Telogen Effluvium and Alopecia Areata. Telogen Effluvium is characterized by large clumps of hair loss over a short period of time. Alopecia Areata will present as circles of hair loss. When stress is the culprit, removing that stressor is the first course of action. If you do nothing, the hair loss will continue.

hair loss in women -- alopecia areata

Woman with Alopecia Areata. This patient waited 3 years to seek help. Now, her only option to correct the  patch of hair loss above her ear with a hair transplant. Photo courtesy of Stop and reGrow Hair.

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