Woman styling her hair at mirror

PREVENT

Six causes of hair loss in women and promising remedies

  • Over styling your hair can lead to temporary or even permanent hair loss.
  • If you suffer from hair loss, talk to your health care provider or dermatologist.

Hair loss is one of the most common reasons women see a dermatologist. Estimates are that half to 2/3 of women will see noticeable hair loss in their lifetime and that 30 million women in the United States will experience significant hair loss.

Women with hair loss

Hair loss in women differs from men. Men tend to have a receding hairline and bald spots at the top and back of the head. For women, hair loss is general thinning on the crown with less change in the hairline.

What is the cause of hair loss?

The six main causes of hair loss in women are family history, stress, nutrition, medical conditions, medications and hair care habits. Let's dive into each cause.

  1. Family history -- You are more likely to have hair loss if it runs in the family. This type of hair loss, often called female pattern baldness, is not preventable.

  2. Stress — Telogen effluvium is the hair loss that occurs after an illness or stressful event, such as childbirth or a hospitalization. Other triggers are crash dieting, taking certain medications and experiencing extreme emotional situations.

    The good news is that this loss is non-scarring, meaning that hair will regrow within about six months without any treatment needed. With that said, if you have ongoing stress, you hair loss may be due to something different and may not grow back within six months.

  3. Nutrition — Many studies have shown that dietary issues, like not having enough iron, protein or vitamin D in your diet, can cause hair loss. Excess vitamin A and heavy metals such as selenium, arsenic and thallium can also cause hair loss.
  4. Medical conditions — Certain medical conditions can cause hair loss. For example, alopecia areata is hair loss caused by your immune system attacking your hair follicles. Hair loss appears as small, round bald patches.

    Other medical conditions that can cause hair loss include diabetes, lupus, anemia and hormone imbalances, such as thyroid disease. Androgenetic alopecia is an example of hair loss due to a hormone imbalance. This is what we see with the typical "male pattern" hair loss, but is also seen in women on the crown of the scalp. Androgenetic alopecia is very common in women over 65 and in those with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

  5. Medications — Certain medications and treatments can cause hair loss. Patients being treated for cancer with chemotherapy or radiation are probably the most recognized for experiencing hair loss. Other conditions that treat cancer are probably the most recognized condition where the treatment frequently causes hair loss. Other medications that can affect hair are those for high blood pressure, arthritis, depression, heart conditions and gout.
  6. Hair care habits — One of the most preventable causes of hair loss have to do with hair care. Excessive or long-term chemical use, such as dyes, straighteners, permanent wave solutions, can damage the hair, preventing it from growing, follicle over time causing scarring that prevents hair from regrowing. Other practices, such as blow dryers, hot curlers, flattening irons and curling irons also contribute to long-term damage.

Treatment for hair loss

Losing hair can be very emotional, and if you're concerned, your first step is to talk to your primary care provider or dermatologist to determine the underlying cause of the hair loss.

Treatments for nonpermanent hair loss include:

  • Topical treatments like minoxidil or Rogaine® can improve hair growth. There are also oral medications that block testosterone, which acts on the hair follicles. 
  • Topical steroids or steroid injections can help with hair loss due to autoimmune disorders.
  • Some stressful conditions may resolve themselves, and hair should grow back. However, if stress is not resolved, or has been long-term, consider making lifestyle changes or talk to your doctor about ways to reduce stress.
  • Improve your diet for any missing nutrients or taking a biotin supplement helps to strengthen existing hair if your hair breaks easily.  
  • Ask your doctor about alternative medications for your conditions. For some conditions, such as cancer, the hair should grow back after treatment is concluded.
  • Give your hair a break from harsh chemicals. Always use a heat protectant before straightening, curling or blow drying your hair, and use the lowest heat setting to prevent further damage. Be gentle when you brush, comb or braid your hair. Other steps include, washing your hair gently, avoid pulling or tugging on your hair and wear protection (hat, scarf) when out in the sun.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

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