|About two-thirds of women face hair loss at some point in life. It can be the result of heredity, certain medications, or an underlying medical condition. Although for many women the hair loss is permanent, some causes in women are treatable. Seeing your physician can help determine the cause of hair loss. Among the possible causes are:
- Hormonal Changes
- Alopecia Areata
- Alopecia Totalis
- Alopecia Universalis
- Androgenetic Alopecia (Female Pattern Hair Loss) also known as Androgenic Alopecia
- Scarring Alopecia
- Traction Alopecia
- Tinea Capitis
- Hair Products
Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss. Androgenetic Alopecia or pattern baldness is the most common type. It accounts for approximately 95% of hair loss from the scalp. It is often permanent and can be attributed to heredity. The other types of Alopecia are Alopecia Areata, Alopecia Totalis, and Alopecia Universalis.
Severe physical or emotional stress can cause hair loss regardless of whether a person is predestined to lose hair or not. This type of hair loss in women is usually not permanent; however, in the case of a woman who has hereditary hair loss, the process may be accelerated by stress. Examples of severe stress include loss of a loved one, strenuous sports, training, severe illness, drastic weight loss, surgeries, and emotional stress. During healing periods following surgery or illness, the body devotes its energies to repairing the body. It shuts down the production of hair during periods of stress because hair is not necessary for survival. This period may last 4 weeks to 3 months after surgery or an illness; however, once the body is healed, normal hair growth usually resumes. The total cycle could take up to six months. Undetected health issues, such as anemia or low blood count, and thyroid abnormalities can also contribute to hair loss. Simple blood tests can detect these diseases.
Age and Hormones
Alopecia can be caused by heredity and changing hormones. Although it can cause modest to significant hair loss in aging women, this hair loss may also show in women as young as 25 to 30. Female-patterned Baldness begins with replacement hairs becoming progressively finer and shorter until they become almost transparent. Hair loss in women is usually less prominent than in men. It often begins where women part their hair and on the top of their heads. It generally does not cause a receding hairline in women. Almost 50% of women who experience permanent hair loss have female-pattern baldness.
Alopecia Areata is classified as an autoimmune disease, although its cause is unknown. It can involve hair loss on the scalp or the body that occurs in small, round, smooth patches. It often affects healthy individuals. A family history of Alopecia Areata increases one's chances of developing it. Alopecia Areata is usually a temporary condition. Hair usually grows back, although it may take several years.
No one knows what activates Alopecia Areata. It is currently believed that the immune system suppresses the hair follicle. The cause for this is unknown. Research indicates that genetics may increase a person's susceptibility to develop Alopecia Areata, as well as the degree of its severity. One out of five persons with Alopecia Areata has a family member who has the disease.
This particular type of hair loss often occurs in families whose members have had Asthma, Hay fever, Atopic Eczema, or other autoimmune diseases such as Thyroid disease, early-onset Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus Erythesmatosus, Vitiligo, Pernicious Anemia, or Addison's disease.
Alopecia Totalis involves hair loss over the entire scalp. Affected hair follicles become very small and drastically slow production, although they remain alive. These follicles can resume normal hair production, even after years without treatment.
Hair loss occurs over the entire body.
Female Pattern Hair Loss, or Androgenetic Alopecia is a genetic condition that occurs in one out of five women. Hair loss can come from either parent's side of the family. Women of all ages, from puberty to post-menopausal can be affected by Androgenetic Alopecia.
Researchers believe that as a woman's estrogen level declines, her hair follicles become more sensitive to the testosterone in her body. As the testosterone in her scalp breaks down, one of its by-products, Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), interferes with the hair follicle, causing it to atrophy. This results in smaller hairs with less pigment. Eventually the hair follicle stops producing hair altogether.
Unlike men, women may experience hair thinning over the entire scalp, although Androgenetic Alopecia is generally limited to hair thinning in the front, on the sides, or crown. Hair loss on either side of the family increases the risk of balding, the age at which hair loss can begin, the speed, pattern, and extent of baldness.
Traction Alopecia is a condition usually caused by continuous and excessive stress on particular hairs. It is often found in women who continuously style their hair in ponytails, buns, or cornrows. Although the hairs with the most tension on them may gradually stop growing, this condition can be reversed by simply changing hairstyles to one that reduces the tension on the hair and hair follicles. Hair loss may become permanent if the stress is not alleviated.
This is a version of Traction Alopecia that is actually a psychological condition. It is also referred to as "Hair Pulling Disorder". The individual compulsively pulls out strands of hair in distinct patches on the scalp, and possibly the eyelashes and eyebrows. It is caused by an extreme amount of anxiety, stress, and depression. It is most commonly found in young children, adolescents, and women. A person who suffers from these symptoms should seek immediate help from a licensed, professional psychologist or psychiatrist, as its treatment is beyond any hair care professional.
Commonly known as "Ringworm", this condition is highly contagious. It can be spread from animals to humans or between people. Scaling and redness in round or uneven areas of stubbled hair loss occur where the fungus is consuming the keratin of the hair. These patches of hair loss slowly expand as the fungus spreads. The skin in the middle of the patch often remains normal-looking, hence the name, "Ringworm". It can be treated with an anti-fungal agent taken once a day for of period of between four and twelve weeks. Nizoral shampoo (Ketaconazole 2%) may also be prescribed in addition to the oral treatment to reduce the surface scaling.
Drugs designed to kill cancer cells also poison the hair follicles and often result in total hair loss. Hair on the head is most commonly affected. The scalp may become tender; and hair that is still growing may become dry and brittle. Usually hair loss starts approximately 2-3 weeks after the first dose of chemotherapy, with total hair loss generally occurring 1-2 months later. Hair often grows back 3-4 months after the last chemotherapy treatment. As hair may grows back, it may be thinner and a different color, which may be gray or white, due to the absence or alteration of pigment. In most cases hair eventually returns to its original texture and color.
Radiation therapy destroys the ability of all cells within its reach to grow and reproduce. If radiation is applied around the head or neck, hair loss will occur as Alopecia, and may not grow back.
Chemicals used for coloring, bleaching, straightening, or perming hair can cause it to become damaged and break off if they are overused or used incorrectly. They may also damage the hair follicle, which may in turn, cause permanent damage. Excessive hairstyling or hairstyles that pull your hair too tightly can also cause hair loss. (Please see Traction Alopecia.)
Anagen Effluvium and Telogen Effluvium are other types of temporary hair loss. Anagen Effluvium is usually due to internally administered medications. Telogen Effluvium occurs when an increased number of hair follicles enter the resting state. The most common causes, and some examples of Telogen Effluvium, include:
- Physical Stress: surgery, illness, anemia, rapid weight changes
- Emotional Stress: mental illness, death of a loved one
- Medications: drugs used to treat gout or arthritis, birth control pills, blood thinners, antidepressants, high blood pressure medications, high doses of Vitamin A
- Hormonal Causes: pregnancy, birth control pills, menopause
- Poor Nutrition: inadequate protein or iron, fad or crash diets, bowel disease, eating disorders
- Diet: too little protein or iron in your diet can lead to hair shedding
- Disease: Diabetes, Lupus, overactive or under active thyroid
- Infancy: Newborns often lose hair that is replaced by permanent hair. Babies from 3 - 6 months may lose a patch of hair on the back of their heads from rubbing against mattresses, playpens, and car seats. Hair grows back once a baby begins to sit up more often.
When most of these causes of Telogen Effuvium are reversed, individuals should see the return of normal hair growth. The diseases listed may prove to be an exception.
Hair Loss Myths
Common myths connected with hair loss in women include:
- Frequent shampooing contributes to hair loss.
- Hats and wigs cause hair loss.
- Brushing your hair 100 strokes each day creates healthier hair.
- Perms, colors, and other cosmetic treatments cause hair loss.
- Healthy women are expected to develop significant hair loss.
- Shaving one's head will cause hair to grow back thicker.
- Standing on one's head increases circulation to the scalp and stimulates hair growth.
- Dandruff causes permanent hair loss.
- Some cosmetic products will cause the hair to grow thicker and faster.
- Stress causes permanent hair loss.
- Hair loss does not occur in the late teens or early twenties.
- Hair loss affects only intellectuals.
- Androgenetic Alopecia can be cured.