Hair Loss Problems
You look in the mirror and you notice your part looks wider than before, and there seems to be more scalp peeking through the strands of hair. While hair loss is often thought of as a man’s problem, at least a third of women will experience thinning hair at some point in their lives.
“There are many different causes of hair loss in women. Some are associated with inflammation in the body. Some are female-pattern hair loss,” says Dr. Deborah Scott, assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Hair Loss Clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Unlike men, women typically experience thinning hair without going bald. In many cases this hair loss can be stabilized with treatment, and it may be reversible. When it’s not, there are a number of new cosmetic approaches that can help.
Understanding hair loss
The first step in dealing with thinning hair is determining what’s happening inside your body that is causing those extra strands to cling to your shoulders and your brush.
Some hair loss is normal. Everyone loses hair as part of the hair’s natural growth cycle, which occurs in three stages:
- The anagen stage refers to when a hair strand is actively growing. This stage can last anywhere from two to eight years.
- The catagen stage is a short transition phase that lasts up to three weeks. At this point the hair has stopped growing and is preparing to shed.
- The telogen stage is the part of the hair cycle when the hair is expelled from the follicle (the structure that produces and holds the hair). After the hair sheds, the follicle then stays dormant, typically for around three months, before a new hair starts to sprout.
Some people may shed a hundred or more strands of hair each day as a result of this natural growth cycle, says Dr. Scott. Normal hair loss is highly individual. “It might be normal for some people to shed 150 hairs a day,” says Dr. Scott. But for someone else that might be extreme. Most people have a sense of how much hair is normal for them to lose. If you suddenly notice more hair than usual falling out, you’re shedding clumps of hair, or your hair seems to be visibly thinning, it may be a sign that something is amiss, says Dr. Scott.
Underlying causes for hair loss
Numerous problems can trigger female hair loss. Some are external, such as taking certain medications, frequently wearing hairstyles that pull the hair too tight, or even a stressful event such as surgery. In other cases, thinning hair is triggered by something going on inside the body—for instance, a thyroid problem, a shift in hormones, a recent pregnancy, or an inflammatory condition. Hair loss may also be genetic.
The most common cause of hair loss in women is a genetic condition known as female-pattern hair loss, or androgenic alopecia. Unlike men with male-pattern baldness, who usually lose hair from the front of the scalp, women might notice a widening of the part at the top of the head. It often begins when a woman is in her 40s or 50s, as new strands of hair grow more slowly. The follicle also changes, and the new hair that grows in is finer and less robust. You might experience this type of hair loss if you inherit certain genes from one or both of your parents, but it may also be spurred on by hormonal shifts that occur during menopause.
Another trigger for hair loss in women is an inflammatory condition affecting the scalp. That might be eczema, psoriasis, or a condition called frontal fibrosing alopecia, which typically causes scarring and hair loss — sometimes permanent — at the front of the scalp above the forehead. This condition seems to be getting more common, but “no one really knows why,” says Dr. Scott. It’s also unclear what causes frontal fibrosing alopecia, but both environmental and genetic factors may be involved.
Other common causes of hair loss include overuse of damaging hair products or tools such as dryers and other devices that heat the hair. Underlying illness, autoimmune conditions such as lupus, nutritional deficiencies, or hormonal imbalances may also cause hair to shed.