What Causes Hair Loss in Women (and What You Can Do About It)?

Treatment includes controlling stress and anxiety
hair loss

By: Holly L. Thacker, MD

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Both males and females have nurturing, mentoring and coaching abilities. And both sexes, after puberty, produce both androgens including testosterone and estrogen hormones which have protean effects throughout the body. In fact, women produce more androgens than estrogen on a milligram per milligram basis, while males produce 10 times the amount of testosterone compared to females.

Besides muscle strength, testosterone affects hair and the hair follicle. Which brings us to hair! Men tend to be hairier than women, though many lose hair on the sides and tops of their head if genetically susceptible to the influences of androgens on the hair follicle.

For centuries, long, plush, shiny hair has been a mark of female beauty while cut muscles are a sign of masculinity. So when many women, who are genetically predisposed to androgenic hair thinning (also called “male patterned hair loss” in men or “female patterned hair loss” in females), note excessive hair shedding, many panic and have visions of looking like a cue ball. This panic can increase the stress hormones made in the adrenal glands which in turn worsens the hair shedding which in turns worsens the panic. A vicious cycle ensues.

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Part of the treatment for women with hair loss includes controlling stress and anxiety. Rest assured, complete hair loss, called alopecia, is very rare in women. However, just like our bodies change with age, most women will note some hair thinning with age.

What causes hair loss

There are many causes of hair loss:

  • If you notice more than 150 hairs shed per day (compared to the usual 100 hairs) it is time to be evaluated by a physician sensitive to your concerns.
  • Sometimes hair loss is just transitory from “telogen effluvium” which occurs when the resting and growing phases of hair growth are out of synch.
  • Nutritional deficiencies are another cause. Dermatologist Wilma Bergfeld, MD, who specializes in hair loss, has found that low iron stores contributes to hair loss and optimal ferritin/iron stores are around a level of 50.

As far as female patterned hair loss, 90% is genetic and 10% is hormonal. At menopause, estrogen levels plummet and this can unmask the androgen driven hair loss in women as androgens are still made even when female eggs run out and thus estrogen production virtually stops. Postmenopausal estrogen therapy is beneficial to the skin and hair as well mucosal membranes like the vagina and also the bones which are very sensitive to estrogen loss.

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Tips and tricks for those suffering from hair loss

While I can prescribe hormone therapy and treat vitamin deficiencies, I have not been trained in cosmetology. However, some of my patients have taught me clever tricks that I have been able to share with other patients who suffer from hair thinning, including:

  • Styling tips to minimize the part line.
  • Having hair color if possible approximate the scalp color.
  • Using hair shampoos containing silicone to coat the hair and thicken the appearance of the mane.
  • Using a clever product that comes in several hair colors called TOPPIK that is put on hair and scalp to make the hair look instantly thicker.

So ladies, while I can not change what genetics you inherited from your dear ole’ Dad and Mom, there are medical, hormonal, and cosmetic options that you have to help you feel and look good. Having confidence is an important part of being strong, healthy and in charge.

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