Hair loss in women affects 1 in every 4 women
Women today, more than ever have a desire to have long luscious hair. This is evident in the number of hair extension brands marketed to provide women with the illusion of both thickness and length. Long hair has been known to accentuate a woman’s beauty, attract mates and is synonymous with inner health and vitality. It may come as a surprise, but the thinning of hair and hair loss experienced, even that which is attributed to genes, is not reserved for the male gender alone. Though there are some similarities in hair loss experienced by men and women, there are also a number of differences represented with hair loss in women. More than 1 in every 4 women will experience thinning of their hair at some point in their life. Approx. 40% of women once they turn 50 years old will show signs of female hair loss.
Causes of Hair Loss in Women
Female Pattern Baldness
In female pattern baldness, the hair that is thinning will be typically presented on the top and crown region of the scalp. Symptoms of female patttern baldness usually begin with the centre hair part extending or widening, with the front hairline remaining intact. Women who experience female pattern baldness will find it does not progress as dramatically as it does in male pattern baldness. As with all causes of hair loss in women, the rate at which one loses hair is variable dependent on the health of the individual and their independent genetic makeup.
In female pattern baldness the enzyme 5-a reductase, testosterone, and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) play a role alongside the presence of the enzyme aromatase and the female hormones estrone and estradiol.
- 5-a reductase reacts with testosterone to produce DHT.
- DHT is a hormone that shrinks the hair follicle.
- DHT is also responsible for the gradual disappearance of the hair follicles that are affected.
- Women naturally have half the 5-a reductase of men.
- In women, the enzyme aromatase is responsible for the formation of the female hormones, estrone and estradiol
- Estrone and estradiol have been shown to counteract the action of DHT.
- Women have higher levels of aromatase than their male counterparts.
Though hair loss experienced in women is more prevalent than one might expect, a woman can attribute her thinning to this genetic cause, only after all other risk factors have been ruled out.
Female Hair Loss Caused by Hormones
The ovaries secrete two major female hormones known by the names of progesterone and oestrogen. When these hormones are not balanced, a woman may experience an associated hair loss.
Hair Loss Caused by Low Progesterone and Oestrogen Dominance
Progesterone is one hormone, in particular, that should not be dropping to low levels. When it does, it can set off a condition where the hormone oestrogen becomes the most dominant of the two. Oestrogen dominance in women is a known trigger to the hormonal thinning and shedding of hair.
Birth Control Pills
Progestins are present in birth control pills and they often act like testosterone, shrinking and damaging the hair follicle. Even with modern birth control, there isn’t much improvement and the side effects are often worse – such as increased risk of blood clots. Women who are taking birth control pills should opt for the use of low – androgen birth control, especially if they are genetically predisposed to hair loss.
Child Birth (Post Pregnancy)
During pregnancy, an increased number of hairs enter the resting phase in the hair growth cycle. After a pregnancy and consequent childbirth, a woman runs the risk of losing hair due to a condition called telogen effluvium. This condition is very common affecting 40-50% of women after giving birth. It occurs approximately three months after childbirth and can be experienced as an excessive shedding of hair. This is a temporary hair loss that will rectify itself within 6-12 months. If this is not the case, the woman may have an underlying medical condition that needs to be evaluated. Often a nutritional deficiency or a condition relating to the thyroid gland will prevent the hair returning to its normal state post pregnancy.
Hair loss in women may also result from:
- Discontinued use of birth control pills
Menopause and testosterone levels contribute to hair loss in women
Menopause and testosterone levels contribute to female hair loss. Hair loss during menopause is a common fate for women due to the decline in oestrogen levels. With a deficiency in estrogen, the result is an imbalance whereby testosterone’s abundance over oestrogen can cause thinning of the hair in areas of the scalp that are sensitive to androgens. This is very similar to what happens with men in Male Pattern Baldness. Strangely where it thins out the hair on the scalp, an odd predicament for women is the growth of unwanted hair on the chin and facial areas. DHT is a potent form of testosterone which has been linked to hair loss. If a woman produces higher levels of androgens, testosterone levels are likely to be hiked which once converted to DHT can result in hair loss.
Thyroid Hormone Deficiency and Hormonal Hair Loss
The thyroid gland produces parathyroid hormone which is responsible for the stimulation of hair growth. If this gland is out of balance, hair starts to look dry and brittle. It is this hair that will also break with ease and is more prone to falling out. Hair follicles must remain in a healthy cycle of growing or resting. Thyroid hormones are responsible for this maintenance. When the thyroid is imbalanced, it affects the hair follicles making more of them stay in the “resting” phase instead of proceeding to the active growing phase. The result of imbalance is that more strands will fall out and there is the potential for the hair to go prematurely grey. Imbalances of the thyroid do not occur overnight. Thyroid imbalance develops slowly over time and has the potential to go unnoticed. Even if a patient has undergone the appropriate testing protocol, thyroid tests do not alert a patient to issues until the imbalance, and its damage is much further along. Being proactive with one’s health is key to prevention.