Approximately half of all women will experience hair loss by the time they’re 80 . From stress to diet, there are many causes of hair loss in women — but the number one cause is female pattern baldness .
These patients show the key differences between male pattern baldness and female pattern baldness:
Both female pattern baldness and male pattern baldness are types of androgenetic alopecia. But while male pattern baldness is much more common, women are also susceptible to genetic hair loss. Find out if you’re at risk from female pattern baldness, why it happens, and what you can do to treat hair loss in women.
Female pattern baldness is a type of hereditary hair loss affecting women. Unlike male pattern hair loss, which is typically limited to the temples and crown, female pattern baldness usually causes an even spread of thinning hair loss across the scalp. This can result in a widening parting, and eventually a general thinning of hair across the head. Some women notice that the hair becomes so thin they can see their scalp.
This type of hair loss happens when your hair follicles react to your hormones. The exact nature of the relationship between hormones, hair follicles, and genes is still being studied, but experts agree that these are the key determining factors for female pattern baldness .
Thick, healthy locks are an inherent part of the classic feminine look. As a result, female pattern baldness can have a serious impact on women’s mental health. In one study, 52% of women experiencing female hair loss said the condition was very-to-extremely upsetting, reporting anxiety, low self-esteem, and negative body image . Sexual function can also be diminished, with desire, arousal, and satisfaction all being potentially associated with this type of hair loss .
Where male pattern baldness is often accepted as a normal part of ageing, many women consider female pattern hair loss to be unusual . As a result, they may avoid social situations, windy weather, or other environments that can expose their hair loss. This contributes to a sense of isolation and powerlessness, reducing women’s confidence and general wellbeing.
Because female pattern hair loss impacts so many areas of women’s lives, it’s essential to address the issue. Unfortunately, women’s hair loss is often sidelined because it’s much more difficult to diagnose and treat effectively. It’s hard to overstate the range of underlying causes that can lead to women’s hair loss, which means you may need to undergo extensive testing to find the root cause.
At the Wimpole Clinic, our team of female hair loss specialists can perform a range of tests to pinpoint the reason for your hair thinning. With this information, we can then find the best female hair loss treatment for you.
Most cases of female pattern baldness are thought to be caused by genetics. While the exact genetic coding that leads to this condition is still unclear, research suggests that the aromatase gene, which is responsible for converting various androgens to oestrogen (typically testosterone to estradiol) within the hair follicle, may play a part in female pattern hair loss [6-7].
Hormones — especially androgens, which are responsible for the development of male sex characteristics — also play an unlikely role in female hair loss. Women produce testosterone (albeit in lower quantities than men) which is metabolised to produce dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT binds to androgen receptors in the hair follicles, causing them to shrink and stop producing hair.
Women produce less testosterone and therefore have lower levels of DHT, which may explain why women are less prone to pattern baldness than men. However, there’s no doubt that female hair loss affects a significant number of people. But are some women more at risk than others?
Female pattern baldness is one of the most common causes of hair loss in older women. But many younger women experience hair loss, too. Here are some of the most common alternative causes of female hair loss.
Telogen effluvium is stress-related hair loss. It’s usually temporary, and can happen after any kind of emotional event, including trauma, stress, or illness.
Many women experience telogen effluvium after giving birth.
Many illnesses can also lead or contribute to hair loss, including:
Poor hair care and harmful styling practices can lead to hair loss. Tight hairstyles like scraped-back ponytails, dreadlocks, and buns may cause traction alopecia if worn repeatedly or for a significant amount of time.
Similarly, overuse of heat styling can lead to hair thinning over time, thanks to the damage to your hair lengths. That’s why many women over 50 opt for short hairstyles that are less prone to breakage.
Certain vitamin deficiencies have been linked with hair loss. While vitamin deficiencies are rare in the West, nutritional inadequacies are common and may contribute to hair loss if they are chronic. So it’s important to eat a balanced diet to keep your hair and body healthy.
Don’t rely on vitamin supplements for hair growth, as there’s little evidence they improve hair health unless you have a clinical deficiency.
All women are susceptible to female pattern baldness, though it’s usually more likely to occur in those with a family history of baldness, and post-menopausal women. This may be due to the reduction in oestrogens that occurs after the menopause as higher levels of oestrogens have been linked to hair retention and growth .
There are other factors that can put women at higher risk of developing female pattern hair loss. These include:
Trichologists can determine the cause of your hair loss by asking questions about your health and lifestyle along with examining your hair and scalp.
Lifestyle questions will focus on your diet, medical conditions, mental health, and general health. These should alert your trichologist to any underlying conditions that may be causing your hair loss, such as an eating disorder, high stress levels, or autoimmune conditions.
Sometimes hair loss is down to poor hair-washing techniques and a damaging styling routine like perms or hair extensions.
If your trichologist doesn’t identify any underlying conditions or lifestyle factors, they can then examine your scalp for signs of female pattern hair loss.
Female pattern baldness tends to progress in a similar way for all women and is usually categorised into 3 distinct stages. This is shown on the Ludwig scale:
The stages of female pattern baldness are:
Yes. Evidence suggests that a family history of baldness can increase your risk of developing the condition. One study found that almost 85% of people with female pattern hair loss reported a family history of the condition .
Celebrities like Kayla Itsines have revealed female pattern baldness runs in her family. Learn more about Kayla’s condition and other female celebrities with hair loss.
Unlike most other types of hair loss, like stress or diet-related hair loss, female pattern baldness is permanent and this type of hair loss can cause significant distress, with some bald women reporting relationship and career problems stemming from their hair loss .
While female pattern baldness can become irreversible if left untreated, certain treatments can slow or stop hair loss, and even promote regrowth.
While it’s not usually possible to prevent female pattern baldness, certain treatments can slow or stop the condition from developing further. Here are some of the most popular female pattern baldness treatments.
Minoxidil is one of the most successful hair loss prevention drugs on the market used to stimulate hair growth. This topical solution is applied to the scalp, increasing blood flow to the hair follicles. It’s proven to reduce hair loss in people experiencing female pattern baldness .
While Minoxidil is a successful solution to hair loss, it’s been known to cause excessive facial and/or body hair growth in women . You may be able to mitigate this by using low-strength (2%) Minoxidil treatments. Be aware of this (and other side effects like Minoxidil-related hair colour changes) when using any hair loss treatment.
Certain shampoos may be helpful for managing female pattern hair loss. The most commonly used shampoos include:
While these products can be helpful, you probably won’t see dramatic results just from switching your shampoo. Evidence for these treatments is fairly limited, so try to temper your expectations.
Anti-androgen treatments — such as spironolactone, cyproterone, Finasteride, and Dutasteride — can reduce female pattern hair loss symptoms, in addition to treating conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome, hypertension, and heart failure .
Some anti-androgen treatments, like Finasteride and Dutasteride, aren’t recommended for women. So it’s a good idea to discuss any treatment plan with a doctor or qualified hair loss specialist before taking an anti-androgen drug.
While adopting a healthier lifestyle won’t stop female pattern hair loss from developing altogether, it may slow the rate of hair loss. These three lifestyle changes can make sure your remaining hair is strong and healthy:
While vitamins for hair growth won’t usually have much impact, they can be very helpful if you have a legitimate vitamin deficiency. Vitamin deficiencies are rare in the West, thanks to the prevalence of nutritious foods. But there are some cases where vitamin supplements might help:
Some essential oils for hair may help promote hair growth in women, including rosemary oil for hair, cedarwood oil, and lavender oil.
Bear in mind that the evidence for certain essential oils and hair growth comes from animal studies, so the results aren’t always transferable to humans.
Also known as LLLT, low-level laser therapy is a hair loss treatment that involves focusing low-level lasers on the scalp. Red light therapy for hair is a common form of LLLT. While it’s not known exactly how this treatment can promote hair regrowth, studies show it to be a safe, effective way to reduce the effects of genetic hair loss .
Vitamin therapy is another option for those experiencing mild hair loss. Vitamins are vital for strong, healthy hair, and supplements are proven to promote hair growth .
When vitamins are administered through an IV drip, the body can absorb up to 100% — creating healthier hair.
If your hair loss has advanced beyond type 1 on the Ludwig scale, a female hair transplant may be the best hair restoration option.
Modern hair transplant methods are safe, and successful, and give you natural-looking results. FUE transplant surgery is an excellent option for women, since it leaves virtually no scarring, and has a faster recovery time than FUT.
More than 12% of hair transplants worldwide are performed on women, so if you’re suffering from female pattern baldness, this is an excellent way to restore your lost hair .
Hair transplants are often recommended in conjunction with hair loss prevention treatments. A trichologist will be able to help you find the right course of treatment to tackle your hair loss and help give you thicker hair.
If you think you might be experiencing female pattern hair loss, the first step is to get a diagnosis.
There are many reasons for female hair thinning, as well as temporary and/or reversible hair loss in women, so it’s important to find out what’s actually causing you to lose hair.
Book a consultation with a qualified trichologist to get a hair and scalp exam and determine the cause of your hair loss.
Your trichologist can then help you establish a treatment plan that involves minimising your hair loss, and, if necessary, booking a hair transplant procedure to restore your hair giving you natural, healthy tresses. Learn more about hair transplants for women.
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