Hair loss and hair thinning are often seen as being in the male domain, but a significant number of women also experience the loss of hair. In the UK alone, it’s estimated that around 8 million women suffer from one of several types of alopecia.
If you’re losing hair in the shower, or seeing more hair than usual on your hairbrush or pillow, it’s time to learn more about the causes of female hair loss. While most hair loss isn’t a cause for concern, it can signal an underlying health condition or the onset of progressive hair loss. Either way, it’s important to understand and tackle the problem sooner rather than later.
In this article, we’ll examine all the major female hair loss causes, from hormones and aging to postpartum hair loss. We’ll also explore the risk factors, hair loss treatments, and preventative measures for women’s hair loss.
Most women lose 50 to 100 hairs every day through standard practices like washing and brushing their hair . Here’s what 100 hairs look like in people with short hair (left) vs long hair (right):
Hair falling out is a normal part of the hair growth cycle and happens when hair follicles shift through the different growth phases:
People with healthy hair growth will have up to 90% of their hair in the growth phase at any time. The rest is in the resting (catagen) or shedding (telogen) phase. It’s these hairs that come away from the scalp each day. Once the shedding phase has ended, healthy follicles progress into the hair regrowth phase.
If you have hair loss, your hair doesn’t continue into the growth phase. This lack of growth can be temporary or permanent, depending on the type of hair loss. Women with hair loss typically lose more than 100 hairs each day.
Women can be affected by lots of different types of hair loss, including:
Unlike male hair loss, which usually stems from male pattern baldness, the causes of hair loss in individuals who were assigned female at birth are more varied. This is particularly true in younger women.
Let’s look at each female hair loss condition in more detail.
Female pattern hair loss (FPHL) is caused by a combination of hormones, genes, and ageing. As a result, it’s far more likely to affect postmenopausal women. One study found that just 6% of premenopausal women had symptoms of female pattern baldness, compared with 38% in those over 70 .
Unlike the balding patterns that occur in male pattern hair loss, female pattern hair loss usually presents itself with thinning hair. The main symptoms of female pattern hair loss are a widening parting and diffuse thinning across the scalp:
Traction alopecia is a type of noticeable hair loss caused by hair styling practices that pull on the hair shaft. It tends to cause hair loss around the temples. Continuing to wear overly tight hairstyles can lead to permanent hair loss.
Telogen effluvium is a common type of hair loss triggered by physical or emotional stress. It encompasses lots of hair loss conditions, including postpartum hair shedding, anxiety-related hair loss, and even hair loss caused by anorexia nervosa.
Like female pattern hair loss, telogen effluvium tends to cause diffuse hair loss (thinning hair) across the scalp:
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition characterised by distinctive bald spots across the scalp. This type of patchy hair loss happens when your white blood cells attack the hair follicles, causing the hair to shed.
Alopecia areata is the mildest form of this condition. It can progress to alopecia totalis (total scalp hair loss) and alopecia universalis (total body hair loss).
Frontal fibrosing alopecia (FFA) is a type of scarring alopecia. Scarring alopecias are almost always permanent, so it’s important to seek treatment if you have symptoms of FFA.
FFA usually occurs in postmenopausal women . The main symptoms are a receding hairline in women and eyebrow hair loss:
While most hair loss occurs due to a premature shift to the hair shedding phase, it is possible to lose hair that’s still in the growth phase. This type of excessive shedding is known as anagen effluvium, and it’s mainly caused by chemotherapy medication .
Chemotherapy-related hair loss is common among cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment, but it’s temporary in almost all cases. When treatment is stopped, new hair grows back.
Other medications, including anabolic steroids and vitamin A supplements, can also cause female hair loss.
There are certain factors that can put you at greater risk of women’s hair loss. These include:
There are lots of female hair loss causes, which often combine to trigger sustained or temporary hair loss.
Here, we’ll explore all the key causes of each type of female hair loss.
While female pattern hair loss doesn’t present the same way as male pattern baldness, the causes are similar; namely, a combination of genes, hormones, and age:
Studies suggest nutritional deficiencies may also play a part in the development of female pattern baldness .
Traction alopecia is normally caused by excessively tight hairstyles which pull at and damage the follicles, leading to temporary hair loss.
Hairstyles that are known to cause traction alopecia include:
Telogen effluvium is primarily caused by stress or trauma. This can be physical trauma to the scalp, or a psychosomatic symptom of anxiety, depression, illness, or surgery.
There are several causes of telogen effluvium, including :
Some women with telogen effluvium experience trichodynia, also known as burning scalp syndrome .
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition. That means it’s caused by your immune system attacking healthy cells and tissues in the body: in this case, it damages the hair follicles. This causes bald patches to develop in random places on the scalp.
The exact cause of alopecia areata is unknown. Evidence suggests it may be linked to:
The exact cause of frontal fibrosing alopecia is currently unknown. It’s thought that genetic, hormonal, autoimmune, inflammatory, and environmental factors can all contribute to FFA .
Researchers have linked certain specific risk factors to the development of FFA [3, 15]:
The exact cause or trigger may differ from person to person.
Chemotherapy drugs are the most common cause of anagen effluvium, though there may be other triggers, too. This includes :
A clinical deficiency of certain vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients can lead to hair loss in women. However, deficiencies are rare in Western women, and shouldn’t be confused with micronutrient inadequacies. Inadequacies may contribute to hair loss, but are rarely a major cause themselves.
Nutritional deficiencies can contribute to several types of hair loss, including female pattern baldness, alopecia areata, and telogen effluvium [5-7].
Menopause itself isn’t a direct cause of hair loss. However, some women start to experience menopause-related hair loss due to hormone level changes.
After menopause, your body produces less oestrogen. This sudden drop in oestrogen levels enhances the impact of testosterone and DHT . This can cause a hormone imbalance in your body that leads to conditions like female pattern hair loss and frontal fibrosing alopecia.
While some types of female hair loss are preventable, many are more difficult to anticipate and avoid. This table shows which hair loss types you can and can’t prevent:
Preventable hair loss
Unpreventable hair loss
That said, there are several ways to maintain your hair and keep it healthy for as long as possible. This includes:
These tips won’t prevent future hair loss if you’re vulnerable to certain hair loss conditions, but they can make sure the hair you have is as healthy as possible.
Female alopecia is usually diagnosed with hair loss blood tests. Many female hair loss conditions have similar symptoms, so it’s not always easy to tell what’s causing your hair loss based on hair pull tests and visual patterns. Blood tests can help determine the true cause of hair loss.
If you have female pattern hair loss, a trichologist may measure the extent of this using the Ludwig Scale.
There are several medical treatments available to treat hair loss in women. But finding the right one depends on getting an accurate diagnosis.
In addition, some types of hair loss are temporary, and will grow back on their own without intervention. Telogen effluvium, for example, is almost always temporary, especially when the underlying cause has been addressed. Alopecia areata also has high rates of spontaneous remission.
This table shows which treatments can be effective for each condition:
Female hair loss condition
Female pattern hair loss
Minoxidil for women
Female hair transplants
Treating the underlying cause
Frontal fibrosing alopecia
Minoxidil combined with Finasteride*
Spontaneous regrowth when chemotherapy is stopped
*Finasteride can interfere with pregnancy and foetal development, so it’s not recommended for use in premenopausal or perimenopausal women.
If your hair falls out unexpectedly, there are several things you can do:
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