While many people relegate concerns over hair loss to the realm of conditions that are only endured by men, thinning hair and excessive shedding are very real problems for many women. In fact, approximately 30 million women in the United States suffer from some amount of hair loss caused by androgenetic alopecia.
Sometimes called female pattern baldness, androgenetic alopecia occurs when levels of testosterone become too high within a woman's body. This imbalance of the male sex hormone causes hair to shed more rapidly and to grow back with thinner, more delicate strands. These thinner strands do not cover the scalp as completely as their former growth, making patches of scalp visible where they never were before.
Androgenetic alopecia often occurs in women during their late 50s and early 60s around the time of menopause. The large drops in estrogen levels that occur at this time contribute to the hormonal imbalance. Heredity also plays an important role in determining who will develop female pattern baldness. If other women in your family struggled with thinning hair as they grew older, you are more likely to as well.
Hair loss in women can be caused by other factors beyond androgenetic alopecia. Certain medications, like beta blockers, and underlying medical conditions like hypothyroidism, can contribute to the condition. Iron and vitamin deficiencies may also cause the hair to grow in less thick, leaving noticeable bald spots. In addition, many women experience temporary hair loss after pregnancy or during the recovery time from a major illness or surgery.
Because an undiagnosed medical condition could be to blame for hair loss, women noticing thinning hair or excessive shedding should talk to their doctors to rule out the possibility of an underlying health problem. If testing shows that androgenetic alopecia is to blame, treatment is usually not necessary from a medical standpoint; however, many women are embarrassed from hair loss and suffer from a decrease in confidence and poor self-esteem as a result.
If you are suffering from female pattern baldness and decide to seek treatment to improve your quality of life, many options are available. You may need to combine treatment methods or experiment to see what works best for you. Often, results from treatments take time, so it is important to be as patient as you can be and give anything you try adequate time to work before switching to another method.
While dealing with female pattern alopecia, there are some self care techniques that can help improve your appearance and slow down your hair loss. Many women find that shorter haircuts are more flattering with thinner hair, as long strands often appear weaker and thinner. While perming or coloring your hair is generally safe when suffering from hair loss, do so in moderation. You should also avoid over-drying your hair by not getting both perms and hair coloring treatments. Choose the one that makes you feel the most confident and visit a professional salon to ensure that the chemicals used are of the highest quality.
You may also want to begin taking a vitamin that is high in both folate and iron. Eating a well-balanced diet will also give your body the proper raw materials needed to produce healthy, thicker hair strands. In addition, special hair loss supplements are available on the market that typically combine vitamin E with vital minerals like selenium and zinc to help combat hair loss.
As of 2012, only one prescription medication was approved for treating hair loss in women by the FDA. Called minoxidil, the drug is a topical treatment applied directly to the scalp. Most women find that the treatment stops hair loss, and roughly a fourth of all women are able to regrow hair in thinning areas thanks to minoxidil. The drug must be taken continuously once you begin using it to continue to prevent hair loss.
Some doctors also prescribe the oral medication spironolactone for female pattern alopecia. Although not FDA-approved for this use, this medication helps to decrease androgen levels in the body, thereby slowing down or stopping hair loss. Side effects are possible, such as sudden dangerous spikes in the potassium levels of the blood.
Hair transplants are a surgical intervention that can offer long lasting results for women with noticeable bald spots. Dermatologists and plastic surgeons perform many different types of hair transplants, but all of these methods involve taking hair from a thicker area of growth or another part of the body and implanting it on the scalp to cover thinning areas. Scarring of the scalp is common with hair transplant surgery, and as the procedure is an invasive operation, there is a risk for excessive bleeding and infections.
For mild to moderate hair loss in women, over-the-counter treatments are often beneficial. Thickening shampoos and conditioners are one popular method for dealing with the problem. By replacing your current shampoo and conditioner with one designed for thinning hair, you can incorporate treatment into your daily bathing ritual without having to perform any extra steps. Some hair care brands even produce hair sprays and styling products that can temporarily thicken the hair and make thinning less noticeable.
A variety of topical hair treatments are available to help you deal with hair loss and increase the effectiveness of hair loss shampoos and conditioners. Typically, these are serums, creams or sprays that are applied to the scalp and hair. In some cases, the treatments are designed to produce temporary results and boost your confidence during the day for hours after use. Others are intended to help thicken and strengthen hair strands to regrow your hair in areas of thinning.
When shopping for hair care products and treatments, there are a number of key ingredients that you should keep your eye out for to signal that a product may be beneficial in your fight against hair loss.
- Ketoconazole is an antifungal medication that is available in an over-the-counter strength. Clinical studies have founded that ketoconazole helps reduce the amount of androgens present on the scalp, which can slow down hair loss due to anrdogenetic alopecia.
- Caffeine, the stimulant found in coffee and colas, is contained in many hair loss shampoos and treatments. When applied to the scalp, caffeine helps stimulate circulation, which can hasten the regrowth of hair in thinning areas.
- Emu oil is a fatty acid rendered from the tissue of the emu bird. When added to hair loss treatment products, the oil has been clinically shown to stimulate the hair follicles and support the regrowth of hair.
- Saw palmetto, an extract sourced from the fruit of the Serenoa repens shrub, reduces testosterone and other androgen levels within the body. For women battling hair loss, its presence in a shampoo, conditioner or topical treatment can help slow down shedding.