Understanding and Treating Female Hair Loss

Melissa Lobo Hair Care

By: Sarah Allen, Ph.D Candidate at York University

Everyone experiences some form of hair loss. However, it’s a bit of a problem when instead of collecting a small amount of hair on the side of the shower after washing your hair, you realize that more has come off your head than expected. That always makes for an awkward day at work after… When this happens, some people may have read that standing on your head can work. So, they take yoga classes and learn inversions to help increase blood flow to the scalp. Sadly, this is actually a myth – so please save those headstands you learned for yoga class (Seemiller, 2008; Patel, 2013).

Pesky female hair loss is actually relatively common – about 40% of women worldwide have problems ‘under the hood’ (Stough, N.D.), and these problems are not new either. In fact, Hippocrates, father of modern medicine, was convinced that horseradish and pigeon droppings rubbed on your head was a good solution for hair loss. Thankfully, Hippocrates was wrong and women can avoid smelling like horseradish and pigeon droppings unnecessarily (Bernstein, 2009). The worst part about female hair loss is that it’s not really commonly accepted. Men are expected to go bald eventually. Many men favor a buzz-cut look anyway, so how different is going bald for them? Women, on the other hand, aren’t expected to eventually add shaving their scalp to their morning routine.

So, if standing on your head and horseradish rubs don’t help reduce hair loss, what in the world does?! Thankfully, after reading this article you’ll feel safe to wear a hat all the time and not worry about going bald – because that’s not true either! (Hair Loss Advisory; The Belgravia Centre). Sit back, put on your reading cap, and let me help you get to the ‘root’ of this problem once and for all.

What is Hair Loss? – The Hair Cycle

You probably want to know why you are going bald, right? Those of you who wake up in the morning with half of your beautiful locks still on the pillow have come to the right place.

Did you know that hair grows on every part of the human body – except for the palms of our hands and soles of our feet? Some of that hair is barely visible, but it is there. Why else would waxing be so popular? Hair is formed of the protein keratin, which “is produced in hair follicles in the outer layer of skin” (WebMD). The average person’s scalp has between 100,000 – 150,000 strands of hair that can live up to seven years each. That’s a lot of hair so it’s no wonder that as females we would lose a certain amount of hair naturally. In fact, it is normal to shed and lose up to 100 hairs per day – it’s when you start to see more than this that you might consider some of our suggestions below (Hair Loss Advisory; WebMD).

Just like a dog, daily shedding is part of our natural hair growth cycle – you shouldn’t be afraid of this! This cycle is three phases: the Anagen phase – this is the active hair growth; the Catagen phase – where the hair rests before shedding; and then the Telogen phase – where a hair follicle reaches the end of its lifespan and then sheds (Hair Loss Learning Center; Hair Loss Advisory). It’s also interesting to note that only a maximum of 10 percent of your hair follicles are shedding at any given time because the hairs on your head are all growing at different rates. It is when this cycle is interrupted that people see hair loss. Just because you might be experiencing thinning and hair loss, there are ways to reverse the problem.

Causes of Hair Loss

 

Hair loss is a scary reality for some women, especially when it comes about unexpectedly. There are so many causes of hair loss – genetic and non-genetic. Luckily, the majority of hair loss cases are because of some form of sudden shock to your system and they can be physical or emotional. Shocks can be environmental, dietary, hair care related, stress, from a medical condition, hormones, or be hereditary. Another piece of good news is that if the cause is realized sooner, there’s more chance of completely reversing the hair loss.

Environmental

Trichologists, hair doctors, are all in agreement that the elements in our environments can be harmful to our hair. Too many hot, sunny days, too much cold, dry weather, and too many pollutants in our water can leave our hair less than desirable.

  • Water: Hair doctors and experts talk at length about the effects of water quality on hair health. All of these experts at least agree that poor water quality does cause hair to be dry, brittle and look dull. Ladies that spend a lot of time swimming in chlorine pools might notice this especially (Evans & H.A., N.D). How sad that all that time spent exercising and enjoying pools can be terrible for our hair! That feeling of your hair being gummy when it’s wet and then like a scarecrow when it’s dry is not pleasant.
  • Weather: Certain weather conditions, like high humidity, heat and prolonged exposure to the sun, can lead to what’s known as ‘Sensitive Scalp Syndrome’ (Rajput, 2015). Just like our skin needs protection from the sun, so does our hair. Think about stepping into the arctic temperatures of someone’s house or office where there is an excessive use of air-conditioning (Evans & H.A., N.D). If your skin doesn’t like it…chances are your hair doesn’t like it either! If your scalp isn’t happy, how can your hair grow into mermaid locks?
  • Air/Pollution: ‘Sensitive Scalp Syndrome’ can also be the result of exposure to increased environmental pollutants and can be very damaging to the hair and could result in some hair loss. Our skin, and therefore our hair too, act as barriers to environmental conditions. According to a recent study in 2015, “traffic pollution has been a known cause of respiratory and skin ailments [and] the same inflammatory process affects hair follicles as well” (Rajput, 2015).

Poor Diet

One thing that will create problems for a woman’s hair woes is a poor diet. Hair loss experts say that approximately 90% of the women who come into clinics with hair loss concerns have some form of nutritional deficiency like low iron, low protein, low vitamin D and B12 (Ismail, 2012; Hair Loss Learning Center; Vietnam Hair Institute, 2012). These same experts say that a multi-vitamin might not enough either – you really need to address the nutritional deficiency head on.

How often have you heard that you should be eating a balanced diet? If you haven’t listened yet, you should if you have hair loss because hair health can be largely determined by what you eat. We are what we eat after all.

Iron deficiency causing hair loss in women is the second leading cause! If you’re not eating enough iron-rich foods then you won’t have enough red blood cells to move oxygen cells around your body. This solution is so simple! Eat foods that are rich in iron such as beef, fish, leafy greens, and beans (Yu, 2014; Belgravia Centre; Marturana, 2016). If you do have anaemia, iron supplements can be a good idea but most doctors will tell you that unless you have an actual deficiency in a vitamin, you should just try to eat more vitamin and mineral rich foods (Kraft, 2015; Marturana, 2016; Marshall, N.D).

  • Other essential vitamins and foods to prevent hair loss are:
  • Walnuts: the oils help with hair growth;
  • Halibut: magnesium is great for helping with hair growth and not enough of it can lead to hair loss;
  • Carrots: beta carotene lets your body produce Vitamin A and helps create the necessary oils on your scalp;
  • Bok choy and spinach: both full of iron;
  • Eggs: the entire egg – not just the whites – are a fantastic source of vitamin D (Yu, 2014; Patel, 2013).

Improper Hair Care

It might seem obvious, but how we treat our hair matters for hair loss. If you’re like most women and spend time protecting your skin against wrinkles and drying out to the point of becoming an alligator, you should really put that effort into protecting your hair.

  • Chemicals: Excessive use of chemicals like dyes, bleaching, perms, relaxers – that’s a lot of pressure you’re putting on your hair to stick around! Not to mention the heat damage from straighteners and curling irons. These things that damage and strain your hair can lead to damage so great that your hair just breaks off like snapping twigs out of trees. Hair just can’t grow back after repeated insults (Family Doctor; Hair Loss Learning Center; Yu, 2014; Marturana, 2016; Vietnam Hair Institute, 2012).
  • Hair-Do’s: Have you ever wondered if you could pull your hair so tight that you pull it off your head? Technically, that can happen and it’s called ‘traction alopecia’ when the hair gets pulled back too tightly and too often. Thankfully, this is reversible in most cases by just wearing a loose hairstyle instead of pulling your hair so tight that you look bald before you actually go bald. (Kraft, 2015; Family Doctor; Hair Loss Learning Center; Yu, 2014; Marturana, 2016; Vietnam Hair Institute, 2012).
  • Shampooing: A big debate in the hair loss world is about proper hair shampooing habits. Some say that there isn’t any evidence to suggest shampooing too much or too little will cause hair loss (Hair Transplant Network, 2016). However, others say that too much shampooing is damaging to your long locks (Yu, 2014). Some hair experts even say something in the middle where shampooing loosens up hairs that are already about to fall out but shouldn’t cause any major thinning because the hair would have fallen out naturally anyway (Cole, N.D). Also, the good news about shampoos is that some do contain active ingredients like ketoconazole to promote healthy hair growth or are sulfate free, and these have been proven to achieve healthier hair.

So what is the lesson here for hair care? Be aware of the chemicals we use, find a shampoo and conditioner that you like that suits your hair type, and keep your hair styles loosened.

Stress

Strangely, even though men are more likely to be bald, women’s hair is more sensitive to stress and traumatic events than men’s hair. This is called ‘telogen effluvium’ and it is excessive shedding when the hair cycle is under stress. In this case, the body is trying to save energy by diverting the body’s energy stores elsewhere. This doesn’t happen right away after a traumatic stressful event – it takes about three to five months generally before you start to shed (Kraft, 2015; Hair Loss Learning Centre; Hair Loss Advisory). Luckily for women, when you lose hair through telogen effluvium it can grow back. So don’t worry, and try to avoid actually pulling your hair out in stressful situations!

Medical Conditions and Medications

Medical conditions and medications can unfortunately cause hair loss for some people and are often among the most prominent side effects seen. However, on an optimistic note, after your condition has been cured or you are no longer taking the medication your hair will usually grow back in most cases.

  • Medical Conditions: If you want to look at medical conditions in a better light, hair loss is often the first sign of someone having a disease. That means if you’re seeing hair thinning or loss and can’t think of a shock that might have caused it – go to the doctor and get it checked out. There’s a list of about 30 diseases where hair loss is a possible symptom. Among them are: thyroid disease, diabetes, lupus, polycystic ovary syndrome, eating disorders, and anemia – many among the list are autoimmune diseases. (Kraft, 2015; Marshall, N.D).
  • Medications: Medication in general that’s used to treat an illness can also lead to hair loss because medication can disrupt the normal cycles of the body (Kraft, 2015). For example, birth control, steroids, and antidepressants can lead to excessive hair shedding. Luckily, this is more times than not reversible. For women on birth control pills, when you go off the pill, or change types of hormonal birth control seeing some hair loss is completely normal until the body finds its natural rhythm again.

Hormonal Causes

As women, we know what it feels like when our hormones are out of whack. Turns out, so does our hair because our hair growth patterns can react to unbalanced hormone levels just like our bodies react to illness and medications.

If you didn’t think getting older was bad enough, as women we also have to contend with menopause. Because it’s our hormones that support hair growth, when estrogen levels during menopause decrease, it’s also possible that our hair will also be affected (Kraft, 2015; Hair Loss Learning Center; Family Doctor). Similar to how menopause changes hormone levels, so does being pregnant. Many women experience hair loss around three months after having a baby. That extra healthy glow most women have during pregnancy has to go back to a natural balance meaning the hair cycle must also return to normal. Excessive shedding or thinning of the hair is normal and shouldn’t be anything to worry about (Marshall, N.D.; Family Doctor; Kraft, 2015; AAD; Sole-Smith; 2011). Lucky for women, correcting hormonal imbalances can be relatively simple if you speak with your doctor.

Hereditary

Some forms of hair loss are genetic, meaning they’ve been inherited. Thanks mom and dad! Female Pattern Hair Loss (FPHL), which is the most common form of hair loss among women, is one of these genetic traits. Unfortunately, women with FPHL can’t really be prevented. In this case, you’ll just have to walk around with hair taped back on. FPHL is relatively distinct as well – so if you have it, it’s likely you’ll recognize it. Hair will begin to thin as the center hair part will start to widen. Women can rest a little bit easier because they will rarely go completely bald like is common among men with Male-Pattern Baldness (Gardner, N.D; Kraft, 2015; Sole-Smith, 2011).

Prevention

If you’re experiencing hair loss you’ve probably already scoured the internet looking for solutions. It’s overwhelming the amount of information out there but try to keep it simple.

Do-It-Yourself

  • Diet: The famous saying: ‘You Are What You Eat’ also includes your hair. The easiest way to make sure you’re doing enough for your hair is to eat enough proteins and vitamins alongside a balanced diet. While you’re working on improving your diet, you should also consider adding more antioxidants in your diet.
  • Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is easy to get a hold of and even easier to add into your daily hair care routine. It can protect your hair from damage because it helps repair the hair shafts (Rajput, 2015). While you’re putting the coconut oil in your hair, give yourself a little self-love with a scalp massage. This can help get that coconut oil into all the right places and it feels great! (Wadyka, 2014).
  • Exercise and Stress Relief: If you’re overly stressed out by your busy life or have had some overwhelming events happen that have led to thinning hair, you might want to turn to daily exercise. Not only does it complete a healthy lifestyle, but it also decreases stress in your life and can work to reverse stress-induced hair loss (Rajput, 2015; WebMD; Evans & H.A., N.D). Any method that works for stress relief can also help. Take meditation for example – taking the time to just breathe can help more than many people realize and there are so many different styles of meditation out there to suit you (Wadyka, 2014).
  • Proper Hair Care: This might be the absolute easiest hair loss fix ever! As you’ve read above, many chemicals are just not good for your hair. Excessive amounts of heat on your hair that comes from using hair dryers and irons are also not good (Wadyka, 2014). Ladies, embrace the way your hair is naturally!

Hair Loss Products

 

If you’re doing all of these things but they’re not working as fast as you want, or you’re discouraged, or just too busy to lather your hair in coconut oil everyday…do not worry because there are also a lot of treatment options you can do at the same time.

  • Cream: There are creams that contain the product minoxidil, which helps promote hair growth in women with thinning hair. This product can be as easy as a once a day application and is called Women’s Rogaine 5% or 2% (Rajput, 2015; WebMD; Kraft, 2015; Wadyka, 2014). This is the most popular cream because it’s an over the counter treatment and generally takes about one year to see if the treatment worked. Minoxidil is also very affordable so you won’t have to worry about adding extra stress to your wallet.
  • Supplements: Sometimes an extra boost in the form of supplements can do the trick. The Viviscal product brings together many of the necessary supplements for healthy hair – fish protein, vitamin C, zinc, biotin, and niacin (Wadyka, 2014). As iron deficiencies are a common cause of hair loss, including an iron supplement can be a good idea as well. Biotin supplements might also help because the majority of people can take them without experiencing any negative side effects. Biotin is what helps convert some nutrients into energy and is similar to your B vitamins, which help promote hair health (Catlett, 2017).
  • Prescription Drugs: Unless doctors know exactly what is causing your hair loss they’re most likely going to be reluctant to give you a prescription for it. The reason for this is because prescription pills can “lower the body’s androgen levels” (American Hair Loss Association), which causes fatigue, low libido and a general sense of well-being. That being said, there are prescription options if the minoxidil doesn’t produce desired results. Some are antiandrogen medications and help to slow hair loss and can also stimulate hair growth (Kraft, 2015; WebMD). Oral contraceptives that are low androgen specific can also be used to prevent further hair loss in women because they lower ovarian androgen production – one product is called Diane 35 and Diane 50 (American Hair Loss Association).
  • Shampoos: There are so many shampoos on the market that claim to help promote healthy hair growth. If you are looking for a shampoo that helps treat hair loss, Nizoral shampoo contains Ketoconazole, which has “anti-androgenic effects and can cause a reduction in the production of testosterone and other androgens” (American Hair Loss Association). You can buy a low dose version of this shampoo over the counter too. A product that is a little less aggressive is called ‘Pura d’or Argon Oil Premium Organic Shampoo’ and is the #1 best seller for hair treatment. The ‘Ultrax Labs Hair Lush Caffeine Hair Loss Hair Growth Thickening Treatment Formula Serum’ is also shown to be very effective for making thinning hair fuller (Cannon, 2015). Basically, there are a ton of shampoo and conditioner combinations available for you and that is great news. What works best for you just depends on your individual hair type.

There are many factors can cause hair loss. Some are relatively normal and are simply reactions to our environment. Neglecting a healthy diet, being a bit too hard on our hair, a side-effect of some medication, or just a reaction to our stressful lives could all result in hair loss. Sometimes hair loss is hereditary or caused by hormonal imbalances. Identifying the ‘root’ cause of a worrisome amount of hair falling out of your head can be difficult. But remember ladies, when it comes to hair loss, the moral of the story is that in most cases the problem is reversible! There are simple changes you can make to your lifestyle and diet as well as countless hair loss product available. We are so lucky to live in a time where the solution is no longer to stand on your head all day long.

 

References:

American Academy of Dermatology. (N.D.). Hair Loss. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/hair-and-scalp-problems/hair-loss

American Hair Loss Association. (N.D.) Treatment. Reviewed by: Paul J. McAndrews, MD. http://www.americanhairloss.org/women_hair_loss/treatment.asp

Bernstein, Robert M. (2009). Hair Loss Myths. Bernstein Medical Center for Hair Restoration. https://www.bernsteinmedical.com/hair-loss/basics/hair-loss-myths/

Cannon, Andrea. (2015). The 5 Best Hair Growth Products for Women. http://www.wisebread.com/the-5-best-hair-growth-products-for-women

Catlett, Tess. (2017). Biotin for Hair Growth: Does it Work? http://www.healthline.com/health/biotin-hair-growth#overview1

Evans, D.J. & H.A. (N.D.). Environmental Factors Affecting Hair Loss in Desert Climates. http://www.desalinatedwater.info/study.php

Family Doctor. (N.D). Hair Loss. https://familydoctor.org/condition/hair-loss/

Gardner, Amanda. (N.D). 21 Reasons Why You’re Losing Your Hair. http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20727114,00.html

Hair Loss Learning Center. (n.d). Hair Loss Education. Hair Loss Learning Center.

Hair Transplant Network. (2016). Can Too Much or Too Little Shampooing Lead to Hair Loss? Hair Transplant Network and the Hair Loss Learning Center.

Ismail, Manal. (2012). Summer heat and a bad diet lead to hair loss in the UAE. The National. August 5, 2012.

Kraft, Sheryl. (2015). What Women Can Do About Hair Loss. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-women-can-do-about-hair-loss_us_561ea9e0e4b050c6c4a3f873

Marshall, Lisa. (N.D.). What Women Can Do About Hair Loss. http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/women-pattern-hair-loss#1

Marturana, Amy. (2016). 10 Common Causes of Hair Loss in Women. http://www.self.com/story/10-common-causes-of-hair-loss-in-women

Patel, Arti. (2013). “Hair Loss Myths: Are These 10 Common Hair Beliefs True or False?” The Huffington Post Canada. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/07/24/hair-loss-myths_n_3611709.html

Rajput, Rajendrasingh. (2015). Understanding Hair Loss due to Air Pollution and the Approach to Management. Hair Therapy & Transplantation 5:133.

Seemiller, Bill. (2008). Hair Loss Myth: Balding Men and Women Should Use a Brush Not a Comb. Hair Loss Forum with the Hair Loss Learning Center.

Sole-Smith, Virginia. (2011). Best Treatments and Styles for Thinning Hair. November 3, 2011. http://www.prevention.com/beauty/hair-body-and-tips-hair-loss-women

Stough, Dow. (N.D.). Female Hair Loss. Hair Loss Learning Center.

Vietnam Hair Institute. (2012). Causes of Hair Loss. Asia Center for Hair Restoration.

Wadyka, Sally. (2014). 12 Highly Effective Treatments for Thinning Hair. http://www.prevention.com/beauty/12-highly-effective-treatments-for-hair-loss

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Yu, Winnie. (2014). Why the heck is my hair falling out? http://www.prevention.com/beauty/9-causes-of-hair-loss-and-thinning-hair