Experiencing hair loss is a particular difficult thing for a woman to undergo or endure. Women sometimes define their personal style by their hair (and are quite attached to it, literally). For this reason, most women panic at the thought of hair loss and if you are among those who are experiencing a thinning or loss of hair, you are certainly not alone.

The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that nearly 30 million women in the U.S. are part of this increasingly common problem – and hair loss among women has begun to happen in increasing numbers and at earlier ages than ever before – sometimes women still in their teenage years.

What Causes Hair Loss?

To understand hair loss in women, you must first understand to some extent how hair grows in the first place. Normal hair grows at the rate of about one half of an inch each month in cycles of growth that last anywhere from two years to six years. After that time, hair growth goes dormant for a period of time and then falls out just in time for the follicle from which it was growing to begin a period of new growth for that strand of hair. This cycle continues well into advanced age.

Some people, however, have a predisposition genetically to experience hair loss due to a group of hormones (androgens) that interfere with the natural process of hair growth. If a woman is susceptible to hair loss from genetic predisposition, these androgen bind with receptors that are located within the follicle of the hair – and over time, the follicle will begin to shrink because of a buildup of these hormones.

This alters the cycle of dormancy and growth of the hair; eventually, some of the follicles simply die out or are rendered incapable of growth – which is, in essence, what we consider to be hair loss or thinning hair. Medically, hair loss is called androgenic alopecia, although most medical doctors refer to the condition as female pattern hair loss.

Unlike male pattern baldness and hair loss, female hair loss usually goes around the entire top of the head; men usually lose hair on the crown, temple and in the back of the head. Women who suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome may also experience hair loss, as can women who are afflicted with autoimmune disorders, thyroid disorders, chronic illnesses, and anemia.

Certain medications may cause hair loss. Women who undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatments while battling cancer may also experience hair loss or thinning hair.

Diagnosing Hair Loss in Women

It is important that any woman who begins to experience hair loss consult with her doctor to be properly diagnosed. Although hair loss is natural as the body ages, it can also signal an underlying health problem. Diagnostic screenings like blood tests and scalp biopsies may be performed to get to the “root” of the problem.

Treatment of Hair Loss in Women

Women of today are nearly as susceptible as their male counterparts to experience hair loss or thinning hair. Although many hair loss treatments are sold over the counter and even via the Internet, it is important to receive an accurate diagnosis by a medical doctor in order to rule out health problems.

The most popular OTC treatment for hair loss is minoxidil or Rogaine, which was originally developed just for men – but can also help to enlarge and length the follicle of the hair in women. Minoxidil will not help you grow more hair, but it will extend the phase of growth and help you keep the hair that you have left for a longer period of time. For best results when using OTC minoxidil, go for the strongest concentration available without a prescription (5%).

Hair transplants are more widely used for women who experience hair loss – and have become more realistic-looking due to advances in the technology used for transplanting. In hair transplants, a strip of hair is removed, divided up in to smaller sections and repositioned surgically wherever it is needed most on the head.

Brian Johnson MD

Brian Johnson MD

Dr. Brian Johnson is a professor of dermatology. He has conducted numerous research studies about hair loss and it's effects on the human psyche. Dr. Johnson has written for Maclean's, Motherboard, the National Post, and the Huffington Post.

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