Women and Hair Loss: Possible Causes
Most people normally lose anywhere from 50 to 100 strands of hair a day, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. With about 100,000 hairs on your scalp, this amount of hair loss shouldn’t cause noticeable thinning of your scalp hair. As people age, hair tends to gradually thin. Other causes of hair loss include hormonal factors, medical conditions and medications which can interfere with a normal hair growth cycle. Illness, infection, or chemicals also have the potential to stop hair from forming properly and altering its growth cycle causing hair loss in women.
The most common cause of hair loss is a medical condition called hereditary hair loss. About 80 million men and women in the United States have this type of hair loss. Other names for this type of hair loss are female pattern baldness or androgenetic alopecia. Although hair loss may seem like a more prominent problem in men, women are nearly as likely to lose, or have thinning, hair. Most women notice it in their 50s or 60s, but it can happen at any age and for a variety of reasons. Many women report that they notice a more than usual amount of hair on their pillow in the morning or hair begins clogging their brush or comb without vigorous brushing. Visual cues such as a widening part or being able to see more scalp than usual are also signs to look for in hair loss in women. Preliminary blood work is usually done by a primary care physician to ensure the thyroid gland or an autoimmune disease (such as alopecia areata) isn’t the culprit.
Hair Growth Cycle
Hair grows in three different cycles: anagen, catagen, and telogen. About 90% of the hair on the head is in the anagen, or growth phase, which lasts anywhere from two to eight years. The catagen, or transition phase, typically lasts 2-3 weeks, during which the hair follicle shrinks. During the telogen cycle, which lasts around two to four months, the hair rests.
An overwhelming majority of the time the hair is on the scalp, it is growing. Only about 10% of the strands are in transition or resting at any one time. Hair grows about 6 inches a year for most people.
Normal hair growth cycle
Maybe You’re Born With It
Looking at your mother, aunt or grandmothers hair can be a good indication if androgenetic alopecia (heredity hair loss) runs in your family. A dermatologist or trichologist can use magnification on the scalp to view a woman’s hair follicles. A telltale sign of androgenetic alopecia is follicles varying in size — some thick and others thin. Androgenetic alopecia affects about 30 million American women, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, and is the most common kind of hair loss in women. Although it mostly occurs in the late 50s or 60s, it can happen at any time, even during teenage years.
Typically, each time a normal hair follicle is shed, it is replaced by hair that is equal in size. But in women with female pattern hair loss, the new hair is finer and thinner – a more miniaturized version of itself. The hair follicles are shrinking and eventually they quit growing altogether.
Medical and Other Conditions
If hair follicles are uniform in size, or if the hair loss is sudden, it is likely to be caused by something other than heredity, like a medical condition. There are a wide range of conditions that can bring on hair loss, with some of the most common being pregnancy, thyroid disorders, and anemia. Others include autoimmune diseases, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and skin conditions such as psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis.
Environmental and physical stressors on your hair growth cycle can be an underlying cause of hair loss in women.
Environmental and Physical Stress
Other reasons for hair loss include extreme stress; physical trauma like surgery or intense illness; dramatic weight loss over a short period of time; and taking too much Vitamin A. Hair loss can occur a couple of weeks to six months after any of these experiences. One other way to thin hair is self-inflicted – hairstyles like cornrows or too-tight braids can cause hair loss called traction alopecia.
All of the things women do to manipulate their hair — dyes, chemical treatments, bad brushes, blow dryers, and flat irons — can result in damage and breakage. This includes brushing too much and towel drying aggressively when the hair is wet.
Luckily, for most of these issues, the hair grows back or the loss can be reversed with medical treatments. But it is important to see a dermatologist if there seems to be something wrong, because the sooner treatment is started, the better the chances are for improving your growth cycle.