Hair loss can be particularly devastating for women. However, topical treatments, hair transplants, and other such procedures allow women to fight back against hair loss.
Harvard Women’s Health Watch reports that around one-third of women experience hair loss at some point in life.
Furthermore, after menopause, up to two-thirds of women notice thinning hair or bald spots. Much has been written about hair loss and how it affects men, but hair loss is less socially acceptable in women and can have a profoundly negative impact on a woman’s quality of life.
In both sexes, so-called androgenetic alopecia, sometimes called male-pattern or female-pattern hair loss, is the predominant type of hair loss. While in men, hair loss follows a pattern of receding hairlines, sometimes progressing to total baldness, in women, the effects are different. Androgenetic alopecia in women results in diffuse thinning of hair. Women rarely experience a receding hairline, and they rarely experience total baldness.
Common Causes of Female Hair Loss
As with men, androgenetic alopecia in women occurs when the hair’s growing phase is shortened, prolonging the time between shedding of a hair and growth of its replacement. The follicles themselves also change, shrinking and producing shorter, thinner hairs.
Thyroid disease is a possible cause of hair loss in women. Though addressing thyroid disease can be complex, when the thyroid is functioning properly, hair loss due to thyroid disease can be reversed. Women with hair loss often undergo thyroid tests to determine if thyroid problems are the cause of the hair loss.
An autoimmune disorder called alopecia areata causes hair to fall out in patches but can be treated with steroids. Other autoimmune diseases like lupus can also cause hair loss, but in the case of lupus, hair loss may not be reversible. Regardless of the cause of hair loss, the sooner it is addressed, the more favorable the prognosis.
Topical Medications for Hair Loss
Minoxidil is the most popular topical medication for hair loss in women. First used as a treatment for high blood pressure, researchers later discovered that applying minoxidil directly to the scalp can stimulate hair growth without causing internal side effects. Sold both as a generic and under the trade name Rogaine, minoxidil seems to work better in women than in men. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some people may get better results by using minoxidil along with ketoconazole shampoo, which is sold under the trade name Nizoral.
Prescription Medications for Hair Loss
Some doctors prescribe birth control pills to women who have androgenetic alopecia to rebalance hormone levels in hopes that the hair loss will be reversed, but they may not always be effective. The only way to find out for sure is to try the pills and see.
The prescription drug finasteride, sold both generically and under the trade name Propecia, has long been prescribed for men with hair loss. This drug inhibits an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase in hair follicles, reducing the formation of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is responsible for shrinking hair follicles. Finasteride is generally not prescribed for women, because it is linked with serious birth defects. However, some physicians will prescribe the drug for women who are past menopause, who cannot become pregnant, or who are practicing an effective method of birth control.
Hair transplants are not just for men. In fact, the hair transplant procedure called follicular unit extraction (FUE), long popular for men, is an appropriate treatment for female hair loss as well. The procedure is done under local anesthetic. Hairs are removed from an area of the scalp where hair is thickest (usually the back of the head) and placed in areas of the scalp where there is less volume. When performed by an experienced surgeon, FUE is effective and virtually unnoticeable.
Hairpieces made by skilled wigmakers can work well for women with thinning hair. They’re designed to blend in with a woman’s natural hair and can be custom made for the type of coverage she needs. For example, hairpieces are made to provide front coverage, limited top coverage, and full top coverage. A good hairpiece can cost several hundred dollars, but many women find it to be an effective way to cope with thinning hair.
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