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For women, losing their hair can be a traumatic experience. While hair loss is more common in men, hair loss for women can be more psychologically damaging; as Jackie McKillop, spokeswoman for Alopecia UK, has said: “For women, there is a social stigma attached to going bald.”*
When they begin losing hair women may struggle with self-confidence and even experience depression and anxiety. If you are a woman experiencing hair loss, or concerned that you may lose hair in the future, read on for a guide to hair loss in women.
What causes hair loss for women?
The first thing to know is that there are many different causes of hair loss, for both women and men. Women can be susceptible to specific types of hair loss because of conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome. The most common cause of hair loss across the board is androgenetic alopecia, which is usually referred to as male- or female-pattern baldness.
It’s thought that female pattern baldness affects 50% of women over the age of 65. However, genetic hair loss is not restricted to older women; as with men who have male-pattern baldness, women can be affected by hair loss in their 20s and 30s.
It isn’t totally understood what causes female-pattern baldness, but women who experiencer this kind of hair loss are thought to have a genetic susceptibility that makes their hair follicles shrink and die over time. Female-pattern baldness is characterised by the thinning of the hair on top of the head.
If you are experiencing hair loss in the form of gradual thinning on the crown of the head, it’s likely that you have female-pattern baldness. If you are experiencing hair loss which has happened very quickly, or where the hair has fallen out in patches, you should read on to discover some of the other types of hair loss that effect women.
Alopecia areata is a type of hair loss that affects women and men. It is characterised by the hair falling out in patches, resulting either total hair loss, one large bald spot, or several bald patches across the head.
The good news is that this type of hair loss is usually temporary. The follicles are not damaged by the hair loss, which means most people who begin experiencing bald patches will experience full regrowth. If alopecia areata leads to total hair loss on the head or across the body regrowth is less likely.
Alopecia areata is an immune condition and tends to be more common in people with other autoimmune diseases such as diabetes and hyperthyroidism.
Alopecia Totalis & Alopecia Universalis
When alopecia areata causes full hair loss across the head it is known as alopecia totalis (AT); when this hair loss spreads across the body it is known as alopecia universalis (AU).
Most cases of alopecia areata do not lead to these severe forms of hair loss. However people who do develop AT or AU are less likely to experience regrowth.
Anagen effluvium is a type of widespread hair loss that is usually caused by medical treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation. Hair can be lost on the face, head, and body, but this hair loss is usually temporary. Once the treatment has finished, most people will experience full regrowth.
Telogen effluvium is a type of hair loss that causes widespread thinning on the head. It does not usually affect hair elsewhere on the body and, unlike female-pattern baldness, it is usually temporary.
Telogen effluvium is caused by a number of lifestyle factors such as hormonal changes, emotional or physical stress, illness, changes in your diet, and certain medications.
Scarring alopecia is hair loss that occurs due to another condition affecting the skin. Skin conditions such as scleroderma, lichen planus and discoid lupus can attack and destroy the follicles, preventing hair from growing.
Once hair loss has occurred as a result of scarring alopecia, the damage cannot be reversed. However, you may be able to seek effective treatment for the skin condition that causes the hair loss in the first place.
Traction alopecia is hair loss caused by strain on the hair follicles. It is more common in women who wear weaves, extensions or any tight hairstyles that pull the hair from the follicle. This type of hair loss often causes bald patches at the front of the head; the hair loss is usually temporary but can become permanent if the follicles continue to be damaged.
What doesn’t cause hair loss in women?
There are many myths surrounding hair loss, most of which are entirely unfounded. If you’re a woman concerned about hair loss you shouldn’t be worried about the following:
- Washing your hair regularly – this will not cause hair loss, as shampoos and conditioners are designed for frequent use
- Using a hairdryer – using a hairdryer, straighteners or a curling iron can cause damage to the hair by drying it out and causing splitting and shedding. However, using these items cannot cause permanent hair loss
- Wearing hats – wearing a hat could only cause hair loss if it was so tight it cut off blood supply to your scalp
- Sun exposure – getting too much sun can be bad for your skin and eyes, but it cannot cause permanent hair loss
What should I do if my hair is falling out?
If you are experiencing hair loss you should visit your GP. There is no permanent cure for hair loss caused by female-pattern baldness, scarring alopecia, or alopecia totalis/universalis. However there are some treatments for managing hair loss effectively in the short-term.
You can read about the various treatments available here.
Many different things can cause hair loss in women. Temporary hair loss can be caused by medical treatments, illness, hormonal changes and stress. Permanent hair loss can be caused by a genetic predisposition, an autoimmune issue, and certain skin conditions.
It’s not always easy to avoid hair loss, as it is often caused by genetic factors, an underlying condition, hormonal changes, or compulsory medical treatment or medications.
If you begin to experience hair loss you should speak to your GP about how best to manage it.
The most common form of hair loss for women is female-pattern baldness. This type of hair loss causes thinning on the top of the head, but usually no loss from the front, sides or back.
Other types of hair loss can cause patchy hair loss or, in severe cases, complete baldness across the head or body.