Hair Loss: Why it happens and what to do about it

Women and hair loss: coping tips
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If your iron levels are low, your doctor might recommend changes to your diet or the use of an iron supplement.

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Just like male hair loss, female hair loss becomes more common with age. Because hormonal hair loss is partly caused by a genetic sensitivity to DHT, your risk of hair loss could be higher if your mother, siblings or other female relatives have hair loss. Because hair loss is gradual and affected by DHT, acting quickly allows you to minimize hair loss and maintain as much of your hair as possible.

Whether your hair loss is caused by hormones or a factor such as diet, stress or weight loss, it is treatable. If your hair looks and feels thinner than normal, the best approach is to talk to your doctor about it.

Your doctor will be able to look at your hair and, based on your symptoms and health history, provide a diagnosis. If your hair loss is hormonal, the most effective treatment options include spironolactone, saw palmetto and minoxidil. Spironolactone is an antiandrogen that works by reducing the levels of testosterone produced by your body.

By lowering your testosterone levels, spironolactone can help to lower the levels of DHT in your scalp. Although spironolactone is best known as an acne treatment, studies show that it also works well as a treatment for female hair loss. Saw palmetto is a topical ingredient that works by stopping the conversion of testosterone to DHT. Like spironolactone, it works on a hormonal level, helping to reduce the amount of DHT that reaches your hair follicles and causes thinning.

Mayo Clinic Minute: Treatment for hair loss in women

You can find saw palmetto as an ingredient in some hair loss prevention shampoos. Minoxidil is a topical medication that works by stimulating blood flow to your hair, helping hair move into the growth phase of the hair cycle faster. Studies show that minoxidil works, especially over the course of three to six months. Our guide to minoxidil for women goes into more detail on how minoxidil works, as well as the type of results you can expect after using it over the long term.

First, a bit about hair

If your hair loss is caused by an iron deficiency, your doctor might recommend changing your diet to include larger amounts of iron, protein and other nutrients that are important for optimal hair health. You might also need to take an iron supplement, especially if you experience iron deficiency because of a heavy period. To speed up regrowth and restore your hair faster, your doctor might recommend using minoxidil at the same time as you change your diet. For hair loss caused by stress, the most effective treatment is often to change your lifestyle so that your overall stress levels are reduced.

Stress can occur for a variety of reasons.

Types of Hair Loss | NYU Langone Health

If your professional life involves long hours, difficult decisions and high-pressure working environments, changing the way you work or switching from your current job to a new career can often produce huge improvements. Obviously, not everyone can make a radical career change, meaning that eliminating stress from work is usually a gradual, steady process. Other ways to reduce stress include reducing your consumption of caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants, taking frequent breaks to clear your mind during the workday, exercising often and recording stressful events and triggers in a stress diary.

Sometimes, highly stressful events such as a death, breakup or the loss of your job can trigger hair loss. Our guide to telogen effluvium goes into more detail on how stress can cause hair loss, as well as common treatment options for limiting your stress and restoring your hair.

Worried about your hair? You can also learn more about what to look for in a hair loss treatment in our guide to science-backed hair loss shampoo ingredients. In male-pattern baldness, the hairline usually begins to recede at the temples first, followed by thinning at the top of the head. Gradually, the crown area becomes totally bald, leaving a fringe of hair around the back and sides of the head.

Your doctor will diagnose the cause of your hair loss based on your medical history, the medications you take, your nutritional status, your hairdressing habits and a physical examination. If your doctor suspects a fungal infection of your scalp, he or she may take a hair sample for laboratory testing.

Blood tests probably will be needed if your doctor suspects a medical illness such as lupus or a thyroid problem, iron deficiency or sex-hormone imbalance. How long hair loss lasts depends on the cause. In telogen effluvium, for example, hair usually is lost over several weeks to months, but then grows back over the next several months. When hair loss is a side effect of a medication, hair growth usually returns to normal once the drug is stopped. If you are losing hair because of abusive hairdressing, the hair loss usually stops after you change to more natural styling, except in traction alopecia, which results from years of pulling the hair back in tight braids.

In tinea scalp infection, the fungus that causes the problem must be treated for at least 6 to 12 weeks and hair regrowth may be slow. Early treatment is important in preventing possible permanent hair loss. Both male- and female-pattern baldness tend to get worse over time but can be treated. Some forms of hair loss can be prevented by minimizing stress, eating a healthy diet and using sensible hairdressing techniques, and, if possible, switching to medications that do not cause hair loss.

Hair loss from fungal infections can be prevented by keeping hair clean and by never sharing hats, combs or brushes with other people. Hair loss from hereditary-pattern baldness can sometimes be prevented by medication. If this cycle is disrupted, or if a hair follicle is damaged, hair may begin to fall out more quickly than it is regenerated, leading to symptoms such as a receding hairline, hair falling out in patches, or overall thinning.

At NYU Langone, dermatologists specialize in hair and scalp disorders and can identify the type of hair loss, as well as its cause. Androgenetic alopecia is the most common type of hair loss, affecting more than 50 million men and 30 million women in the United States.

Women and hair loss: coping tips

Commonly known as male pattern hair loss or female pattern hair loss, androgenetic alopecia is hereditary but can be managed with medication or surgery. In men, hair loss can begin any time after puberty and progress over the course of years or decades. It starts above the temples and continues around the perimeter and the top of the head, often leaving a ring of hair along the bottom of the scalp.

Many men with male pattern hair loss eventually become bald. Many women experience this type of hair loss as a natural part of aging, although hair loss may begin any time after puberty. Female pattern hair loss can cause hair to thin dramatically, but only rarely does it lead to baldness. This causes hair to fall out all over the scalp without new hair growth. Telogen effluvium does not generally lead to complete baldness, although you may lose to hairs per day, and hair may appear thin, especially at the crown and temples.

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  • Telogen Effluvium.

A medical event or condition, such as a thyroid imbalance, childbirth, surgery, or a fever, typically triggers this type of hair loss. Telogen effluvium may also occur as a result of a vitamin or mineral deficiency—iron deficiency is a common cause of hair loss in women—or the use of certain medications, such as isotretinoin, prescribed for acne, or warfarin, a blood thinner. Starting or stopping oral contraceptives birth control pills may also cause this type of hair loss.

Telogen effluvium usually begins three months after a medical event. If the triggering event is temporary—for example, if you recover from an illness or stop taking the medication causing the hair loss—your hair may grow back after six months. Telogen effluvium is considered chronic if hair loss lasts longer than six months.

For reasons that are unclear to doctors, this type of hair loss may last for years in some people. Anagen effluvium is rapid hair loss resulting from medical treatment, such as chemotherapy. These potent and fast-acting medications kill cancer cells, but they may also shut down hair follicle production in the scalp and other parts of the body. After chemotherapy ends, hair usually grows back on its own.

9 Causes of Hair Loss in Women

Dermatologists can offer medication to help hair grow back more quickly. This causes hair to fall out and prevents new hair from growing.

This condition can affect adults and children, and hair loss can begin suddenly and without warning. Hair from the scalp typically falls out in small patches and is not painful. Hair in other parts of the body, including the eyebrows and eyelashes, may also fall out. Over time, this disease may lead to alopecia totalis, or complete hair loss. Dermatologists treat alopecia areata with medication that may help hair regrow. If you are interested in talking with other people who have alopecia areata, NYU Langone hosts a monthly support group for people with this condition.

This condition causes hair to fall out in patches, sometimes circular, leading to bald spots that may get bigger over time. The affected areas often look red or scaly, and the scalp may be itchy. Sores or blisters that ooze pus can also develop on the scalp. A child with the condition may have swollen glands in the back of the neck or a low-grade fever as a result of the immune system fighting the infection. Dermatologists can prescribe an antifungal medication taken by mouth to eliminate the fungus.