We tend to think of it as a guy thing. But some experts believe that dramatically thinning hair--the fallout (literally) from stress, poor nutrition, an underlying medical condition, harsh hair treatments, or heredity, among other causes--is as common in women as it is in men.
Roughly half of all women over age 40 experience excessive hair loss. And one study estimates that it occurs in 75 percent of women over age 65.Perhaps you've noticed a few extra hairs in the sink after a combing. Or maybe your scalp appears a little more visible when you emerge from the shower. If you fear that your hair may be thinning significantly, read on to learn more about hair loss in women--what causes it, what it looks like, and what you can do about it.
What's Causing My Hair Loss?
The most common type of hair loss from the scalp (as opposed to hair loss all over the body) is androgenetic alopecia (AA), or pattern baldness. When it occurs in men, it's called male-pattern baldness; in women, it's female-pattern baldness. AA accounts for 95 percent of all cases of head-only hair loss and it results when, for reasons science hasn't identified, hair follicles become sensitive to the hormone androgen.
Who Gets It?
AA is hereditary. A history of the condition in men or women on either side of your family (not just your mom's side, as most people believe) increases your risk of developing it and also influences the age at which your hair loss begins, the speed with which it occurs, and its pattern and extent. But a family history isn't always a factor: About 12 percent of people with AA have no trace of it in their family trees.
What Does It Look Like?
Alopecia means baldness. But women with AA rarely go completely bald, as some men do. Most often a woman's hair simply thins gradually and diffusely on the top of or all over her head. In both men and women, AA is permanent and continues with aging.
What Can I Do?
Be sure to consult an expert who can help determine why your hair is thinning so you can treat the problem correctly. To find a physician in your area who specializes in diseases of the skin and hair, check out the American Academy of Dermatology Web site. Click on Find a Dermatologist to search by state, city, area code, zip code, or last name.
In the meantime, however:
Don't Be Afraid to Wash Your Hair
It won't lead to hair loss.
Avoid Brushing or Teasing
Both can lead to hair loss. Use a wide-toothed comb instead.
Try a New 'Do
A style with layers will help your hair look fuller. You can even perm or color your hair; medically, there's no reason not to. Just avoid a weave or any other style that can put prolonged tension on your hair or cause it to break, which can lead to further hair loss.
Am I Losing It?
The truth is, you are--everyone is. Most of us shed 50 to 150 hairs a day. Once a hair is shed, a new hair from the same follicle replaces the lost strand--unless you have AA. AA occurs when the rate of hair shedding exceeds the rate of hair regrowth, or when the new hair shafts that grow in are thinner than the previous ones, making your mane look progressively less thick.
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
You can experience temporary hair loss, and unlike androgenetic alopecia, it's not gradual. Here are two for-women-only causes of temporary hair loss.
During pregnancy, the rise in hormones sends hair into its resting phase, so hair that would naturally fall out doesn't. Several months after delivery, hormones return to normal, and some women experience an increase in hair loss (all over the head, not just at the top). This can last between 1 and 6 months; then, it usually corrects itself.
Starting the Pill
Some women lose hair while taking birth control pills. The reasons: shifting hormone levels (caused by the Pill) and heredity. If this happens to you, talk to your gynecologist about switching to a different Pill or birth control method.