Until recently, the problem of hair loss in women was believed to be uncommon. Recent research, though, has revealed that it is far more widespread than previously thought. Some estimates say as many as 25 million American women (or more) experience noticeable hair loss and the distressing effects that often go along with it. Female hair loss causes are somewhat different than those typically found in men, and the emotional effects can be quite different as well.
Appearance of Hair Loss in Women
The appearance of hair loss in most females is usually different from its appearance in men. Women usually do not go bald or partially bald, and they generally do not have bald spots on the crown of the head. In women, hair loss typically shows up as overall thinning of the hair, both the quantity of hair on the head and the thickness of each individual hair. Some women do have a receding hairline, but rarely as pronounced and noticeable as what many men experience.
Emotional Effects of Hair Loss in Women
A woman’s self esteem and sense of self are typically much more dependent on the way they look than is generally the case for men. Of course, men find it distressing to lose their hair, but for females the emotional effects can be particularly devastating.
When you think of how much money and effort goes into advertising women’s hair care products, styling products, cosmetics and hair care appliances such as blow dryers and curling irons, it is easy to understand why women find it so distressing to experience hair loss. Our society places so much emphasis on looks, especially for women, that female hair loss can lead to a great deal of emotional pain, anxiety, and even trigger episodes of depression.
Medical Causes of Hair Loss in Women
The most common female hair loss causes are related to medical conditions and hormonal changes. While many are similar to those experienced by men, many more are specific to women.
Hormones – Women experience far more hormonal issues than men do, and at a much greater frequency. Pregnancy, childbirth and menopause are all conditions unique to women that can affect the amount and permanence of hair loss and cause balding.
Medication – Several medications can cause or contribute to female hair loss, including anti-depressants, blood thinners, birth control pills, anti-cholesterol drugs and chemotherapy drugs.
Illness/Surgery – Many common illnesses can cause female hair loss, such as diabetes and thyroid over- or under-activity, as can conditions that put the body under stress such as high fevers or major surgery.
Other Causes – Anemia, anorexia, bulimia, excess vitamin A, fungal infections, and zinc or fatty acid deficiency can also be the cause of hair loss in women.
Genetic Causes of Hair Loss in Women
Female pattern baldness, or androgenetic alopecia, is estimated to occur in 15% or less of American women. The chemical process in the body is similar, in that hormones and dehydrotestosterone (DHT) combine to cause hair follicles to shut down. Even though the chemical process is the same, the appearance of the hair loss in females is generally different, with women experiencing general thinning of hair rather than the bald spots or pronounced receding hairline so common in men.
Some experts theorize that differences in hair follicles between males and females may contribute to differences in the appearance of hair loss. In men, hair tends to grow straight up out of the follicle, causing oil and other secretions on the scalp to build up and block follicles. In women, however, hair tends to grow out of the follicle at an angle, allowing oil and secretions to flow more readily out of the follicle.