Hair loss in women at any age and for any reason is discouraging, frustrating, and sometimes even devastating. The most common type of hair loss in women is called female pattern hair loss, or FPHL. Many factors are to blame for hair loss including medical conditions, genetics, some medications, harsh scalp or hair treatments, and hormonal changes. Methods to treat this condition in women are effective in some cases, but in others medical and surgical interventions may be needed to restore hair growth.
See your doctor to rule out a medical condition. Several medical conditions can either temporarily or permanently interfere with normal hair growth and development. Some of these medical conditions include the following:
Treat the medical condition. Medical conditions can lead to either temporary or permanent problems with hair loss.
With the help of your doctor, and possibly healthcare professionals that practice in specialty areas, treating the underlying medical condition may resolve your hair loss problem.
Your doctor will need as much information as possible about your hair loss problem, so be prepared to discuss this issue in depth. Be prepared to describe when it began, any significant life events that occurred just prior to the problem, steps you have taken to resolve it, and how much distress the hair loss is causing you.
If an underlying medical condition is discovered, specialists that may be part of your treatment may include endocrinologists, dermatologists, nutritionists, and psychiatrists.
Understand how your hair grows. Many of the medical conditions listed interfere with one of the three phases of hair growth.
The anagen phase is the period when your hair is actively growing. About 85% of your hair is in the anagen, or growing phase, at any given time.
The catagen phase is a short period of time, about two weeks in durations, that allows the follicle to regenerate. Hair growth is halted during the catagen phase.
The telogen phase is considered the resting phase of hair growth, and lasts for two to four months. At the end of this phase the hair falls out. Most people normally lose about 100 hairs each day due to the hair that is in the telogen phase.
Many medical conditions encourage hair to enter the telogen phase. This may cause as many as 300 hairs to be lost each day. The medical term for excessive hair loss during this phase is telogen effluvium.
Realize that telogen effluvium is often temporary. Many medical conditions that cause hair to move into the telogen phase can be treated.
Since your hair remains in the telogen phase for several months, your hair loss may not occur immediately after the event that triggered it. This would include physical trauma and severe emotional stressors.
Review your medications with your doctor. Many medications can cause temporary hair loss.
Do not alter your medications for any reason. Talk with your doctor about your concerns. If you feel a medication is causing your hair loss, your doctor may be able to help by either adjusting the dose or prescribing a similar medication to take its place.
Some medications that are known to contribute to hair loss include lithium, warfarin, heparin, and levodopa.
Drugs that are classed as beta-blockers can also cause hair loss. Examples of medications in this class include propranolol, atenolol, and metoprolol.
Amphetamine derivatives can cause hair loss. Examples of amphetamine medications include amphetamine salts, most commonly recognized by the brand name Adderall®, dextroamphetamine, and lisdexamfetamine.
Chemotherapy medications, such as doxorubicin, commonly cause sudden and complete hair loss, as does radiation therapy associated with cancer treatment.
Consider the role of genetics. Having family members that developed hair loss are an indicator that you may also be susceptible.
The most common pattern of genetically-induced hair loss involves losing hair at any earlier than normal age, losing hair more quickly than normal, and an overall thinning of hair in women.
There is an incidence of about 21% of hair loss in women that is passed on genetically.
Recognize hair loss from hormonal changes. Some situations that cause fluctuations in hormones result in temporary hair loss, and others a gradual but permanent change in hair growth.
A good example of temporary hair loss is from pregnancy and childbirth.
The onset of menopause is often accompanied by a noticeable loss of hair. Menopause is part of the normal aging process, and the associated changes in hormone levels lead to a gradual thinning of hair.
Some women with hair loss at an earlier than normal age, or excessive loss, have been tested for alterations in levels of male hormones including androgens like testosterone. The results of these studies are inconclusive as to the role those hormones may play in causing hair loss in women.
Your doctor can help to determine the role of hormones in your situation by performing blood work. Severe hormonal imbalances may be treatable in some cases.
Evaluate your diet. Sudden changes in your diet, and sudden weight loss, can contribute to hair loss.
In most cases, hair loss related to nutrition or diet falls in the category of telogen effluvium, meaning it is often temporary.
Talk to your doctor or work with a nutritionist. Your doctor can perform physical exams and lab work that can provide evidence of vitamin or nutrient deficiencies.
Working with a nutritionist can help to incorporate foods into your regular diet that will correct any vitamin or nutrient deficiencies identified, and help to resolve the problem of hair loss.
Realize the changes that occur with age. The normal aging process causes follicles to gradually reduce their size.
Reduced follicle size means that the area of your scalp that supports hair roots becomes smaller, but the number of follicles are basically the same.
The overall reduction in the size of hair follicles still allows for hair to grow and develop as always, only the hairs are much finer, leading to thinning of the hair as opposed to areas of baldness.
Studies done in women that experience FPHL indicate that the normal aging process includes thinning of hair. This usually begins somewhere around age 40, with the greatest impact in women 70 years of age or older.
Try applications of products containing minoxidil. Various brand names are manufactured that contained minoxidil. The most familiar branded product is called Rogaine.®
Monixodil is available without a prescription in 2% and 5% strengths. The products are made in a topical solution or topical foam. The 2 % product is recommended for use in women
Product directions recommend applying the solution or foam no more often that twice daily.
Results show that using minoxidil helps hair to grow in about 20% to 25% of women, but stops further hair loss in most women that try the product.
Once you begin using the product, it is necessary to maintain long term use in order to continue to see the positive results. Once the product is no longer used, its effects wear off.
The most common side effects of minoxidil include scalp irritation and unwanted hair growth on areas of the face or hands. Sometimes systemic absorption can cause tachycardia, or a rapid heart rate.
Talk to your doctor about finasteride. Finasteride is the only other approved medication for the treatment of hair loss, however it is only approved for use in men.
The use of finasteride has been shown to improve hair growth and slow the process of hair loss in men, however research studies are ongoing for the use of finasteride in women.
Studies using finasteride in women are currently ongoing and are showing promising results. Your doctor may consider using finasteride, or a similar agent, depending on your individual presentation, other medications you are using, your age, and other medical conditions you may have.
The use of finasteride in women is not FDA approved, so your doctor would be prescribing this to you in a manner called off-label prescribing.
Women of child-bearing age should not even touch tablets that contain finasteride due to the documented risk of birth defects.
The most common side effects of finasteride use in men include decreased sex drive and sexual function. Other common side effects include dizziness or faintness when getting up from a seated or resting position, chills, and sweats.
Ask your doctor about other possible medications. Some drugs have secondary effects that lead to hair growth. In some cases, these medications may be appropriate for use in women to treat hair loss.
These drugs are not approved for use in treating hair loss by the FDA. Some drugs that may be helpful include spironolactone, cimetidine, other drugs that fall in the same class as finasteride, birth control pills, and ketoconazole.
While these, or similar agents, may prove helpful in treating your hair loss, they have other effects for which they are FDA approved to treat. Talk with your doctor about using these medications. Your doctor will consider your other medications and any existing medical conditions in treating your hair loss.
Consult a hair transplant surgeon. The process of transplanting hair involves removing healthy hair follicles from areas on your scalp where your hair is thick, and transplanting those into areas where the hair is thinning, or where hair loss is most evident.
This type of procedure involves removing hundreds of hair follicles and grafting them into areas where they are needed.
While hair transplant surgery is expensive, the results are very good and are permanent.
Ask your doctor about low-level light therapy. The process of low-level light therapy, or LLLT, was discovered in the 1960s and found to be helpful in promoting wound healing.
Several products are available, and approved by the FDA, that use LLLT technology. While the documented results of this form of treatment do not meet scientific measures of efficacy, many individual patients did see positive results.
The underlying mechanism of action for LLLT is not completely understood, but studies have indicated that a change occurs at the cellular level, improving hair growth in many people. More work is needed to develop products that work more efficiently.
Take vitamins and nutrients. Work with a nutritionist to establish a diet that is rich in any vitamins or nutrients you may not routinely consume, or that your doctor may have identified as deficient. Take vitamins or supplements that may provide additional doses beyond what you consume in diet.
Take products that contain omega 3 and omega 6. The use of omega 3 and omega 6 products are not approved for use in the treatment of hair loss. However, one study done in women with FPHL showed good results when they took products contain omega 3 and omega 6 for six months.
Another study done in women resulted in positive results when products containing the B vitamins and L-cysteine were taken for a four month duration.
Ask your doctor about taking melatonin. One research study done in a small group of women showed positive results in treating hair loss when melatonin was used.
The women that participated in this study showed an increase in the anagen phase of hair growth, and resulted in improvement in hair thinning.
The women in the study used a 0.1% topical solution of melatonin applied to the scalp area for six months.
This was the first clinical trial using melatonin in this manner. More research is needed to determine any risks that may be involved in using melatonin in this manner.
Consider using topical lavender. One small study showed positive results using lavender.
There is very little evidence to support the use of herbal remedies in treating hair loss, however one preliminary study showed good results when using lavender combined with other herbal oils, in treating some forms of hair loss.
Lavender should not be taken orally. Scalp or skin irritation may occur when lavender is applied topically.