Hair Loss in Women: 10 Common Causes

by GONG-FU JHANG
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hair loss in women

If you take a look at the products now available for people losing their hair, you’ll notice there are quite a few of them. Let’s face it, many people simply don’t want thinning hair or baldness, and this is especially true for women. While most of these hair-loss products work well, it helps if you first determine exactly why your hair is falling out in the first place. The reasons are numerous, with each woman being different from the others when it comes to those reasons. Nevertheless, once you learn why you’re losing your hair, it’s possible to change habits to reduce the amount of hair you’re losing every day. Before we get to this, however, let’s take a look at the 10 most common causes for hair loss in women.

1.Changes in Hormonal Birth Control

hair loss in women

There’s no doubt that your hormones can play a big role in your hair-loss problems. Hormones can wreak havoc on every part of your body, and this holds true regardless of your age. If you’re using birth control pills that use hormones to work, and you change from one birth control method to another, it can cause you to lose hair. This also includes three scenarios:

  • You are just starting to use hormonal birth control.
  • You stop using hormonal birth control.
  • You change the type or brand of hormonal birth control you’re using.

In other words, when it comes to hormonal birth-control methods, for example, the “Pill,” your body can experience many changes, and one of those changes could very well be extensive shedding of hair. To learn why and how this happens requires a little explanation of the hair-growth cycle. Hair grows in three distinct cycles, which include:

  • The anagen phase, which is when your hair grows from its follicles. This phase usually lasts from two to seven years.
  • The catagen phase, or transitional phase. This phase lasts 10 to 20 days and causes hair growth to stop temporarily.
  • The telogen phase, or the resting phase. When you’re in this phase, your hair doesn’t grow at all. This phases for up to 100 days, and you can easily lose 25 to 100 hairs each and every day.

Birth control pills can cause your hair to go from the growing (anagen) phase to the resting (telogen) phase too soon and for too long of a period. This is a type of hair loss called telogen effluvium, and when you’re experiencing it, you can lose huge amounts of hair on a daily basis. If baldness or thinning hair runs in your family, it can be worse. In fact, with baldness in your family, the hair-loss process goes much faster, which means you lose more hair even quicker than you would otherwise.

It isn’t just the birth control pill that can cause this to happen. In fact, any type of birth control that relies on the use of hormones to do its job can cause hair loss, including:

  • Hormone injections (for example, Depo-Provera)
  • Progestin implants (for example, Nexplanon)
  • Skin patches (for example, Xulane)
  • Vaginal rings (for example, NuvaRing)

Telogen effluvium can also be caused by other things besides your birth control method, including stress, thyroid problems, pregnancy, rapid weight loss, childbirth, and even some medications. Sometimes, this type of hair loss is unusually disheartening because the hair can sometimes fall out in huge chunks, and this can be downright frightening. If you’re using hormonal birth control and experiencing hair loss, you can either switch to a method of birth control that has lower levels of hormones (think Yaz, Ortho-Novum, or Levlen), or go with non-hormonal birth control methods such as condoms, diaphragms, IUDs, cervical caps, and sponges, to name a few.

2.Genetics (Heredity)

hair loss in women

Genetics often has a huge part in hair loss in women and men. As people age, it is normal to experience at least some hair loss, but the amount of hair loss you experience is directly affected by genetics, among other things. Unfortunately, hair loss related to genetics is usually irreversible, although you can take measures to slow it down and even maximize the potential of the hair to grow. With certain treatments, for example, you can slow down the hair loss or help the hair stay fuller for longer periods of time. Both male pattern baldness (MPB) and female pattern baldness (FPB) are caused by genetics, but the way the hair is affected differs from one gender to another.

In women, baldness usually occurs at the crown of the head, and most notably at the part line, whereas men usually experience more loss at the hairline. Over-the-counter minoxidil or finasteride can help slow down hair loss, and more treatments are becoming available every day. The way genetics affect hair loss is rather easy to understand. Male baldness has been studied far more than female baldness, so less is known about why females experience hair loss, but one thing has been determined – both types of baldness involve more than one gene. In women, most of them who experience hair loss do so after menopause, when hormones are changing and life is wreaking havoc on your body.

It is known that certain genes that code for the production of aromatase, which is an enzyme, convert testosterone to estradiol, and this action may play a role in female pattern baldness. If your hair loss is caused by heredity, or genetics, it usually starts with thinning hair then builds up to losing large portions of hair. If you’re unsure if your hair loss is a cause for concern, look for hairs on your pillow, hairs in the tub after you bathe, or large amounts of hair on your comb or brush. For non-balding people, losing 100 hairs a day is normal, but people who are balding that number goes way up, or they remain in this hair-growth phase for too long.

When women experience hair loss, the loss is widespread but isn’t always as noticeable since its pattern is usually described as a “Christmas tree” pattern, meaning it affects the top of the head down the middle but usually nowhere else. Even with genetic hair loss, however, it is unusual to experience complete loss of hair in one certain place on the scalp. If this is the type of hair loss you’re experiencing, genetics may not be the problem. Instead, it could be caused from illnesses such as alopecia, as well as fungus infections or a few skin conditions. Regardless of the type of hair loss you are experiencing, the first thing you need to do is see a doctor so that the exact cause can be determined.

3.Medications

hair loss in women

As you can imagine, there are numerous medications that can cause hair loss, but the good news is that most of them will include this side effect right on the bottle, so if you’re prone to thinning hair or baldness, that is, it’s part of your family history, you can always talk to your doctor about choosing another type of medicine that won’t cause hair loss. More often than not, the medications that are most likely to cause thinning of hair include those for:

  • Arthritis
  • Blood pressure
  • Cancer
  • Depression

There are two types of hair loss caused by medications. The first type is telogen effluvium, which is mentioned above and is short-term and temporary. The second type is called anagen effluvium, and it occurs during the hair growth stage known as the “new growth” phase. With this type of hair loss, the results are more long-term and can affect other body parts as well, not just on the scalp. This includes hair such as the eyelashes and eyebrows, which makes it a bit unique. Other types of medication that can cause hair loss include:

  • Acne medications, especially if it is derived from vitamin A. This includes medications such as tretinoin (Retin-A) and isotretinoin (Accutane).
  • Antibiotics. Antibiotics can deplete the vitamin B and hemoglobin in your system, which actually disrupts hair growth. Vitamin B is associated with healthy hair growth and when hemoglobin gets too low, it can cause anemia, which can lead to hair loss if it is severe enough.
  • Anti-clotting drugs, which are used to thin the blood to reduce the possibility of blood clots. These are used mostly in patients with certain heart conditions and include anticoagulants such as warfarin and heparin. With these drugs, it usually takes about three months for the hair to start thinning out.
  • Anticonvulsants, or medicines that prevent seizures, which include valproic acid (Depakote) and trimethadione (Tridione).
  • Antifungal drugs. These are used to treat fungal infections and have even been linked to conditions such as alopecia. One such drug is voriconazole.
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs, including simvastatin (Zocor) and atorvastatin (Lipitor), among others.
  • Gout medications, including allopurinol (Zyloprim and Lopurin).
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), including estrogen and progesterone.
  • Immunosuppressants, used to treat certain autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Some of these medications include etanercept (Enbrel), methotrexate, cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), and leflunomide (Arava).
  • Vitamin A. If you take medications with large doses of vitamin A, it can cause hair loss.

In fact, there are numerous medications that can cause hair loss, whether temporary or permanent. If this is a concern of yours, you’d be wise to check with your doctor to see if other medications might be better for you to take.

4.Intense Physical or Emotional Stress

hair loss in women

Normal everyday stress won’t cause hair loss, but if you experience something extremely traumatic or stressful, it can produce temporary hair loss that can be quite severe. This includes both physical and emotional trauma, but the good news is that this type of hair loss is always short-term, which means you won’t have to put up with it for very long. According to experts, hairs don’t all grow at equal rates. Remember the three hair-growth phases described earlier? Well, different hairs experience these phases at different times, so some of your hairs can be growing, some can be resting, and some can be actively shedding – all at the same time.

When certain stressful events happen, whether emotional or physical, the growth of the hair suffers a temporary halt. It does this because the body is trying to use all of its resources toward helping you get through your trauma, which means that effort is not going to the hair and scalp area. Once the stressful event is over, your hairs start getting the resources they need to grow and thrive, which allows all of your hairs to start growing again like they should. Emotional events can include anything life-altering, such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, a big move, or a significant job change. Physical stress includes trauma such as an operation, a hospitalization, or even losing a large amount of weight quickly.

Stress of all types can push hair follicles into the “resting” phase and therefore, they do not produce any new hair strands. Because of this, hair falls out more easily, even if all you’re doing is simple brushing or combing. If you’re washing or touching your hair and clumps of it come off in your hands, this could be due to emotional or physical stress. That being said, if this is happening to you, the best thing to do is to see a dermatologist for a complete examination, especially since hair loss could be caused by any number of things and not just physical or psychological stress. Stress-related hair loss is usually broken down into three main types:

  • Telogen effluvium, which has been discussed thus far. If your hair falls out when you’re brushing or combing it, this could be the cause. This condition, as mentioned earlier, is short-term and usually considered not serious. The hair starts to come back as soon as the trauma is over.
  • Trichotillomania, which is stress-induced and involves the desire to pull out the hair yourself. If you ever have an urge to pull the hair out of your own head, you may have this condition. It is usually caused by emotions such as depression, loneliness, frustration, or other negative emotions.
  • Alopecia areata. This condition is usually the result of chronic stress and results in bald patches on the scalp. Alopecia is actually an autoimmune disorder and needs to be treated by a doctor.

5.Autoimmune Disorders

hair loss in women

Before getting to how autoimmune diseases cause people to lose hair, let’s go over more details on what an autoimmune disease is. In a healthy body, the immune system can easily defend the body against any type of infections or diseases. With an autoimmune disorder, the body is unable to do this and in fact, the immune system actually malfunctions, which means it starts to attack healthy tissues, cells, and organs. If the autoimmune disorder gets bad enough, bodily functions can actually weaken and the condition can become life-threatening. Some common autoimmune disorders include type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and lupus.

The reason an autoimmune condition causes the hair to fall out is because the body, while it’s attacking healthy body parts, also attacks its own hair follicles, which means the body thinks these hair follicles are foreign. This is the case with alopecia. With alopecia, the immune system’s attack on the hair follicles causes the hair to fall out, although some people with alopecia do see their hair come back. To combat the condition, dermatologists often prescribe treatments such as corticosteroid injections to stimulate hair growth. Lupus, another autoimmune disorder, can cause scarring of the hair follicles, and this often results in hair loss that is permanent.

Today there are more than 80 conditions doctors classify as an autoimmune disorder, but not all of them are causes of hair loss. Some of the autoimmune disorders that are associated with some or a lot of hair loss include:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Graves’ disease
  • Hashimoto’s disease
  • Lupus
  • Psoriasis

Although the body is essentially attacking itself from the inside, these “attacks” do not include attacks on the stem cells that supply the hair follicles with new cells. Because of this, with many of these autoimmune disorders, hair follicles have the potential to grow. If you have an autoimmune disease and you’re losing hair, the first thing you need to do is talk to your doctor so that the two of you can decide if something can be done about the situation.

6.Childbirth

hair loss in women

Childbirth can wreak havoc on the body, and when you consider that the pregnancy itself also causes it to go through some changes, there’s little wonder why this wonderful event can cause changes such as hair loss. To review, the hair goes through three major life stages:

  • The growth phase
  • The transitional phase
  • The resting phase

Once the resting phase is over, this is when your hair falls out. The average person loses roughly 100 hairs per day, but when the number climbs higher than that, that’s when it can affect what your hair looks like and make it look thin or more sparse. When you’re pregnant, your hair growth can be accelerated, mainly due to two things: the surge of the hormone estrogen, which makes the hair grow; and the prenatal vitamins usually prescribed for pregnant women, which provide you with megadoses of all sorts of vitamins and minerals. When you’re pregnant and giving birth, the growth phase is not only kicked into high gear, but it lasts a lot longer as well.

As soon as you deliver the baby, your estrogen levels go back to normal and the hair starts growing at a normal rate. But since the growth rate has been enormously high over the past 10 months, that gorgeous hair that you’re now used to having goes away, and it often goes away quickly. Each woman is different. Some women, after giving birth, experience only mild shedding that stops within weeks, while others shed intensely for several months. This type of hair loss is another example of telogen effluvium, which can occur after the body suffers any type of trauma, including childbirth. The amount of time it takes for your hair to get back to normal varies with each woman, but just know that it does indeed end at some point.

It is temporary, so most women choose to just leave it alone and wait for their hair to get back to normal, but if you like, you can always use volumizing shampoos and conditioners to make the hair fuller and thicker until your hair gets back to normal. Hair shedding after childbirth isn’t all that uncommon, but there are still things you can do about it if it bothers you.

7.Nutritional Deficiencies

hair loss in women

Hair loss in women is often the result of some type of nutritional deficiency, most often too little protein and not enough of certain vitamins and minerals, including iron. Since your hair is living and growing, it needs vitamins and minerals just like the rest of your body, and when it doesn’t get it, your hair will often shed and/or thin out over time. When it comes to food, diet, and other nutrition-related issues, and how they affect potential hair loss, below are some areas that can directly affect the hair loss you’re experiencing:

  • Dieting or reducing your caloric intake. When you diet, you will naturally be consuming fewer vitamins and minerals. While slow weight loss may not be a problem, if you intend to lose weight quickly, be careful and make sure you eat healthy foods so your vitamin intake doesn’t get too low. Extreme dieting in particular can cause your hair to start shedding.
  • Not eating enough protein. Protein is essential for all types of body functions, including hair growth. You should always make sure you’re eating enough protein, which includes foods such as eggs, meat, seeds, nuts, and seafood, among others. Protein is made out of amino acids and is crucial when it comes to stopping hair loss.
  • Not getting enough vitamins and minerals. Some of the most important vitamins and minerals for healthy hair include vitamins A, C, D, and E. All of these create healthy hair and a healthy scalp, and if your scalp isn’t healthy, neither is your hair! Vitamins C and E are antioxidants and help ward off free radical damage to the hair follicles. Most healthy adults need 22.4 IUs of vitamin E and 75 to 90 milligrams of vitamin C every day. You should also aim for 600 IUs of vitamin D daily.
  • Not getting enough zinc. Unless you’re pregnant, lactating, a vegetarian, have digestive disorders, or you’re a heavy drinker, you’re likely already getting enough zinc. Women only need 8 milligrams of zinc per day (men need 11 milligrams), but if you think you’re not getting enough, you should take a zinc supplement.
  • Your biotin levels are low. Most people have heard that biotin is great for hair, nails, and skin, so it’s an important B vitamin to take every day. Without biotin, you can experience thinning hair and even the loss of your hair, so consuming 30 micrograms of biotin per day is highly recommended.
  • Your iron levels are low. Iron is important for healthy hair, and if you have heavy bleeding during your menstrual cycle or certain tummy problems, you might be losing iron, which is bad because the body doesn’t produce iron on its own. The recommendation for women is 18 milligrams of iron per day.

If you’re concerned about your vitamin levels, you can see about getting a blood test so that you can check all of your levels.

8.Dandruff or Psoriasis of the Scalp

hair loss in women

As mentioned already, if your scalp isn’t healthy, you won’t have much success having luscious locks of hair. When your scalp is itchy or inflamed, the desire to scratch it can be overwhelming, but this is dangerous for hair growth. Dandruff may seem like just an inconvenience, but it is in fact much more than that. If you have dandruff, it’s best to go ahead and treat it with a good shampoo and conditioner made just for dandruff. When treating dandruff, consistency is crucial, so you’ll have to keep using the products until the dandruff is gone. Fortunately, dandruff is a condition that is super easy to treat and keep under control.

While doctors aren’t certain what causes dandruff, it is believed to be caused by a yeast fungus called Pityrosporum Ovale. These are organisms that love breeding in fatty acids, so if you have oily hair and scalp, it is the perfect conditions for the fungus to grow and thrive. Ironically, not only can you get dandruff with a scalp that is too oily, but a scalp that is too dry produces the same results. Although dandruff can be controlled, it cannot be cured. This means it can come back again even after you get rid of it.

Other conditions can cause flaking of the scalp and itchiness in addition to dandruff. This includes seborrheic dermatitis, which is caused by a buildup of oil and yeast and is more severe than dandruff; and psoriasis, which is an autoimmune disorder that causes thick patches of skin. If you think you have either of these conditions – for instance, if you’re treating yourself for dandruff and it doesn’t go away – you should visit a dermatologist so that you can know for sure. Both dermatitis and psoriasis are serious conditions and usually require prescription-strength medications to get rid of them.

It's important to know that dandruff and other scalp conditions do not cause hair loss. Rather, hair loss is a secondary result of these conditions. This is because the more your scalp itches, the more you want to scratch it. When you scratch your scalp, you cause friction, and this greatly increases the odds of suffering with thinning hair. Thus, the conditions that cause dandruff are not the same ones that cause hair loss. Dandruff, in fact, is a scalp problem and nothing more.

9.Ringworm of the Scalp

hair loss in women

Ringworm is a fungal infection that causes hair loss. Also called tinea, ringworm is a very contagious infection that can affect not only the scalp but also the skin and nails. It results in itchy, red patches that are round in shape, which is why it is called ringworm. It has nothing to do with worms, however, and it can affect almost any part of the body, not just the skin, hair, and nails. The reason people get it is because the fungus eats keratin, which is a protein found in the hair, skin, and nails. The supply of keratin is depleted, so problems in these areas can occur, and if it’s severe enough, hair loss can occur, although it usually happens in patches on the skin.

Ringworm of the scalp is called tinea capitis, and it is more common in young children than it is in adults. Nevertheless, adults can get ringworm, and it can result in large bald spots on the scalp. If you think you have ringworm but you aren’t sure, here are some of the symptoms to look for:

  • Any type of oozing blisters on the scalp.
  • Brittle hair that seems to break easily.
  • Patches of skin in a certain area that are red and itchy.
  • Patches that are ring-like and red around the area but skin-colored on the inside.
  • Small spots that grow in size and cause the skin to be scaly and bald.

The only good thing about ringworm is that it can go away on its own, and if it doesn’t, it can be cured with either an antifungal ointment or an antibiotic. Until then, however, the hair can either break off or fall out at each afflicted area. This is inconvenient to say the least, but just know that as soon as the condition is cleared up with medication, your hair will start coming back in again, making ringworm a temporary problem with a very simple and effective solution.

10.The Treatment of Your Hair

hair loss in women

Oddly enough, the things you do to your hair can cause hair loss in women, so if you’re used to treating your hair poorly, it can cause your hair to fall out. Let’s take a look at some of these things, which consist of three things a lot of women do to their hair.

  • Overprocessing your hair. While women (more than men) are used to getting perms, straightening their hair, and dyeing their hair on a regular basis, that doesn’t mean these things are good for your hair. In fact, you can think of it like this – the longer you “treat” your hair with any type of harsh chemicals, the more damage it can do to your hair and scalp. Your hair is simply not made to take this kind of abuse on a long-term basis, and according to dermatologists, after a while, the hair follicles start to fight back by simply refusing to grow anymore. Damaged hair follicles don’t like being treated with harsh chemicals, in part because those chemicals get into the scalp and can affect the roots of the hair follicles. When this happens, the follicles are simply no good anymore, and the hair stops growing. The solution? As soon as you notice any shedding of hair, stop using these products and start hydrating your hair and scalp. If the condition of your hair and scalp is dire, pay a visit to a good dermatologist so you can get professional help.
  • Using heated styling tools too often. Lots of women use heated styling tools on a daily basis, and this is horrible for your hair. These tools include straighteners, curling irons, blow dryers, and treatments that contain bleach. Over time, overuse of these products can result in a condition called trichorrhexis nodosa, which occurs when the hair shaft has weak or damaged parts and therefore, the hair can break off easily. Unlike other conditions that result in hair loss, trichorrhexis nodosa does not start at the root or hair follicle, but instead it affects the hair shaft itself. Even aggressive brushing of the hair can result in hair loss if you do it long enough; again, because it is affecting the shaft and not the hair follicles. The good news is, you can reduce the chances of this happening simply by reducing the number of days you use these heated devices. Try using them less often than you do now and see if that helps. This is one of the conditions that you can do something about if you catch your hair loss before it gets too severe, so it’s never too late to start treating your hair right.

[Recommended Reading 1:Essential Hairdressing Tools: Hair Dryer Knowledge Guide]

[Recommended Reading 2:Essential Hairdressing Tools: Curling Iron Knowledge Guide]

  • Wearing hairstyles that are too tight. If you love braids, tight ponytails, or any other hairstyle that makes the hair tight, you might want to change your hairstyle occasionally and give the hair follicles a rest. In fact, dermatologists recommend never keeping a hairstyle for a long period of time. Whatever hairstyle you like, you should do two things: wear your hair down occasionally and free of any ponytail holders or rubber bands, and never wear a certain hairstyle more than a month or so. Too-tight hairstyles cause progressive thinning of the hairline and can cause hair loss that may become permanent if you keep doing this long enough. Why? Because these hairstyles cause a type of scarring to occur, and if it goes on for too long, your hair loss can be permanent. The official name for this condition is traction alopecia, and it can cause both thinning hair and baldness if it is severe enough. Fortunately, you can prevent this from happening in the first place if you simply try hard not to use a hairstyle that pulls the hair too tight, and if you do, simply don’t keep it that way for very long.

The way you treat your hair on a daily basis can directly affect your chances of suffering with hair loss or even baldness later on, but with most of these problem areas, you can reverse the effects if you simply stop all of the harsh chemicals and treatments and start taking better care of your hair.

How to Prevent Hair Loss

hair loss in women

If your hair loss is hereditary or caused by an illness or medical condition, you may not be able to do much about your hair loss without seeing a doctor first, but this isn’t usually the case. In fact, besides heeding the advice listed above, there are other things you can do to increase the odds that you’ll always have a full head of thick, beautiful hair. These include the following:

  • Use leave-in products whenever possible. Leave-in conditioners and detanglers repair your hair throughout the day and make it stronger and healthier when you use them regularly. These products are especially useful for dry hair, but all hair types can benefit from them.
  • Use a conditioner every time you shampoo. It doesn’t matter if your hair is dry, oily, or normal, because a good conditioner is beneficial to everyone. When you shampoo your hair, get in the habit of conditioning it as well. It keeps the hair healthier and makes it look fuller and shinier as well.
  • Wash your hair when it needs it, but don’t overdo it. Unless your hair is very oily, you shouldn’t be washing it on a daily basis. If you don’t wash your hair enough, oils can build up and weigh the hair down. But if you wash too often, natural oils in the hair can be stripped away, and the resulting dryness can cause brittle hair that breaks off easily.

[Recommended Reading 1:How to Choose a Hair Conditioner: Is it Really Useful for Your Hair?]

[Recommended Reading 2:How to Choose the Right Shampoo for You]

  • When styling your hair, do it gently. Women love wearing certain hairstyles, but go gentle on the hairstyling products. Don’t tug or pull on the hair, and try not to use heat unless you absolutely have to. Heat damages hair when used on a regular basis, so keep that in mind when you go to style your hair.
  • Use a hair mask occasionally. Hair masks and other deep-conditioning treatments bring back strength to your hair and are especially good for people who have dry hair. They also help hair look shinier and fuller.

[Recommended Reading :How to Prevent Hair Loss: 10 Ways to Prevent Female Hair Loss]

Conclusion

Most hair loss in women can be avoided, but you have to know what causes hair loss in the first place. This is easy to do, and this article should’ve given you some useful tools to prevent hair loss and even baldness in your own head of hair.


Other Recommended Reading

1.Hair Transplant Guide for Women: Everything You Need to Know

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