On an average day, a woman loses 50 to 100 hairs, but a third to half experience further hair loss at some time in their life. This can be due to health issues ranging from menopause and taking the contraceptive pill to an under-active thyroid. The good news is that most female hair loss can be managed.
Thinning hair on top or at the front of the head can be genetic. Treatments such as spironolactone have been used in Australia since the 1960s to help with this kind of hair loss. However, some women may experience side effects such as dizziness, diarrhea or headaches. A hair transplant can also overcome genetic hair loss and the latest gold standard is platelet-rich plasma therapy. It uses blood platelets containing growth factors that repair damaged hair follicles.
Stress and the flu
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that causes bald patches on the scalp. It’s more common in younger women and happens when the body’s defense system attacks hair follicles. This can happen after an infection, such as the flu, or as a response to stress. In about 70 per cent of women, hair grows again spontaneously. When we’re stressed, our tyrosine levels fall and a side effect can be hair loss. Research suggests taking vitamins B6, B9 and a copper supplement with tyrosine can help improve its absorption.
Ferritin is a protein that helps your body store iron and low ferritin usually means low iron stores. Low iron can lead to hair loss although it is not exactly known why. Some research suggests hair follicles need iron to grow and a supplement is the easiest way to increase intake.
Acne treatments that contain vitamin A and some antidepressants can also occasionally lead to hair loss in some people. Medicines can cause hair to go into the resting phase too early and it then falls out prematurely, or they can disrupt the growing phase. If your hair begins to thin or fall out while taking medications, talk to your GP to see if there is an alternative medication.
Ten per cent of women in their 40s and 50s have an under-active thyroid. Symptoms include weight gain, constipation, dry skin, heavy periods, muscle aches and hair loss. A blood test to check thyroid hormone levels can identify the condition. It is managed with thyroxine to replace the missing thyroid hormone.
Polycystic ovary syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition that affects 12 to 18 per cent of women during the reproductive years. Women with PCOS have high levels of insulin and male hormones, causing irregular periods, fertility problems, acne, excess facial or body hair, greater risk of type 2 diabetes and hair loss. Treatment usually involves diet, exercise and medication to counteract the male hormones.
Hormones and the pill
A rise in male hormones, particularly testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and a drop in the female hormone, oestrogen, can trigger hair loss. Hormone replacement therapy may stem the problem. Some contraceptive pills with higher levels of male hormones can also bring about hair loss, in which case a low-androgen Pill may be prescribed. Preparations containing the medication minoxidil can help to stimulate hair regrowth.
A surge in female hormones during pregnancy can mean your hair is at its thickest and healthiest at this time. But about three months after birth it’s normal for women to experience temporary general hair loss. This hair shedding phase is due to hormonal changes. About 40 to 50 per cent of women lose hair after pregnancy.