Female pattern hair loss is caused by a product produced by the body called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which attaches itself to the hair follicles and causes them to shrink. As the hair follicle becomes smaller, the period of time the hair has to grow is also reduced, causing each strand of hair to become finer and shorter with every hair growth cycle. The follicles may continue to produce hair, albeit finer, but they could eventually become dormant and stop growing hair altogether.
This condition only affects hair on the top of the scalp, so if hair loss around the sides and back of the scalp is a concern, there is probably another reason other than genetics.
Female hair loss isn’t always linked to genetics or hormones. Traction alopecia looks like a receding hairline or patches of baldness but is caused by constant tension on the hair follicles rather than genetics, hormonal imbalances or infection. Certain hair styles such as hair extensions, braids, buns and tight ponytails can pull the hair from its roots and after prolonged strain, can damage the hair follicle beyond repair.
Provided the damaging styling habits are curbed, most of the time hair growth will resume. It may be difficult initially and hair loss treatments may be required to restore the health of the follicle and stimulate renewed hair growth. In any case, women experiencing traction alopecia should consult a hair loss specialist because if the follicles eventually shrivel and the area goes smooth, it’s unlikely the condition can be reversed.
Telogen effluvium is a common female hair loss problem but is generally only temporary. Emotional stress such as a family loss or relationship troubles, childbirth, medications and poor nutrition can all come as a shock to the biological system. This can lead to a number of hairs passing from the growing stage to the resting stage which results in excessive shedding and diffuse-spread hair loss. But because the hair’s resting phase can last up to three months, excess hair fall is likely to be experienced three months after the event.
Treatment of telogen effluvium centres on addressing the cause and once this is dealt with, normal hair growth usually resumes. However, telogen effluvium can induce female pattern hair loss in those who have the genetic predisposition. In these cases, hair loss treatments may be required.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that affects one person in every 100 and can occur slowly, rapidly or irregularly. Women with alopecia areata may be otherwise healthy but the chronic inflammatory disease leaves them with coin-sized bald patches on the scalp when their immune system mistakenly attacks their hair follicles. The condition can develop at any age but is most common in young people aged between 15 and 29.
It’s not known for certain what causes alopecia areata but it has been associated with other autoimmune diseases, viral and bacterial infections, allergies, chemical exposure and stress. There is also a genetic link in one out of five cases.
Most effective hair loss treatments for women
There is only one treatment licensed for women’s hair loss in the UK. There are many hair loss products that claim to prevent or reverse female hair loss but minoxidil is the only one that is scientifically proven to do so. Many women with various conditions of hair loss have seen marked improvement with the use of minoxidil which not only stops hair loss in most cases but also helps hair grow back. However, minoxidil is a dosage-dependent medication and women’s hair loss is a multi-factorial condition that needs to be addressed from every angle.