Your hairbrush, the shower drain, that particularly static jacket – it’s completely normal to find strands of your hair coating your surroundings. Over the course of a few years every single one of your approximately 100,000 hair follicles will grow, rest and then fall out.
But how much moulting is too much? And what causes abnormal hair loss?
There are so many potential triggers that can cause hair loss and discovering the specific one is essential in helping you treat it. Here, we explain everything you need to know about hair loss, its causes and how to treat it.
Is female hair loss common?
According to trichologist Kate Dawes, up to 55 percent of women will experience some kind of hair loss in their lifetime.
How much hair loss is normal for women? How many hairs do you lose a day?
“It is normal to lose around 50 to 150 hairs per day,” Dawes says. “As we have over 100,000 hairs on our heads, this will not affect the density of hair.”
If you begin moulting significantly more than this or you notice your hair isn’t growing back, that could be a sign something is up.
Causes of hair loss in women
If you have a family history of hair loss, genetics could be the cause. This type of hair loss is called female-pattern hair loss or androgenetic alopecia, and it affects over 50 percent of women as they age. For most women it’s fairly subtle but for around 20 percent of women is can become moderate or severe. It differs to male-pattern baldness in the way it presents. Women experience more thinning of the hair and loss of volume rather than bald patches and receding hairlines.
2. Hormonal changes
Hormones play a significant role in the hair growth cycle. Oestrogen or “female hormones” help hair grow while androgens or “male hormones” do the opposite. Androgens act on the hair follicle, reducing their size and the rate of hair growth until the follicle is no longer able to produce hairs. Genes also come into play here as the extent of hair loss is down to your genetic disposition to follicle sensitivity.
That’s is why hormonal changes experienced during postpartum and menopause can cause hair loss. Hair loss could also be a sign of an endocrine disorder like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), characterised by excess androgens.
3. Medical conditions
Aside from PCOS, there are a number of medical conditions that can cause hair loss. These include alopecia areata, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, and lupus.
4. Stress or shock
Hair loss can occur when stress, shock or trauma causes hair roots to be pushed prematurely into a resting state. This is also called Telogen Effluvium.
“[Telogen Effluvium is] the most common cause of hair loss I see in my clinic,” Dawes says. “Telogen Effluvium can be acute – which lasts for less than six months – or chronic – lasting over six months. This is not a permanent hair loss and it can be reversed.”
There are a number of medications that can cause hair loss including acne medications, antibiotics, antifungals, anticoagulants, cholesterol-lowering drugs, immunosuppressants, antidepressants and mood stabilisers, and chemotherapy. Speak to your doctor about treatment options.
7. Vitamin deficiency and diet
Hair loss can be a side effect of your body not getting the nutrients it needs.
One of the most common causes of hair loss in women is iron deficiency and anemia, as iron is essential for producing hair cell protein. If you’ve also noticed fatigue, difficulty focusing, pale skin, breathlessness, and low immunity, speak to your doctor or dietitian as you might have low iron. Another vitamin deficiency that can result in hair loss is a lack of vitamin B12.
“Most at risk are vegans, particularly vegan women who are planning to fall pregnant or who are pregnant or breastfeeding,” says Dr Fiona O’Leary, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Senior Lecturer in Dietetics at The University of Sydney. “If you already eat a varied diet that contains dairy foods, fish, chicken or meat then you are likely getting enough.”
8. Weight loss
A sharp drop on the scales can coincide with hair loss.
“Poor nutritional intake, crash dieting and poor gut function can cause the body to “starve” the hair of blood, thereby minimising nutrition and oxygen delivered to the hair,” Dawes says. “This in turn upsets the hair growth cycle, causing more follicles to cycle into the Telogen stage of the growth cycle. This is the stage where hair will shed out.”
Hair thinning is a completely normal, and unfortunately unavoidable, part of ageing. The aforementioned menopause process leads to hair becoming finer and thinner.
How to treat hair loss in women
Female hair loss treatment will vary depending on the underlying cause.
“Female pattern baldness is a genetic, hormonal-based hair loss which can respond well to an oestrogen based contraceptive pill, laser therapy, platelet rich plasma, spironolactone and minoxidil,” Dawes says. “Treatments such as these need to be taken long term to maintain results. Once these are no longer used, the hair loss will resume.”
1. Minoxidil lotion
Also known as Rogaine, minoxidil is applied to the scalp twice daily. About 60 per cent of patients benefit from it to varying degrees – about 15 in 100 users have hair regrowth, while hair loss continues in about one in three users. Its effects start to wear off as soon as it is stopped.
Also known as Propecia, finasteride is a medicine taken in tablet form that partially blocks the effects of the male hormones (an ‘anti-androgen’). Propecia has been shown to stop hair loss and promote regrowth of scalp hair in approximately 80 percent of patients after three to six months. The treatment benefits also stop when you stop taking the medication.
Do hair supplements work?
You’ve no doubt noticed celebrities and influencers plugging the benefits of certain hair supplements but do these treatments actually work? Despite the hype, there’s not much science backing up the validity of beauty supplement claims.
Most experts say that supplements – which often use biotin, zinc, B-vitamins, omega 3s and collagen – can only boost your hair if you’re seriously lacking in key nutrients. So it’s important to see your GP or nutritionist if you feel like you may be deficient in a specific vitamin or mineral.
How to prevent hair loss in women
If you’re worried about lifestyle factors affecting your hair growth, your best bet is ensuring that you’re eating a nutritious diet, getting sufficient sleep, lowering your stress levels and giving your locks some TLC (i.e. put down the blowdryer).