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Hair loss in women

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

Hair is a huge part of a woman’s identity and we are constantly bombarded with images of long sleek locks with plenty of volume. Understandably loss of hair can cause women a great deal of anxiety. There can be telling signs that this is an inevitable part of an ageing process, so let’s talk through what to look for, and consider any reversible causes.

Hair loss as we age

Balding in women is called female pattern hair loss or androgenetic alopecia, and each hair becomes thinner and shorter before falling out. It usually follows a slightly different course than male pattern hair loss. In women, hair thins out all over the head, especially on the crown, while the hairline may remain visible.

Men get a receding hairline from the temples and then the forehead, usually from their 30s and 40s. For women, it starts later: in their 50s and 60s. By the age of 70, around 4 in every 10 women have noticeable hair loss. It starts gradually and doesn’t cause usually cause symptoms.

It usually follows genetics, so you may lose your hair around the same age as your mother (or father, if you are male).

Can hair styling cause damage?

Yes, indeed it can. Repetitive heat damage and pulling can cause hair to come out and eventually cause irreversible loss of hair follicles, called traction alopecia. Typical examples are hot combing – popular in the Afro-Caribbean community – and adding extensions or weaves. Even having your hair pulled back in a tight ponytail or bun may cause it. You will typically get balding across the front hairline, as existing hair is pulled and weighed down with braids or extensions. To avoid permanent hair loss, try to minimise how much you are doing this, and give your hair a few weeks’ break every so often.

Is there a medical cause in women?

Medical conditions can cause hair loss. Autoimmune conditions such as lupus, Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland), Grave’s hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland) and rheumatoid arthritis can all cause hair loss and all are more common in women.

Alopecia areata (patchy loss of hair) or alopecia universalis (total loss of hair) are autoimmune conditions where the body attacks its own hair follicles. These are both slightly more common in women.

Iron deficiency can cause hair loss, with or without anaemia. Women with heavy or prolonged periods may be more susceptible to this. To rule it out as a cause, dermatologists recommend that your iron levels are really robust, not just "within the normal range".

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) may cause hair loss, with a relative excess of androgen hormones. You will also experience absent or irregular periods, acne and excess hair around the chin, upper lip or chest.

Book an appointment with your doctor if any of this applies to you, if you are suddenly losing hair, if you have bald patches or it’s coming out in clumps, or if it's itchy or burning. Book an appointment if hair loss is causing you considerable emotional distress and affecting your quality of life and self-confidence.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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