We hear a lot about male baldness, but what about when it happens to women? The truth is, it’s a lot more common than you think –according to a survey by LaserCap, two in five women experience female pattern hair loss (FPHL) before the age of 40. Yet, 88 per cent of us still believe that their hair loss is less socially acceptable than men, meaning that the problem often doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
This is a serious concern, as female hair loss sufferers can experience a whole host of negative psychological side-effects: a loss of self confidence (35 per cent), skipping social events (37 per cent) and feeling less comfortable around colleagues (14 per cent). What’s more, hair loss can point to a number of other serious health problems like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or nutritional deficiencies, meaning that there’s an active danger in ignoring the signs.
At healthy, we don’t want you to suffer in silence. That’s why we’ve spoken to trichologist Sally-Ann Tarver on the causes of hair loss and how to deal with this distressing problem. Here’s her top advice for moving forward:
Why is hair loss such a difficult problem to tackle?
The first hurdle is finding out the root of the problem. ‘Hair is non-essential to the body’s functionality and often responds negatively to any decline in health,’ says Tarver, ‘This means that hair loss can be due to such a multitude of causes. Unless you understand what is causing it, you will not know how to tackle it.’
However, the sooner you investigate how to stop hair loss, the better: ‘A problem we often see in trichology clinics is that people wait a long time before seeking professional advice. When hair loss has been established for many years and hair has become visibly thin, hair loss treatments are never as successful as they would be if dealt with sooner rather than later.’
What’s causing my hair loss?
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this one. According to Tarver, the most common causes of hair loss are nutritional deficiencies, stress, illness, medications, genetic factors, hormonal changes and imbalances.
As a general rule, your age can help to determine what is causing your hair loss: ‘Women in their 20 and 30s tend to suffer with low iron or nutritionally related hair loss, as well as hair which does not appear to recover after childbirth. Also, women around that age who have developed PCOS may suffer hair thinning as one of the symptoms of the disorder. Women in their 40s and 50s are also prone to nutritionally related hair loss but in addition to hormonal issues such as thyroid imbalances. Genetic (androgenetic alopecia) hair loss in women over 50 tends to become more apparent after the menopause following a drop in oestrogen levels. Hair loss due to stress, illness or surgery can affect anyone at any age but the loss is exacerbated where there is an additional underlying condition such as low iron or hypothyroidism.’
How do I get a diagnosis for female hair loss?
Tarver advises the following strategy: ‘See your GP first for blood tests including ferritin, vitamin B12, vitamin D and thyroid function and get a copy of the results. Check that levels are within optimum parameters not just ‘normal’ range. I see an astounding number of women in my clinic who have had blood tests and been informed everything is normal, only to find that one or more of their levels is close to the edge of the range, thus causing or contributing to their hair loss. Hair is very sensitive to minor fluctuations in certain blood levels and if you have underlying health issues such as low iron your hair will be more susceptible to short periods of additional hair shedding due to stress illness or other factors.’
If it’s a sudden change, think about what happened in your life two months ago. A sudden episode of illness, acute period of stress, accident or surgery can cause short term hair loss lasting around 2-3 months. This type of hair loss usually stops on its own without treatment and treatment will do nothing to stop it anyhow. Unfortunately it is just a case of waiting for it to go through the cycle. Don’t race out to buy everything in the pharmacy hair loss section. You may waste a lot of money if your purchases are not tailored to treat your specific problem. Supplements will only help with hair restoration if they are treating a deficiency which is causing it. Don’t panic! Although sometimes easier said than done, becoming stressed over increased loss of hair may itself cause additional hair loss. If you are really concerned, seek professional advice. An initial consultation with a trichologist may cost you around £100 but it is money well spent if it sets your mind at ease or at least provide answers as to what is causing your problem. Don’t fall for the ‘free consultation’ hair loss consultants. They have a business to run and need to sell you something in order to continue running that business, even if you have a problem which does not require treatment.
One more thing
‘Hair is a barometer of your health and wellbeing,’ says Tarver, ‘to maintain healthy hair growth, try to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. Although this will not prevent all female hair loss it will reduce the chance of some of the more common forms. Be aware of your hair and monitor changes over time. Don’t panic if you do notice minor changes there is usually a reason for it so seek advice earlier rather than later.’