Many women complain about growing hair where they don’t want it and losing it where they do – especially as they get older. This dilemma has many possible explanations, including hormonal changes, genetics or even an underlying medical condition. And depending on the cause, hair loss may be temporary or permanent.
Many of our viewers have been asking on Facebook about their bald spots and pesky facial hair:
On average, people lose about 50-100 hairs daily as more hair grows in, so just noticing some extra strands stuck to your brush shouldn’t necessarily make you worry. That said, it’s actually very common for women’s hair to thin as they age. According to the North American Menopause Society, about half of women notice thinning hair by the time they turn 50.
A common condition called female pattern hair loss, which is estimated to affect 20% of all women and nearly 40% of women over 70, may be responsible. While this condition isn’t fully understood, hormone imbalances are at least partly to blame. Female pattern hair loss often starts or worsens after menopause when the ovaries stop producing estrogen but continue to produce testosterone. As the ratio of androgens (“male” hormones) to estrogen increases, hair shafts may become thinner and eventually stop growing.
Women are most likely to notice slow, progressive hair loss at the crown of their head or front one third of the scalp. They may also simply observe a gradually widening part. In contrast to common patterns of hair loss in men, women’s front hairline may stay intact even if other areas are thinning and women rarely lose all of their hair.
At the same time that head hair is falling out during menopause, excess androgens may cause strays to grow in new places, such as the chin, upper lip and cheeks. These may be thick, single hairs or many small, fine hairs. In older women, this is usually a sign of the hormonal changes of menopause and does not indicate other health problems. However, excess facial or body hair in women can also be inherited or be a result of certain hormone dysfunctions such as polycystic ovary syndrome. Ask your doctor if you’re worried your excess hair may be a sign of something more serious. Learn more about unwanted hair here.
Other hormonal changes such as pregnancy or stopping birth control pills can also cause hair loss, but in these cases, the hair loss is usually temporary. Hair loss may also be a sign of a thyroid disorder or a vitamin deficiency, so any sudden or dramatic changes in your hair texture or amount of hair should prompt you to see your doctor.
Another partially genetic, partially autoimmune condition called alopecia areata can result in one or more circular bald patches scattered over the scalp. In this condition, hair often, but not always, regrows. There are other less common genetic, dermatologic and autoimmune causes of hair loss as well, some of which are unfortunately permanent.
If you’re one of the many women suffering from hair loss, there are several things you can do to try to slow or reverse this problem. Some studies have shown that spearmint tea may help block the effects of excess androgens and in the long term could possibly reduce unwanted hair growth patterns.
Certain medications are also available to help slow hair loss, though they are not effective for everyone. If hair loss is severe, you can consider hair transplants or wigs, especially now that so many attractive and fashionable options are available. If you’re concerned that your hair loss could be related to a medical condition such as thyroid disease or polycystic ovarian syndrome, consult your doctor, as treating the underlying problem could improve your hair.
Some women may think they’re going bald when really they are simply damaging their hair. Minimize stress to your hair and avoid tight hairstyles, chemical treatments, dyes, flat irons, fine-toothed combs, hot blow dryers and tight or metal hair clips or ties. Since hair is more fragile when wet, don’t brush or aggressively towel it right after washing it.