What’s hair loss in women?
It is estimated, as a rule, that an average human being sheds between 50 to 100 single hairs per day. This is an ongoing natural cycle - some hairs fall out and at the same time, some hairs grow. When there is a disturbance in this cycle due to any reason – when the amount of hair being shed is in excess of the hair growing back, that’s termed as hair loss or “alopecia”. Hair loss in women is just that — when a woman experiences unexpected, heavy loss of hair.
Common causes of hair loss in women
Vitamin or nutritional deficiencies
Hairstyles: If hair is arranged in styles that pull at the roots, e.g., tight ponytails, braids etc., the chances of losing hair are high. This is termed traction alopecia and may result in permanent hair loss in case the hair follicles are damaged.
Rapid weight loss
Over-processed scalp hair (breakage) – usage of perms/hair colours.
Menopause or hormonal imbalances.
Signs of hair loss in women
Hair loss in women may show up in any of the following ways:
The appearance of circular or patchy bald spots on the scalp.
Progressive thinning of hair on the top of the head - this is the most common type of hair loss and appears in the form of a broadening patch on the top of the head in women.
Loss of handfuls of hair - sudden hair loss, usually attributed to any emotional or physical trauma. The hair may fall out in bunches when it is being combed or washed.
Complete hair loss – as a result of chemotherapy, radiation used in any medical condition like cancer etc.
Impact of hair loss on women
Hair loss – although distressing for both genders – is socially less acceptable for women as compared to men. In most cases, it has been observed that women are significantly more likely to suffer emotionally as a result of hair loss. The hair is the crown – it has been identified as a symbol of attractiveness/beauty in women. Rightly or wrongly, the concept of beauty is linked with hair and when this starts to diminish, it can be traumatic since it badly affects a woman’s self-esteem, (more particularly if this occurs at an early age).
There is limited cosmetic acceptance of bald women in comparison with men and this can be devastating for women. Loss of hair can affect the overall quality of life for a woman, not only on the homefront but also in the workplace by leading to diminished work performance. Low self-esteem and an altered self-image in many cases have led to women shunning social situations and retreating from any type of enjoyable social engagement.
In some extreme cases, it has even impaired their healthy lifestyle – due to indulgence in overeating, avoidance of exercise, and neglect of other medical illnesses – owing to feelings of depression/low self-esteem. Hair loss is also perceived as a sign of the aging process in older women and engenders a feeling of inadequacy and a sense of loss of virility and sexual attraction to their mate as well. All said, hair loss has a severe emotional impact on women and adversely affects their quality of life.
Types of hair loss
Hair loss may be categorized as follows:
Caused by toxic substances, which include chemotherapy, radiation, certain medications
Affects hair in the growth stage and in some instances, may be permanent if the hair follicles are damaged.
Contributory factors include -
Hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, menopause etc.
Extreme physical stress or shock experienced by your body due to events like childbirth, surgery, illness, surgery etc. Causes temporary hair loss.
Emotional stress or trauma: mental illness, the death of a loved one etc.
Certain medications/supplements e.g., blood pressure medicines, high doses of Vitamin A.
Female pattern hair loss (FPHL)/baldness:
Causes may include -
Menopause - often aggravated due to loss of estrogen during menopause.
Hormonal changes in the body due to aging.
Significant Relationship between menopause and hair loss in women
The onset of menopause in women might lead either to the growth of hair in places where she did not have any before. Alternatively, she may start to lose hair. Reduced production of the hormones, estrogen and progesterone, in the body owing to menopause, can cause hair fall.
Some women may experience thinning of hair after discontinuing hormonal birth control pills. Again this is a result of hormonal changes, particularly falling estrogen levels, which can temporarily disrupt the lifecycle of the hair.
How is hair loss diagnosed by a healthcare provider in women?
Depending on the extent of gravity of the condition, a healthcare professional may use any of the following techniques in order to diagnose hair loss in women:
Gently pulling on your hair to see how many hairs come out.
Scalp biopsy – a very small piece of scalp skin is removed for examination.
Blood tests – in order to ascertain vitamin and mineral levels (like vitamin D, vitamin B, zinc and iron) and hormone levels (including thyroid and sex hormones).
Scalp examination is conducted under a microscope and trichoscopy.
Treatment of hair loss in women
The healthcare provider (who in most cases will be a dermatologist) will do a detailed analysis of the patient’s habits, and history, observe the pattern of hair loss and depending on the cause of the hair fall, recommend treatments/medications or even a combination of treatments for months or years. The medical condition causing hair loss in women needs to be treated, not just the symptoms,
It may be noted that hair loss caused by stress or hormonal changes, like pregnancy or menopause, generally does not require any treatment. In most cases, the hair loss is likely to stop on its own after the body adjusts. This is also the case in hair loss due to nutritional deficiencies. If the deficiency is treated by the administration of supplements/vitamins, hair loss may stop.
While hair loss in women can be frustrating, recent years have seen an increase in resources for coping with the problem. Some possible medications and treatments for hair loss caused by female-pattern baldness/alopecias are listed below:
This drug comes in liquid and foam forms and is for topical use. Needs to be used long-term for months and years for effective prevention of hair loss and to promote hair growth. Side effects may include scalp irritation and acne at the site of application.
In this treatment, corticosteroids are injected at multiple sites in the affected area. Hair growth may be apparent within a period of four weeks. The treatment can be repeated every four to six weeks. As a matter of caution, it is to be noted that skin atrophy or a thinning of the scalp are some of the unpleasant side effects of this treatment.
Type of hormone replacement therapy, which focuses on supplying the hormone estrogen to support a woman’s decreasing levels.
This drug treats hair loss by addressing hormones. Specifically, it works at decreasing the body’s processing of testosterone and binds to androgen receptors.
A widely accepted hair restoration technique involves the movement of hair by a qualified surgeon from the back or side of the head (donor site) to the bald area on the head or the site where hair is thinning. Hair follicles are removed from the donor site and transplanted into the areas where hair is scarce or balding. These follicles will then grow in the new site, thus giving the appearance of fuller hair. Local anesthesia is used during the entire process.
Three to four sessions, widely spaced out over several months, may be necessary to achieve the desired result. While the recovery time differs from person to person, in most cases, the patients can resume work within a few days.
Scalp micropigmentation for women (SMP) is another cosmetic treatment which has become increasingly popular since it is non-invasive and does not involve any surgery or anesthesia. The illusion of fuller hair is created by the skilful use of tiny, layered dots of pigment on the scalp and the look of a shadow is replicated on the scalp. This procedure adds density to the crown and hairline and can be used to cover up bald spots or scars. Trained practitioners conduct SMP and cosmetic-grade permanent inks are used in this procedure.
The SMP process is usually spaced out over 2-3 sessions, with each session lasting 2-4 hours. The recovery time after SMP is minimal, and patients can resume normal activities almost immediately after the procedure.
In the present scenario, there is no cause for a woman to despair since there is no dearth of treatments/medications for the prevention of hair loss and restoration of hair growth. While choosing the ideal treatment may seem a little overwhelming, an experienced medical practitioner/ dermatologist can help in determining the cause of the hair loss and provide guidance as to the best treatment option.
Frequently Asked Question
Does SMP cost differently for women & men?
The cost of scalp micropigmentation (SMP) is typically based on the size of the area to be treated, the extent of the hair loss, and the provider's experience and expertise. In most cases, the cost of SMP is not typically different for women and men.
However, some clinics may offer slightly different pricing based on the specific needs of the client. It's important to consult with a reputable SMP provider to discuss pricing and determine the best treatment plan for your individual needs.
Is it possible to regrow hair in areas of significant hair loss, and if so, what are some of the most effective methods?
Hair regrowth is possible in areas of significant hair loss in some cases. The most effective method of hair regrowth depends on the underlying cause of hair loss. For example, topical and oral medications can be effective for hair loss caused by hormonal imbalances or genetic factors. Low-level laser therapy can also stimulate hair growth in some cases.
SMP is one of the solutions for women with patched hair loss.
Can hair loss in women be hereditary, and if so, how can it be treated or managed?
Yes, hair loss in women can be hereditary. The most common type of hereditary hair loss is called female pattern hair loss (FPHL). Treatments for FPHL include medication like minoxidil and finasteride, low-level laser therapy, and hair transplant surgery. It's important to consult with a dermatologist or hair loss specialist to determine the best treatment plan for individual needs.
Is stress a factor in women's hair loss, and how can it be managed?
Yes, stress can be a factor in women's hair loss. Stress-related hair loss is typically temporary and can be managed by reducing stress through relaxation techniques, exercise, and lifestyle changes. In some cases, medication or therapy may also be helpful. It's important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the best approach for managing stress-related hair loss.