Understanding Hair Loss in Women
We often think of hair loss as being a typically male problem, and while the rates in men are much higher (30-60% compared to roughly 5% in women), women also suffer from hair loss. Because of its perception as a ‘male’ problem, many women suffer in silence and don’t seek treatment, even though it is easily available. ‘Female pattern hair loss’, as it is known, would be easier to combat if it were more widely understood.
Women who have a firm understanding of hair loss are also less likely to feel the same sense of shame or embarrassment about the condition. It is unfortunate that hair loss can so negatively impact the lives and self-esteem of both males and females, but by encouraging a better understanding we can hopefully dispel some of the misconceptions and put patients’ minds at ease.
Alopecia is the most common cause of hair loss in women and has what doctors refer to as a ‘strong genetic component’. This type of hair loss can be inherited from either the mother or the father and can start in the late teens, although most commonly it manifests later in adulthood. Androgenetic alopecia, to give it its full name, tends to be more severe with earlier onset. Those who start suffering in their late teens often suffer total hair loss.
Pattern Hair Loss
For women who get pattern hair loss, there aren’t the same tell-tale signs that there are for men. For example, the receding hairline and bald spot, both of which are characteristic of pattern hair loss in men, are absent in female pattern hair loss. However, for both men and women, a shortened growth cycle leads to hairs becoming miniaturized and the hair doesn’t stay on the head as long.
How is it Treated?
There is only one FDA approved thinning hair treatment, called minoxidil. Thinning hair treatments from reputable companies will contain this as their chief ingredient – see the aforementioned link to ScalpMed for an example of a minoxidil based product. Minoxidil is a topical medication that the FDA has approved for female pattern hair loss and some studies suggest that it has a success rate as high as 81%!
Liquid preparations of minoxidil, with concentrations between 2% – 5%, are available over the counter. Minoxidil works through a complex mechanism, but the end result is a prolonging of the hair growth cycle, specifically the growth phase. This allows hair more time to grow and means that more of it can reach full density.
Results from minoxidil are not instant, in fact they often take 3 to 4 months for noticeable results to take hold. It is important that the product is used every day, and it will be most effective when used soon after the emergence of symptoms.
Hair loss in women can have an enormous impact on self esteem. Many women feel not only that hair loss limits their options and impacts their appearance, but also that, as it is seen as a typically male problem, it is stigmatized. Fortunately, there are now pharmaceutical solutions which are easily available to women who think they need them.