Hair loss is something that happens to all of us and yet we rarely speak about it. Why am I losing so much hair? How much is too much? and Will I go bald? are just some of the questions we often ask ourselves but are too embarrassed to ask. So, to cut out the confusion, we spoke to dermatologist Dr Eleni Yiasemides to answer the most pressing questions about hair loss in women, including treatment options and prevention…
Why do women get thinning hair and hair loss?
The number-one cause of permanent hair loss is related to a hereditary condition which in women, is called female pattern hair loss. Temporary shedding is called telogen effluvium and can be triggered after you have a baby, stopping the oral contraceptive pill, major stress and thyroid problems. This kind of hair loss will self-correct on its own and the hair will grow back.
A permanent reduction in hair over time is mostly likely hereditary. There is no cure, and you can’t prevent it through lifestyle, diet changes and vitamin supplements: it’s in your genetics and unavoidable.
There are rare medical conditions that cause hair loss, including when you have a disease or abnormality on the scalp or an autoimmune condition. With those conditions, unlike hereditary female pattern hair loss, you generally get bald patches on the scalp that are shiny and smooth, and there are no hair follicles.
In men, if they eventually go bald, they do get a shiny, smooth scalp, and they totally lose their hair in that area. Whereas in women the worst case is the hair is really thin like peach fuzz, but there is still hair there.
How do you know the difference between regular hair loss and problematic hair thinning?
Hair loss is normal throughout our lives. We lose about 100 strands per day on average, but anything more than that and it could be temporary or hereditary hair loss.
If you notice increased shedding, like more hair in the drain or more hair on your brush, it is an indication of hair thinning. Another sign is you can see more of the skin on the scalp, particularly when you part your hair in the centre, the part gets wider.
Can I tell at home or do I need to see a doctor for a diagnosis?
Women usually know when they are suffering from hair loss. A reliable test of density is to pull up your hair into a ponytail and see how many times the elastic goes around? Is it more than usual?
Can you stop hair loss?
There is no cure for hereditary hair loss, only temporary shedding. Once you’ve identified there’s a problem with hair loss, there are effective treatments that can manage the hair loss but there is no medicinal cure it. The earlier you start the treatment, the better it is. The treatment’s aim is to hold onto as many hairs that are already there and stop the existing hair from getting thinner. The earlier you start the treatment, the more hair you have to begin with. You will be better off over someone who leaves it later, when they have had considerable hair thinning occur.
For ladies, we start most of our patients on a non-prescription, topical solution called Minoxidil of 1-2 per cent. My patients use this treatment for six months, and for some people a topical treatment is all they need but if you stop using it the hair loss will start again.
If that’s not enough there are prescription medications you can try. For women the first step is usually a hormonal treatment like the oral contraceptive pill. There are a few types that can be prescribed by your doctor that really help with hair loss on the scalp.
Will dietary supplements make a difference to hair thinning or loss?
Taking vitamin supplements, changing your diet and exercising is all very good for your health. But this isn’t going to stop hereditary hair loss because it isn’t going to change your genetic makeup. You need to seek medical treatment to help manage the condition. There are treatment options to camouflage the hair loss or thinning which are particularly useful at the start of treatments. Consider these initially because medical treatments usually take around four to six months to start working.
Dying it a lighter colour, adding more texture and volume, parting it in certain ways. Blow-drying it with lots of volume, extensions and hair pieces and getting a shorter haircut are all camouflaging techniques to try.
Hereditary hair loss also doesn’t affect hair elsewhere on the body, including eyelashes and eyebrows. It also only affects the front of the scalp, never the back. This is why it’s called female pattern hair loss, because there is a particular pattern on the front hairline only.