Mainstream media has long touted lustrous, thick, and often long hair as the “ideal” for women, symbolizing femininity, youth, and health, among other things. Most women can relate to the feelings of elation and elevated self-confidence following a salon blow-out or a fresh trim and color. For some, hair “completes” a look, providing polish to one’s individual style. For others, hair holds a strong cultural symbolism, with very personal meaningfulness.
Given the various reasons why many women are so attached to their hair, it can be upsetting when hair loss occurs, especially when the cause is not easily identifiable. Alopecia, also known as hair loss from the scalp or elsewhere on the body, is actually very common and can affect both men and women, says WebMD.
Although men receive the most attention with regards to hair loss, visibly noticeable hair loss afflicts up to 40 percent of women by age 40, reports the American Academy of Dermatology. Fortunately, understanding the types and possible causes behind common hair loss can help prevent and treat the condition.
What causes hair loss in women?
The average person loses about 100 stands of hair a day, which usually is a negligible amount because new hair should be growing in simultaneously, says the Mayo Clinic. However, when this normal cycle is interrupted or the hair follicle becomes damaged, hair loss can occur.
Alopecia is often classified into four distinct types, according to WebMD. Anagen effluvium is when abnormal hair loss occurs during the first phase (anagen) of the hair's growth cycle. Telogen effluvium is a temporary, reversible condition in which hair loss occurs following a stressful experience. Alopecia areata is known as sudden hair loss that begins when one or more circular bald patches appear, and may overlap. When hair loss from the scalp is permanent, the condition is distinguished as male or female pattern baldness.
Heredity is the main cause of various types of hair loss, most commonly male or female pattern baldness, the Mayo Clinic states. Hormonal changes, medical conditions or medications are usually the other major causes of hair loss.
Some hormonal changes may lead to hair loss in women, such as pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. Thyroid issues can also cause hair loss. Certain medications can also lead to hair loss as a side effect, including some used for cancer, arthritis, depression, heart problems, gout, and high blood pressure. Hair loss may be permanent or temporary.
Radiation therapy and anesthesia used during surgery can also cause hair loss, with sometimes limited regrowth to areas lost. In addition, a highly stressful event can trigger temporary hair loss, such as divorce, injury, or an accident. This loss can last for several months following the physical or emotional shock.
Additional factors can increase the risk of hair loss, including significant weight loss caused by crash dieting or other unhealthy means, or certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and lupus, says WebMD.
How to help prevent and treat hair loss
While some causes of hair loss cannot be controlled, such as those due to family history, there are ways to help impede preventable types of hair loss.
According to the Mayo Clinic, avoiding tight hairstyles (like braids, buns, and ponytails) is a must, along with being mindful to gently care for the hair when brushing and washing. Avoid rough pulling, twisting, or rubbing, which can damage hair and lead to breakage and loss. In addition, use heat styling tools such as a blow dryer, flat and curling iron sparingly. Also be sure to protect hair from sunlight and damaging UV light.
If hair loss is a concern, limit the use of chemical treatments such as dyes, highlights, peroxide coloring, and perms, which can lead to abrupt and irreversible damage to hair follicles, says Healthline.
Also consider taking a holistic approach to health in general. This includes following a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and if possible, avoiding medications that can lead to hair loss, suggests the Mayo Clinic. Some hair loss may be due to nutritional deficiencies, so consider taking supplements like iron, zinc, vitamin D, and B-12, Healthline recommends. An antioxidant-rich diet full of foods spinach, kale, beans and legumes, blueberries and strawberries can help relieve the effects of oxidative stress that can damage hair follicles.
While it is difficult, patience is key when trying to restore healthy hair growth cycles, with improvement sometimes taking 6 weeks or more.
If you are experiencing hair loss, be sure to see your healthcare practitioner to determine if the cause can be treated.