The bald truth: Taking the taboo out of female hair loss | by Sally Wadyka

Denver Center for Endocrine Surgery

Posted on Tue, Jan 14, 2014

Thinning hair affects most men as they age. And no matter how much guys hate it, often suffering “plugs and rugs-type” jokes, baldness in men is generally socially acceptable. For women, however, the experience can be different.

Hair loss affects as many as 30 million U.S. women, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. And whether they’re simply seeing a few more strands gathering in the shower drain each morning, or actually catching glimpses of their scalps, these women often suffer in silence. But some causes of hair loss can be treated or even reversed. And when they can’t, a few good styling tips can go a long way.

What’s causing hair loss?

One of the most common types of hair loss is a genetically-influenced condition called androgenetic alopecia, better known as male-patterned baldness. “Women can have the same condition, but the baldness is typically less dramatic than in men,” says Dr. Stephen Ho, a dermatologist with offices serving people at Swedish and Sky Ridge medical centers. Androgen hormones affect the hair follicles, causing loss. Hormonal shifts that occur around menopause can increase the risk of the condition for anyone who’s genetically predisposed. “Many women will show signs of this as early as age 40, but by age 65, 50 percent or more of women will have some degree of androgenetic hair loss.”

A second common type of hair loss (telogen effluvium) shows up as more diffuse hair loss, and often seems to happen overnight. There are many causes—including hormonal imbalances, psychological stress, crash dieting, thyroid disease, high fever, major surgery and certain medications. “The time interval between the inciting event and the obvious hair loss can be one to six months,” Ho says. So if women suddenly find hair falling out by the handful, they should think back to what’s happened in the past few months for clues.

What can help?

A wig or a hat isn’t the only solution for coping with thinning hair. In fact, there are several treatment options that can help in regaining a fuller, more youthful mane. “For telogen effluvium, correcting any reversible cause is the main goal of therapy,” says Ho. Hair loss with a genetic cause can’t really be “cured,” but there are things that can help. “If your doctor suspects hormones are contributing to the problem, birth control pills or an anti-androgen drug like spironolactone may help,” says Ho. Topical minoxidil (such as Rogaine) and low-level laser light therapy have also both been proven effective. The bottom line for women suffering hair loss is that they shouldn’t hide; see their doctor, who might have solutions.

Styling secrets can help

“Even if your hair is thinner than it used to be, you can make the most of what you have by using the right tools and techniques,” says Lisa Holste, owner of Posh The Salon in Denver. Here are her best tips for pumping up your volume:

  • Use conditioner first and then shampoo to prevent hair from looking limp.
  • Use dry shampoo—on the days you don’t wash—to help absorb oil and add volume.
  • Go shoulder-length or shorter and add a few strategic layers to make hair appear fuller.
  • Add hair extensions at the temples or wherever hair is thinnest to add thickness that will last a few months.
  1. Gwen Fisher says:

    Thank you for this information. I began losing my hair while taking Effexor several years ago for depression during my husbands illness and death. Now I have been diagnosed as bipolar and am taking the mood stabilizer lamictil which (like Effexor)also has the side effect of severe hair loss. Would any of the treatments you mentioned counteract hair loss due to my continuous ingestion of that medication? I assumed that nothing would help if I stay on that med, and I am normal & happy while taking it, so I guess I will give up hair to remain that way if I have to. Thanks in advance for your response if possible.
    Gwen Fisher (patient of About Skin)

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