Understanding Female Pattern Baldness
Hair loss is most often thought of as a male issue, but it’s also a common problem for women. To make matters worse, the social stigma attached to baldness in women is far greater than for men. The good news is that there are treatment and management options available.
Reasons for hair loss in women
There are many possible reasons for female hair loss. These include autoimmune conditions, vitamin or iron deficiencies, hormonal imbalances and both physical and emotional stress. The first step for any woman who’s noticed an increase in hair shedding is a visit to the doctors to exclude these causes. The most common reason for hair loss in women, however, is female pattern baldness. This can present at any age, though it’s more usually noticed around or after menopause. Around 40% of women show some signs of hair thinning by the age of 50, and less than half of women who reach the age of 80 will do so with a full head of hair.
Female pattern hair loss doesn’t present in the same way as male pattern baldness
Whereas male pattern baldness typically starts at the temples, works back across the head and can lead to total hair loss, the female pattern is quite different. In women, thinning of hair typically starts around the part line and progresses by radiating outwards from the top of the head. It’s unusual for the hairline to recede and very rare for women to become completely bald.
Causes of female pattern baldness
There is a genetic component in female hair loss, but it’s believed that many different genes are involved and these can be inherited from either parent. Genetic testing for the risk of female baldness is unreliable.
Androgens have a role in male pattern baldness but the majority of women with pattern hair loss have normal levels of this hormone. The fact that hair thinning is more common after menopause could suggest that oestrogen may promote hair growth or inhibit hair loss, but laboratory experiments have suggested oestrogens may suppress hair growth.
Treatments for female hair loss
Where there’s an underlying medical condition for thinning hair, treating this may resolve or reduce the problem. Iron supplements or anti-androgens may help some women, but not when the hair loss is caused by classic female pattern hair loss.
Minoxidil, a drug which was originally developed to treat high blood pressure has been shown to be effective as a topical treatment for some, but not all women. New hair growth doesn’t always match the colour or texture of the old hair, however, and have been some side effects noted, including contact dermatitis as an allergic reaction to the topical solution and growth of hair in places where it isn’t wanted such as the cheeks or forehead.
Management of female pattern baldness
Hair replacement systems, once much more commonly offered to men are now becoming increasingly available for women. Hair transplants can be a possibility but are unsuitable for those who have a large degree of thinning right across the scalp.
Non-surgical hair replacement has come a long way since the days of unconvincing wigs. High-quality hair systems are generally bonded to the existing hair and the scalp. Correctly fitted and cared for such systems are cut and styled just like real hair, will stay firmly in place while showering, swimming or undertaking and other normal daily activity and can last for up to thirteen weeks.