Sunday, March 9, 2008
Let me make one thing clear: women, if you are experiencing hair loss, please know that you are not alone!
Women's hair can thin for a variety of reasons, and yet the topic is still far less openly discussed than male hair loss. In many cases, though, the causes are diagnosable and treatable, making it particularly important that women discuss hair loss with their doctors. First, let's consider some common factors that can cause and contribute to hair loss:
Low iron levels: Iron deficiency, with or without anemia, can lead to hair loss. Do not simply start taking an iron supplement without having your iron checked by a physician because too much iron can also lead to health problems.
Thyroid disorders: Both an overactive and an underactive thyroid can lead to hair loss.
Low estrogen levels: Many women experience hair loss during and after menopause, when estrogen levels begin to drop. Other hormonal changes -- changes in oral contraceptive use, for example -- can also trigger hair loss.
Post-pregnancy hormonal changes: Similarly, new moms may find that they're shedding a lot of hair in the first one to six months after delivery, when their estrogen levels return to normal. Actually, what seems like excessive hair loss is really hair's natural growth cycle regulating itself, as high hormone levels tend to keep women from losing normal amounts of hair during pregnancy.
Telogen effluvium: This is the general term for sudden, temporary hair loss as a result of recent stress or surgery, which typically occurs around two months after the causative event or illness. (It may also be used to describe sudden hair loss as a result of other factors on this list, such as post-pregnancy hormonal changes.)
Medications: Many medications may lead to hair loss. If this is a concern, talk to your doctor about potential alternatives
High levels of vitamin A or selenium: There is rarely any reason to take more of these nutrients than you'd find in a good multivitamin.
Several recent studies of men have found that smoking also seems to increase hair loss. I don't know of any similar studies in women, but one thing is clear: Smoking is harmful for a multitude of reasons, whether or not increased hair loss is among them!
The best plan of action for anyone experiencing hair loss is to determine the underlying cause and eliminate it. And the best place to start is a routine physical exam with blood work. By simply drawing your blood, your physician can determine your ferritin (iron) levels, thyroid levels, and estrogen status - and that will already get you far in recognizing or ruling out many of these causes.
If your physician does not uncover a reversible cause for the hair loss, though, it may be the unavoidable result of genetics. But there are still products that can help stimulate re-growth:
Rogaine (the trade name for the drug minoxidil), which is applied directly to the scalp, causes dilation of blood vessels and increased blood flow to the scalp. As a result, the hair follicle gets better nutrients and oxygen and the shrunken hair follicles become larger and hair grows thicker. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not use Rogaine.
Propecia (the trade name for the drug finasteride) is sold in pill form and inhibits the conversion of testosterone (which women have in small amounts) to DHT (or dihydrotestosterone), a hormone that gradually shrinks hair follicles and causes them to have shorter growth cycles. Though only FDA-approved for male pattern hair loss, Propecia may also help patterned hair loss in women. (Pregnant women or women who are planning to become pregnant, however, should never take Propecia.) Studies evaluating the efficacy of Propecia in women have been contradictory so it does not work in all women.
Both of these treatments work only as long as you use them, though; once treatment is discontinued, hair will typically return to its pre-treatment thickness. Stay tuned to hear about a new light treatment in a comb that may improve hair loss.
Wishing you great hair!
Dr. Baumann is author of the best-selling book," The Skin Type Solution." To learn more about her revolutionary skin typing system, visit her Web site, SkinTypeSolutions.com.