Everything You Need to Know About Female Pattern Baldness
A third of the women globally experience hair loss at some point in their lives. Among post-menopausal women, almost two-thirds suffer hair thinning or abnormal hair loss. The impact of hair loss in women is often more than that on men. Alopecia can severely affect a women's emotional wellbeing.
The main kind of hair loss in women is the same as that in men. It is called androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness in males and female pattern baldness in females. A normal person loses up to 100 strands of hair per day. During female pattern baldness, the hair’s growing phase slows down and it takes longer for new hair to start growing. The hair follicles shrink and new hair that grows is thin and breaks easily.
For men, the hair loss begins at the front of the head and travels back until they go bald. Women lose hair all over the head, starting from the parting line and the temples. Women go bald less likely but experience thinning throughout the hair.
Female pattern baldness is divided into three types -
- In Type 1 small thinning happens around the part, this is early stage female pattern baldness and can be camouflaged.
- In Type 2 the parting widens and thinning around it increases.
- In Type 3 thinning happens throughout and a see-through area appears on top of the scalp.
Early Stage of Female Pattern Baldness
The female pattern baldness usually beings with a gradual thinning at the part line. This is followed by an increased hair loss at the top of the head and often leads to baldness in women. In contrast, the male pattern baldness begins at the temples and the hairline slowly starts to recede forming an ‘M’ shape eventually. Gradually, hair at the top of the head starts thinning and slowly proceeds towards balding.
Female Pattern Baldness Causes
Almost every female develops some degree of female pattern baldness. Baldness in women generally begins any time after the onset of puberty. However, it is only at the time of menopause, when hair loss typically increases, that many people first notice the symptoms of female pattern baldness. The risk of baldness in women increases with age and had prominent genetic linkage- if either of your parents has had a history of androgenetic alopecia then there is a higher probability that the condition might affect you too.
The main female pattern hair loss causes can be as listed below -
- Ageing is one of the primary reason for baldness in females.
Changing levels of androgenetic hormones (these hormones stimulate male features) can cause female pattern baldness.
- This could be genetically inherited, or
- Can happen due to an underlying endocrine condition such as overproduction of androgen hormone or an androgen-secreting tumor.
- Losing a lot of blood during menstrual periods.
- Oral contraceptives and certain other medicines.
- Genetic causes may also be the reason behind female pattern baldness.
Whatever may be the reason for the female pattern baldness or baldness in women, its impact on the hair is the same. The growing phase of the hair (called the anagen phase) is shortened and the time between the shedding of the hair and the start of the new anagen or growing phase lengthens. Thus, it takes longer for the hair to start growing back after it is shed as per the stages in the normal growth cycle.
How to Diagnose Female Pattern Baldness
The hair strands appear from hair follicles in the scalp. When hair follicles shrink over time, baldness happens and the hair starts to become shorter and finer, and eventually, the follicle stops growing hair. Baldness in women or Female pattern baldness can be detected through the below symptoms -
- During early stage female pattern baldness, thinning mainly happens at the top and the crown part of the scalp. Usually, the center hair part starts widening at the beginning – this is known as the Christmas tree pattern.
- The front hairline is unaffected by female pattern baldness. Only normal hair fall happens here.
- The hair loss in women never proceeds towards total baldness, as may happen with men.
- If female pattern baldness is happening due to increased androgens, the hair on the head is thinner while the hair on the face is coarser.
- Scalp itching is generally absent.
Female Pattern Baldness Treatments
In the early stages, female pattern balding can be managed by camouflaging the hair loss by adopting a new hairstyle. Eventually, when the thinning on the top of your head increases, you may have to go for some or the other treatment. If there is an early diagnosis, you can get timely treatment and minimize future hair loss in women. The treatment mostly consists of medications. Some of these are discussed below.
Minoxidil is an approved drug that is one of the best treatment for female pattern baldness. It is available in 2% and 5% formulas. To use, apply it on the scalp every day. Although it will not regrow all the lost hair, it can grow back a substantial amount of the hair. This will give your hair an enhanced volume and an overall thicker appearance.
It normally takes six to twelve months for observable results to be experienced. You must make sure that minoxidil is used regularly to maintain the positive effects. If you break the chain of regular usage, the treatment will stop working and the hair may return to its previous appearance.
Minoxidil usage may cause certain side effects. The most common of these are redness, dryness, and itching. It can also cause hair growth in certain unwanted areas, such as cheeks.
- Finasteride and dutasteride
Finasteride and dutasteride are approved for treating male hair loss but not to treat hair loss in women. However, some doctors recommend them for female pattern baldness. Studies have mixed results as to whether these drugs work for female pattern baldness or not, however, a few results have shown positive impact.
Side effects of using these drugs include headaches, hot flashes, and reduced sex drive. Women should avoid pregnancy while using this drug as it may cause birth defects.
Spironolactone is a diuretic (it removes excess fluids from the body). It is useful in blocking androgen production and may help regrow hair in women.
Side effects of using spironolactone include electrolyte imbalance, fatigue, irregular menstruation, and spotting between periods. You should take regular electrolyte tests and blood pressure measurements while taking this drug. If you’re pregnant or are planning pregnancy, do not use this medication as it may cause birth defects.
- Treatments using supplements
Sometimes, iron deficiency might be the reason for hair loss and even the reason for baldness in women. In this case, consult your doctor to be sure of the condition and ask for prescribing an iron supplement. Although no evidence supports the theory of taking iron supplements helping in regrowing the hair, it will restore the iron deficiency in the body.
You can also take supplements such as biotin and folic acid. These promote thick hair. Studies show that women develop thicker hair after taking antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and omega-6 fatty acids.
- Other treatments
Laser combs and helmets are the latest approved treatments. These use light to stimulate hair regrowth. You can opt for cosmetic options such as using a wig.
- Hair Transplant
The hair transplant method can be used to deal with androgenic alopecia. In this process, a strip of the scalp is removed from the back of the head and is used to fill in the bald patch. this strip is divided into hundreds of tiny grafts. Each graft is planted in a slit made on the affected area of the scalp by a blade or a needle. Hair grows naturally in this way in clusters of one to four hair follicles. This technique is called follicular unit transplantation.
Female pattern baldness cannot be prevented, but the hair can be prevented from breakage. Below are some hair care tips that you can follow to minimize hair damage.
- Include green leafy vegetables, cereals, and protein-rich foods in your diet. Keep your diet healthy and balanced.
- Avoid treatments that use the action of heat and chemicals. Such treatments damage the hair and may cause hair loss and hair breakage.
- Avoid frequent usage of styling tools such as straightening iron, hot blow dryer.
- Consult your doctor to know what medicines can be taken to lessen hair loss.
- Avoid smoking and alcohol consumption.
- Wear a hat outside and avoid excessive exposure to the sun.
- Pampering your hair through the application of homemade hair masks can be one of the female pattern baldness home remedies cure.
Female baldness cure is not yet completely dependable. Although it is highly prevalent, we are still to formulate a standard treatment protocol for the clinical management of female pattern baldness. More studies need to be conducted to find the exact reasons for female pattern baldness and develop effective therapies for the treatment and reversal of such hair loss.
A lot of work still needs to be done to improve the quality of life of the patients affected by female pattern baldness. Here we have tried to explore some potential causes, symptoms, and a few treatments that attempt to deal with it clinically as well as cosmetically. If you experience these symptoms, you must consult a dermatologist and rule out other possibilities so that a line of treatment can be singled out and you can begin to approach the female pattern baldness.
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Dr. Jaspreet Sarna, M.D
Dr. Sarna is an MD (Skin & VD) with a decade-long experience in treating hair loss and working on hair regrowth. She believes stress management is the key to good health.