It’s true that men are more likely to lose their hair than women, mostly due to male pattern baldness (more on that later).
But thinning hair and hair loss are also common in women, and no less demoralizing. Reasons can range from the simple and temporary—a vitamin deficiency—to the more complex, like an underlying health condition.
In many cases, there are ways to treat both male and female hair loss. It all depends on the cause. Here are some common and not-so-common reasons why you might be seeing less hair on your head.
Any kind of physical trauma—surgery, a car accident, or a severe illness, even the flu—can cause temporary hair loss. This can trigger a type of hair loss called telogen effluvium. Hair has a programmed life cycle: a growth phase, rest phase and shedding phase. “When you have a really stressful event, it can shock the hair cycle, (pushing) more hair into the shedding phase,” explains Dr. Marc Glashofer, a dermatologist in New York City. Hair loss often becomes noticeable three-to-six months after the trauma.
Pregnancy is one example of the type of physical stress that can cause hair loss (that and hormones). Pregnancy-related hair loss is seen more commonly after your baby has been delivered rather than actually during pregnancy. “Giving birth is pretty traumatic,” says Glashofer.
What to do: If you do experience hair loss, rest assured that your hair will grow back in a couple of months. “It’s a normal thing and it will work its way out,
Too much vitamin A
Overdoing vitamin A-containing supplements or medications can trigger hair loss, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The Daily Value for vitamin A is 5,000 International Units (IU) per day for adults and kids over age 4; supplements can contain 2,500 to 10,000 IU.
What to do: This is a reversible cause of hair loss and once the excess vitamin A is halted, hair should grow normally.
Lack of protein
If you don’t get enough protein in your diet, your body may ration protein by shutting down hair growth, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. This can happen about two to three months after a drop in protein intake, they say.
What to do: There are many great sources of protein including fish, meat, and eggs.
Male pattern baldness
About two out of three men experience hair loss by age 60, and most of the time it’s due to male pattern baldness. This type of hair loss, caused by a combo of genes and male sex hormones, usually follows a classic pattern in which the hair recedes at the temples, leaving an M-shaped hairline.
What to do: There are topical creams like minoxidil (Rogaine) and oral medications such as finasteride (Propecia) that can halt hair loss or even cause some to grow; surgery to transplant or graft hair is also an option.
Just as pregnancy hormone changes can cause hair loss, so can switching or going off birth-control pills. This can also cause telogen effluvium, and it may be more likely if you have a family history of hair loss. The change in the hormonal balance that occurs at menopause may also have the same result. “The androgen (male hormone) receptors on the scalp becoming activated,” explains Dr. Mark Hammonds, a dermatologist with Scott & White Clinic in Round Rock, Texas. “The hair follicles will miniaturize and then you start to lose more hair.”
What to do: If a new Rx is a problem, switch back or talk to your doctor about other birth control types. Stopping oral contraceptives can also sometimes cause hair loss, but this is temporary, says Hammonds. Don’t make your problem worse with hair-damaging beauty regimens.
Almost one in 10 women aged 20 through 49 suffers from anemia due to an iron deficiency (the most common type of anemia), which is an easily fixable cause of hair loss. You doctor will have to do a blood test to determine for sure if you have this type of anemia.
What to do: A simple iron supplement should correct the problem. In addition to hair loss, other symptoms of anemia include fatigue, headache, dizziness, pale skin, and cold hands and feet.
Autoimmune-related hair loss
This is also called alopecia areata and basically is a result of an overactive immune system. “The body gets confused,” says Glashofer. “The immune system sees the hair as foreign and targets it by mistake.”
What to do: Steroid injections are the first line of treatment for alopecia areata, which appears as hair loss in round patches on the head. Other drugs, including Rogaine, may also be used. The course of the condition can be unpredictable, with hair growing back then falling out again.
Dramatic weight loss
Sudden weight loss is a form of physical trauma that can result in thinning hair. This could happen even if the weight loss is ultimately good for you. It’s possible that the weight loss itself is stressing your body or that not eating right can result in vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Loss of hair along with noticeable weight loss may also be a sign of an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.
It’s not uncommon to see hair loss or thinning of the hair in women as they enter their 50s and 60s, says Glashofer. Experts aren’t sure why this happens.
What to do: Experts don’t recommend that this condition be treated, says Hammonds. That leaves women with cosmetic approaches such as scarves, wigs and hair styled so as to cover up thin spots