If you start seeing globs of hair in the shower drain, it’s easy to get freaked out. After all, hair can be an important part of a woman’s identity, and hair loss is typically seen as a man’s problem. The truth is, women make up about 40% of ladies suffering from unwanted shedding, and 50% of all women experience female pattern hair loss (yes, that exists) by age 50. So it’s a big myth that hair loss is a man’s problem.
Read on for five more truths about your tresses…
1. Women lose their hair the same way men do With male pattern baldness, hairlines form an M shape as the hair recedes, and many men go on to lose all the hair on the tops of their heads, says Mary Gail Mercurio, MD, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York.
Women, however, typically do not have receding hairlines.
“They get diffuse thinning right on top of their heads,” says Dr. Mercurio. Clumps of hair coming out in the shower or while you’re styling your hair shouldn’t be cause for concern. Decrease density on top of your head or even a widening part are more common signs of hair loss in women.
Female pattern hair loss is usually inherited from family members, but it’s also sparked by hormone changes or everyday aging.
2. High testosterone makes hair fall out. Excess testosterone does not cause either sex to go bald—but testosterone does play a big role. The body converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and this process causes damage to the hair follicle, explains Dr. Mercurio. So those who convert testosterone to DHT most efficiently lose more hair than those whose bodies are less efficient. In that case, your doctor might prescribe an anti-androgen medication to block the effect the hormones have on the hair follicle, says Melissa Piliang, MD, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
3. Birth control pills cause hair loss. “A number of androgen (male) hormones can interact with the hair follicle to make it thinner and finer,” Dr. Piliang says. Some types of progesterone, a hormone commonly found in oral contraceptives, can act like androgens, Dr. Piliang says. Hair loss with the pill is more a problem, though, if you’re using an older version of birth control. “The newer ones developed have fewer of those side effects and are really more anti-androgen,” Dr. Piliang says. Infact, some doctors may prescribe birth control to help fight unwanted hair loss, Dr. Piliang says. Talk to your doctor to find the right version for you, especially if you have a family history of hair loss.
4. All hair loss is permanent. Some instances of shedding could just be temporary. Many women lose some hair after giving birth, for instance, as their hormones adjust back to their pre- pregnancy levels, Dr. Piliang says, but it regrows within several months. Many women also have diet issues that affect their hair.
“Women more often than men have nutritional deficiencies in iron and zinc,” Dr. Piliang says. Both are key nutrients for strong hair, so low levels could weaken your strands. You can fix that by increasing your intake of foods rich in those nutrients, like beans and oysters. You could also take supplements, but check with your doctor first to be safe. Best to avoid extreme eating plans too. Any restrictive diet can lead to hair shedding because you’re losing out on essential nutrients, Dr. Piliang says.
5. Stress makes your hair fall out.
It’s easy to blame thinning strands on stress, but for stress to cause hair loss, it has to be more extreme than what you experience when you’re prepping for a big presentation at work or in an argument with your spouse. When your body experiences something traumatic, like a major surgery or illness, it can disrupt the cycle of hair, shifting it prematurely into the shedding phase, Dr. Mercurio says. It’s a condition called telogen effluvium, which can also be caused by childbirth, according to the American Hair Loss Association. Shedding usually subsides once the stressful event has passed. While some experts believe emotional stress such as the death of a loved one can cause hair loss, nothing has been proven definitively, Dr. Mercurio says.