Shedding hair is a normal part of everyday life. But if you begin noticing the part in your hair is widening, a bald spot is appearing, or you’re losing significantly more strands than normal, it can be worrisome – especially as a woman.
Today, we’re going to dive into some of the potential underlying causes of hair loss in women. And most importantly, we’ll cover what you can do to address and prevent hair loss if you’re a woman struggling with thinning hair.
What Exactly Is Hair Loss in Women?
Hair loss in women is exactly what it sounds like – when a woman experiences a heavy loss of hair. You see, we naturally shed anywhere from 50 to 100 hairs every day as part of our normal hair growth cycle.1 But when hair loss exceeds this normal shedding, women can experience hair loss, also sometimes referred to as female pattern baldness or androgenic alopecia.
While this can happen to any area of your body where hair is present, it’s most notable when it affects your scalp hair. Because the hair on your scalp has much longer growth cycles, it can be quite apparent.1 Pair this with the fact that, in general, women have significant societal pressures and “beauty standards” and it’s easy to see why hair loss in women can be quite distressing.
So what exactly causes this loss of hair in women? Let’s investigate.
What Causes Hair Loss in Women?
Think of your scalp and hair growth like a garden. Exactly how well your hair grows is entirely dependent on what’s going on “underground” beneath your scalp. If something becomes imbalanced or goes awry under the surface, it’ll interfere with hair production.
There are a number of things that can disrupt the natural and proper production of hair. But before we dive into those, it’s important to understand exactly how your hair growth cycle works. Your hair goes through 3 separate cycles, which are:2
- The anagen phase: Also known as the growing phase can last anywhere from 2 to 8 years. Generally, about 85% to 90% of the hair on your head is in the anagen phase at any given time.
- The catagen phase: Also known as the transition phase, lasts 2 to 3 weeks and is the time that hair follicles shrink.
- The telogen phase: Also known as the resting phase, is the final cycle of the hair follicle – after which it falls out. This phase lasts approximately 2 to 4 months.
Now let’s look at some of the underlying factors that disrupt the normal life cycle and growth of your hair and can cause hair loss. One major factor is your hormones, so let’s start there.
What Hormones Can Cause Hair Loss in Females?
Your hormones are essential chemical messengers that regulate just about every single function in your body – and the growth of your hair is no exception. There are a few hormones in particular that play an integral role in the life cycle of your hair follicles and they are:
- Androgens: Androgens are hormones that are considered “male” sex steroid hormones (although women naturally produce small amounts). If a woman’s hormone balance shifts and she has an increase in certain hormones – specifically testosterone and its derivative dihydrotestosterone – these androgens can bind to the receptors in your scalp follicles and hinder healthy hair growth.3
- Estrogens: Conversely, estrogens or “female” sex hormones, tend to be more “hair-friendly.” So a dip in estrogen levels can disrupt the normal growth and life cycle of your hair follicles and further contribute to female hair loss.3
- Thyroid Hormones: Your thyroid hormones are essential for the development and maintenance of your hair follicles. Both insufficient and excess levels of thyroid hormones can alter hair growth and function – essentially forcing hair follicles to shift into the telogen or resting phase too soon.4,5 When this happens, your hair follicles fall out sooner than intended.Your hormones are designed to maintain a delicate balance, and they can be thrown off-kilter in a number of ways – let’s look at a few.
How Hormones Can Cause Hair Loss in Women
There are a number of factors that can throw your hormones out of whack and trigger hair loss including:
- Menopause Hair Loss: Menopause is a normal and natural hormonal transition that women experience as part of the aging process. Menopause signals the end of a woman’s reproductive years and is marked by a significant decrease in the amount of estrogen and progesterone produced by your ovaries. This natural dip in hormones can cause hair loss.
- Postpartum Hair Loss: Pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum recovery is a whirlwind of hormonal ups and downs. These fluctuations in and of themselves can trigger temporary hair loss in women, but sometimes your body has a hard time getting back to its previous hormonal balance. This shift in the homeostasis of your hormones can cause long-term hair loss in women if not addressed.
- Hypothyroid and Hyperthyroid Hair Loss: When there’s a lopsided production of thyroid hormones as seen in hypothyroidism as well as hyperthyroidism, it can hinder your hair follicles’ growth cycle – resulting in loss of hair.
But hormonal fluctuations and changes aren’t the only thing that causes hair loss in women.
How Stress Can Cause Hair Loss in Women
Chronic feelings of stress, anxiety, and psychological duress can be a major trigger for hair loss in women. In fact, recently, there’s been a phenomenon of COVID hair loss due to elevated stress levels during the pandemic. Stress hair loss can be caused in a couple of ways.
You see, over time, the chemical messengers released when you’re stressed can push your body into what’s known as telogen effluvium – which essentially pushes large numbers of your hair follicles into their resting phase until they eventually fall out.6
Stress can also trigger hair loss by causing an autoimmune reaction, where your immune system mistakenly begins attacking your own hair follicles and causing them to fall out.6
But stress isn’t the only thing that can confuse your immune system, resulting in hair loss.
How Inflammation Can Cause Hair Loss in Women
Your immune system is designed to protect you from potential harm by targeting, attacking, and eliminating any foreign invaders. But sometimes, your immune system can essentially get stuck in the “on” position, causing chronic low-level inflammation. And over time this can burn your immune system out – causing it to begin attacking with less and less accuracy.
This loss of accuracy and confusion amidst your immune system can result in your immune system accidentally attacking your own tissues – including your hair follicles. And some of the biggest culprits that can lead to this immune system burnout are:
- Hidden infections
- An increased toxic burden
- Impaired gut health (like leaky gut syndrome or dysbiosis)
- Lack of sleep
- An inflammatory diet
These underlying issues can skyrocket your inflammation and contribute to hair loss in women.
But with so many potential factors that lead to hair loss, you’re probably wondering how to actually stop hair loss from happening.
Female Hair Loss Treatment
There are some aspects of female hair loss that we can’t control – like genetics and your natural aging processes. But the good news is, there are some simple lifestyle changes you can implement to address some of the root causes of hair loss in women. These include balancing hormones, combating inflammation, and bolstering your response to stress.
So here’s what I recommend:
- Focus on real food: Building your diet around real, whole foods that are chock-full of protein, healthy fats, and antioxidant-packed fruits and veggies will help minimize inflammation and help keep your hormones balanced.
- Load up on hair-friendly nutrients: Your hair health depends on nutrients to grow and stay healthy. Some hair-boosting supplements and hair loss vitamins I suggest include biotin, omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin D, and Vitamin C. Your hair also depends on protein to grow, so it never hurts to get a little extra protein in too.
- Show your gut some love: Your gut plays a monumental role in inflammation and hormone balance. So make sure your gut is happy and healthy by taking some gut-boosting supplements like a daily probiotic, collagen, and Gut-Immune.
- Find ways to de-stress: Stress is inevitable, but you do have control over how you cope with it. Incorporate some healthy ways of managing the unavoidable stress by trying meditation, connecting with loved ones, or blowing off some steam in the gym.
- Prioritize sleep: Chronic sleep deprivation can unravel your health – throwing hormones out of whack, skyrocketing your inflammation, and making it difficult to deal with stress. Make sleep a priority and ensure you’re logging adequate hours of high-quality sleep.
- Minimize your toxic burden: Coming into contact with toxins is inevitable. But you can help your body effectively process and eliminate these toxins so they don’t begin to accumulate and overwork your immune system. You can learn how to decrease your toxic burden here.
- Incorporate additional therapies: While the lifestyle changes mentioned above can go a long way in addressing some of the root causes of hair loss, there are some additional therapies you can incorporate to give you a little boost. I suggest incorporating some alternative therapies like PEMF therapy, IV vitamin therapy, or infrared saunas.
Depending on the root causes of your hair loss, it may be entirely reversible. But because hair loss in women is almost always an indicator of something going on beneath the surface, I strongly encourage you to seek out the guidance of an experienced Integrative and Functional Medicine Practitioner to help you pinpoint and address the root cause of your hair loss.
When It Comes to Your Health, You Are Your Own Best Advocate
As a woman, dealing with hair loss can be quite upsetting and impact your emotional well-being. In some cases, there’s not a whole lot you can do to prevent hair loss and thinning. But the good news is, oftentimes, addressing the underlying cause of hair loss can go a long way in preventing and even reversing this condition.
So if you’re struggling with thinning hair, start implementing the steps outlined in this article. And I can’t overemphasize the importance of seeking an Integrative and Functional Medicine Practitioner to help you identify and address the root cause of your hair loss.
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Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn about some of the potential underlying causes of hair loss? If you’re a woman who’s struggled, what has helped you learn how to stop hair loss? Share your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
- Hair Loss in Women: Causes, Treatment & Prevention (clevelandclinic.org)
- Causes of Hair Loss in Women: Medical Reasons and More (webmd.com)
- What Causes Female Hair Loss? Hormones, Medications, and More (webmd.com)
- Thyroid Hormones Directly Alter Human Hair Follicle Functions: Anagen Prolongation and Stimulation of Both Hair Matrix Keratinocyte Proliferation and Hair Pigmentation | The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism | Oxford Academic (oup.com)
- A Descriptive Study of Alopecia Patterns and their Relation to Thyroid Dysfunction (nih.gov)
- Stress and hair loss: Are they related? – Mayo Clinic
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.