For several decades, a lot of attention has been paid to male hair loss, or male pattern baldness.
But hair loss feels just as devastating—if not more so—for women. For the longest time, we’ve had to suffer in silence, searching for an effective solution by ourselves. Finally, this is starting to change. Female celebrities like Kiera Knightley, Kristin Davis and Naomi Campbell have started sharing publicly about their struggles with hair loss, bringing much needed awareness to an issue that over half of all women will deal with in their lifetime.
So, what causes female hair loss? In many cases, hormones are the root of the problem.
Hormones are the body's messengers, controlling many essential functions, from regulating metabolism to the reproductive cycle, to, of course, hair growth. When our hair-related hormones are in harmony, our mane typically remains healthy, strong, shiny and abundant. But when imbalances occur, it can disrupt this fragile harmony, leading to various issues, including hair thinning and loss.
Which Hormones Are Related To Hair Health?
Three primary hormones play a significant role in hair health for women: estrogen, progesterone and androgens. Let's delve into their functions and how imbalances can affect hair growth.
Estrogen is known as the "female hormone." It promotes hair growth and maintains hair in the anagen (growth) phase. Balanced estrogen levels are associated with thicker, shinier hair.
Progesterone is another vital female hormone. It helps maintain the anagen phase and prevents hair from entering the telogen (resting) phase prematurely. Imbalances in progesterone may lead to hair thinning and excessive shedding.
Though androgens are often associated with male characteristics, they are present in both men and women. DHT, a potent androgen associated with testosterone, can bind to hair follicles, causing them to shrink and produce thinner, finer hair. Androgenetic alopecia, commonly known as female pattern hair loss, is linked to the effects of androgens on hair follicles.
What Causes Hormonal Hair Loss?
Hormone imbalances can trigger a cascade of events that leads to hair thinning. There are a few common scenarios where this can occur.
Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period
During pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone levels increase, leading to luxurious hair growth and decreased shedding. However, after childbirth, hormone levels rapidly decline, causing all that hair that didn’t shed during pregnancy to fall out—seemingly all at once! Anyone who’s had a baby can probably share a postpartum hair loss horror story. Luckily, postpartum hair loss is usually temporary and resolves itself as hormone levels stabilize.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
PCOS is a common (yet difficult to diagnose) hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age. It is often characterized by elevated androgens, leading to symptoms such as acne, irregular periods and hair thinning.
Menopause, which is marked by 12 months after a final period, signifies a significant decrease in estrogen and progesterone levels. As these hormones decline, hair growth can slow down, leading to thinning hair. While hair on the head may be thinning out, it may get more plentiful in other places, like on the face (specifically, the chin).
Some birth control methods, particularly those with high androgenic progestins, can affect hormone balance. If sensitive to androgens, taking these types of birth control may lead to hair loss.
The thyroid plays a crucial role in regulating metabolism, and imbalances can disrupt hormonal harmony. Both hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism ( overactive thyroid) can lead to hair thinning.
How to Manage Hormonal Hair Loss
While it can be frightening to see your hair thinning out, if hormone imbalances are to blame, there are ways to manage and mitigate these effects.
Consult a Healthcare Professional
If you suspect a hormone imbalance is affecting your hair health, consult a healthcare professional. They can perform tests to identify the specific imbalances at play and recommend appropriate treatments. Some medications, such as anti-androgens, can be prescribed to counteract the effects of androgens on hair follicles. There are also scalp health experts, called trichologists, that study diseases or problems related to the hair and scalp, as well as their treatments.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
HRT is used to manage hormone imbalances, particularly during menopause. It can help maintain hormone levels that support a healthy hair growth cycle. Speak to your doctor about whether or not HRT is for you—with synthetic hormones always comes pros and cons that are important to understand before starting treatment.
Biotin is a B vitamin vital to the synthesis of hair, skin & nails. Silicon is a mineral found in healthy hair, skin & nails. Arginine is an essential amino acid involved in healthy blood flow, which is essential in hair growth. Saw palmetto has been shown contribute to hair follicle health by helping manage DHT levels (a hormone known to cause hair follicles to shrink). Holy basil is an adaptogen traditionally used to support healthy stress management (and stress is something that can greatly contribute to hair loss). There are also a number of vitamins and minerals that can help fill dietary gaps that may cause thinning, brittle hair. Look for all of these things, or opt for an all-in-one supplement like WILLO.
A balanced diet, regular exercise, and stress management can all contribute to hormone balance and overall health.
Over-the-counter and prescription topical treatments like minoxidil may help stimulate hair growth and slow down thinning.
Hormonal Hair Loss: Conclusion
The connection between hormone imbalances and thinning hair in women is a complex and multifaceted issue that scientists are continuing to study and fully understand. How can hormonal hair loss be stopped? Can hormonal hair loss be reversed? While genetics also play a significant role in determining hair health over a lifetime, hormones undoubtedly influence the quality and quantity of hair on one's head.
Understanding the various hormones involved and how imbalances in them can lead to thinning hair is the first step in addressing this concern. With proper medical guidance, lifestyle adjustments and other aids, women can take steps to restore and maintain a head of healthy, beautiful hair.