At any age, hair loss can be a disheartening experience. Although it’s more common than you may think—according to the American Association of Hair Loss, 40 percent of Americans who experience hair loss are women—it’s still very much a taboo topic that’s rarely openly talked about.
But whether you're already starting to show signs of baldness or just shedding more than usual, know that you’re not alone. “It’s a very common complaint that can happen when you’re as young as in your 20s, and that’s when it can first become noticeable,” says New York dermatologist, Dr. Michele Green. “Thinning can occur anytime after puberty and we see many women in their 20’s and 30’s with this problem,” adds Anabel Kingsley, trichologist at Philip Kingsley. “Excessive daily hair shedding (telogen effluvium) can occur at any age.”
While genetics and hormones are two of the biggest reasons women experience hair loss, there’s a number of other surprising causes too that stem from diet, general health, and even the way you style your hair. Read on to find out what are the roots behind hair loss and what can be done to treat it.
No matter the cause, stress is a beast of a burden that can physically manifest itself in a variety of ways, including affecting the state of your hair. “Stress can, through a convoluted route, increase testosterone levels – and this can cause hair loss in certain individuals,” says Kingsley. “Stress may also affect the body’s absorption of nutrients and what we eat. Nutrition is very important to hair growth – and blips in nutrient intake can cause periods of excessive daily hair shedding.”
This cause for hair loss is also known as telogen alopecia is an overall hair thinning rather than patches. “Think of it as a sudden loosening of all the hair on the head,” says Dr. Green. “When you brush your hair when you are suffering from this type of alopecia, often you’ll see the hair coming out in clumps. It’s not bald patches but overall hair thinning.”
In addition to making relaxing activities like yoga or meditation a part of your routine, and eating a balanced diet of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats, over-the-counter women’s Rogaine ($43; target.com), also known by its medical name Minoxidil can help speed along the regrowth process. Kingsley recommends applying daily anti-androgenic scalp drops like Philip Kingsley Tricho 7 ($89; philipkingsley.com) to help protect the hair follicle from the damaging effect that male hormones can have.
Another treatment option for stress-related hair loss is Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy, a treatment that’s quickly increasing in popularity in dermatologists’ offices. “A lot of times it [hair loss] will go away on its own when the stress gets better but sometimes people need a jumpstart,” explains Dr. Green. “In this treatment you have your own platelet plasma that’s derived from your own blood injected into the area, and that gives back the stimulants needed for the hair to grow back.”
An Autoimmune Disease
Alopecia areata occurs as a result of an autoimmune disease, where the body immune system decides your healthy cells are foreign, and thus attacks them. This type of alopecia is visible in the form of one or more circular bald patches.
This hair loss cause can stem from a variety of issues including but not limited to thyroid, hormonal, or anemia. Dr. Green says the most common way to treat alopecia areata is with intralesional steroid injections administered by a dermatologist, or sometimes Minoxidil [Rogaine] is used. When dealing with this hype of hair loss, the longer it's left untreated the more likely the situation is permanent.
It’s true, how you style your hair can give you the opposite of your desired effect by causing your hair to fall out. Everything from too-tight ponytails, hair dye, and straightening treatments can lead to traction alopecia. This can happen when you wear hairstyles that place the hair in constant traction too often. “Initially, breakage can occur – and in severe cases hairs may be pulled out from their follicle,” explains Kingsley. “Traction can lead to a gradual recession of the front hairline. And if done for an extended period of time, the hair follicle can be irreversibly damaged with permanent hair loss resulting.”
Luckily, the solution for traction alopecia is simple, and fairly obvious: stop wearing your hair in styles that make your scalp sore, and if your hair is over-processed, ease up on the dyes, chemicals, and heat tools. A weekly deep conditioning treatment like StriVectin Ultimate Restore Deep Repair Mask ($39; sephora.com) will help strengthen and repair strands throughout the hair’s growth cycle, which is roughly three months.
Change of Seasons
Transitional weather not only brings unpredictable temperatures, it can also cause excessive shedding. Kingsley notes that seasonal changes in weather, diet, metabolic factors can often affect hair. “UV ray exposure in the summer can cause brittleness and breakage, while stress and diet may trigger dandruff,” she says. “Either way, if it happens at the same time each year and is self-limiting, it’s nothing to worry about.”
Both iron and ferritin (stored iron) are essential for the body to produce hair cell protein. If your diet is lacking iron-rich foods like red meat or dark leafy greens like spinach, or your body isn’t absorbing it properly, hair loss is usually the body’s first sign of the deficiency before anything else. “Ferritin deficiency is one of the most common causes of hair loss in women we see – and often affects the hair before it impacts anything else,” explains Kingsley. “It can result in excessive daily hair fall and may also cause hair to fall out before the length that it is capable of – without proper iron stores, the hair does not have the support it needs to sustain growth.”
In addition to upping your intake of iron-packed foods, Kingsley also recommends taking a daily iron supplement that also contains vitamin C like Philip Kingsley Tricho Complex ($79; philipkingsley.com). “Iron deficiency needs to be treated with daily iron supplements, as well as changes to the diet. Diet alone will not be able to raise levels sufficiently,” she says.
Although it doesn’t usually result in large amounts of hair loss, but if the scale patches on the scalp are particularly tight and long-lasting, it can cause breakage close to the scalp, or affect hair’s diameter. “Psoriasis needs careful, consistent and patient treatment, and preferably it should be carried out by a dermatologist or trichologist,” explains Kingsley. One way to improve the condition is a weekly steam and prescription cream treatment that gently and gradually removes the scales.
Throughout pregnancy, estrogen levels are raised which prolongs the hair’s usual anagen (growth) phase. Once women give birth or once they stop breast-feeding, their bodies’ estrogen levels drop back to normal which can cause the extra hair they grew during pregnancy to shed in a short period of time. “If post-partum hair loss is going to occur, there is unfortunately nothing that can be done to prevent it; it must be left to run its course. But try not to worry, the loss is only temporary and all hairs shed should grow back,” says Kingsley. “In a study we [Philip Kingsley] conducted, we found that approximately 50% of women experience partum hair fall. We do not know why some women experience it and others do not. It is impossible to predict and it can also occur after one pregnancy, but not another.”
Eating a diet high in protein and iron will help give hair the internal support it needs to grow back at its optimal rate. A weekly stimulating scalp mask like Philip Kingsley Stimulating Scalp Mask ($30; philipkingsley.com) can also help create a scalp environment that will promote optimal hair regrowth.