Did you know you lose about 100 hairs on your head each and every day? It’s all par for the course, as a part of the normal shedding process that involves new hairs subbing in for the old ones. Our hair follicles work extremely hard, dividing their cells and producing the keratin and melanins that comprise the hair shaft. These diligent little follicles follow a natural cycle of growth, rest, and finally release, which allows room for the process to start over again.
Yet if you feel like the number of hairs you find in your shower, hairbrush, and pillow far exceed that daily 100, it might be the beginning of hair loss. Typically, you’ll be able to see visible signs of loss at your hairline, corners of the forehead, and middle part of the scalp. Hair loss in women is a complex issue because it involves a variety of factors that can occur at a number of different stages in a woman’s life. We spoke with two hair specialists to discover the six culprits of hair loss and what can be done to stop, and even cure, hair loss in its tracks.
What are the causes?
Birth Control: Anything that alters or surges your hormones can especially alter normal hair cycles. Birth control can cause an increase in hair shedding and thinning, says Dr. Dominic Burg, a hair biologist and chief scientist of hair loss brand Evolis Professional. While taking birth control may cause these hair changes, ending your birth control prescription can also trigger follicle cycle changes, which can lead to further loss of tresses.
Pregnancy: Changes in hormones during pregnancy can positively affect hair, giving a surge of estrogen and androgen, which promotes shinier and healthier-looking hair. After birth though, it’s common for women to have excessive shedding and lifeless hair due to the sharp change in hormones.
Menopause: “The drop in female sex hormones can lead to an emergence of testosterone in some women,” says Dr. Burg. “This can result in hair loss in women with testosterone-sensitive follicles.” In other words, the kind of testosterone linked to hair loss, which is called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, is a hormone created from testosterone in the body and is found in the skin and hair follicles. Your follicles, in particular, are sensitive to DHT and can induce hair loss for some.
Diet: A healthy, balanced diet is vital for maintaining wellbeing, in general, but it’s especially critical for healthy hair. Those on nutrient-deficient or restrictive diets may see an unfortunate increase in hair loss. When you aren’t getting enough nutrients in your diet, your body knows that your hair isn’t essential for your life—unlike your heart, lungs, and brain—so it will shift nutrients and energy to essential organs and away from hair. “This can result in hair follicles prematurely entering into the resting phase and slowing of growth,” explains Dr. Burg.
Stress: As with diet, stress impacts the way the body manages energy and nutrients, says Dr. Burg. “High levels of constant stress put the body into a constant fight-or-flight mode where hair growth is not a critical function and is reduced in favor of other systems,” he says.
Genetics: Blame it on genes, because the genetics involved in hair loss are incredibly complex. For men, scientists know of over 150 genes, but less research has been conducted to understand the genetics of women’s hair loss.
Illness: “Many people experience some hair loss in the weeks and months after an anesthetic or large medical procedure,” says Dr. Burg. He also says prolonged illnesses can cause the same lack of nutrient flow to hair follicles as stress and poor diet do.
Aging: The hair regrowth and loss cycle are repeated many times in our lives, but with each one, the follicles begin to get a little more tired. The hair cycle can alter from this repetition fatigue, causing hair to fall out too quickly or for hairs to become finer and less substantial. The troubling part is this aging can happen prematurely for some women due to lack of care for hair follicles and the scalp.
What can be done?
Look for the warning signs when it comes to hair loss. “Sadly, for many women, by the time they notice they have a real problem, up to 50 percent of the follicles can be lost,” says Dr. Burg. The early signs of an issue include a widening of the hair part, more hair in your brush, a thinner ponytail, brittle hair, or having trouble growing hair past a certain length. As soon as you notice excess hair fall or changes in your hair growth, you should take stock and look to improve the basic things, like diet and a healthy follicle routine, says Dr. Burg.
“I always suggest taking care of your scalp just as you take care of your skin and body,” says Dr. Timm Golueke, a Munich-based dermatologist and founder of the hair care and skincare brand Royal Fern. Dr. Burg agrees, saying, “I think most women have their facial beauty and anti-aging routines in place, but very few people actually implement an anti-aging and beauty routine for their follicles and scalp.”
Scalp care is vital for everyone, even younger women, says Dr. Burg. To help fight negative pressures on the hair cycle, incorporate scalp-specific treatments that are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. Dr. Golueke recommends looking for natural scalp treatments and products that contain blood-circulating ingredients like ginkgo, and healing ingredients like hyaluronic acid. He has a line in his Royal Fern brand that is dedicated to hair regrowth treatments. Or try an Evolis Professional treatment; all of their products are based around scalp health.
This also means avoiding things like sulfates and silicones, says Dr. Burg. They are known to suffocate and foster an unhealthy scalp. And if hair loss is a hereditary factor in your family, consider using products containing minoxidil, says Dr. Golueke.
A number of factors could be stressing your follicles and scalp beyond haircare products. Dr. Burg cautions against overly tight hairstyles (like pulled-back ponytails and chignons), and consistent heat damage. “Heat too close to the scalp, along with harsh chemical treatments and scrubs, can ultimately damage the follicles, speeding up hair loss and accelerating the follicle’s aging process.”
A balanced diet and stress reduction are not only important for our hair, but they’re also vital for our total well-being. Focus on drinking plenty of water, eating nutrient-rich foods, and managing excess stress. Not only will you likely feel better, but you’ll also probably look healthier too.