This page aims to give you a general overview of hair disorders.
Although hair loss primarily occurs in men, it also affects many women, who have a particularly hard time coming to terms with the change in their physical appearance. As hair thinning can be difficult to reverse, it is important to start a treatment as soon as you notice the first signs.
- The different types of female alopecia
Female hair loss can be due to different causes and present in a variety of ways. To treat it properly, it is important to identify its origin.
• Androgenic alopecia
Although much less frequent than in men, androgenic alopecia is the leading cause of hair loss in women: it represents 80% of cases and affects 15 to 20% of women at some point in their life.
It starts with thinning, then the hair gradually becomes more sparse on certain parts of the scalp. In women, this process most often starts on the top of the head around the centre part. Then this zone gradually extends until it also reaches the back of the head. The front is generally spared. In other, rarer cases, women can notice their hair becoming sparse along the forehead and the temporal gulfs, or on the temples.
Androgenic alopecia is due to an increased sensitivity of the hair follicles to androgens. The reaction to these male hormones, which are also present in the female body, causes an acceleration of the hair’s life cycle which gradually wears out the hair follicles. These eventually stop producing and the hair becomes less abundant.
However, since women secrete far fewer male hormones than men do, and the effect of these is tempered by the female hormones, female alopecia (female pattern baldness) is always less severe than male alopecia (male pattern baldness): the hair can become noticeably less dense, but it never disappears completely.
Because of the hormonal changes involved, puberty, the first few months after giving birth, and menopause are times that are much more likely to trigger or worsen androgenic alopecia in women.
For more information about androgenic alopecia, please see the expert advice page devoted to the topic.
• Temporary hair loss
Unlike androgenic alopecia, temporary hair loss (or telogen effluvium) is not localised: it affects the entire scalp. Although it is sometimes very profuse, it doesn’t last more than a few months.
Telogen effluvium is especially common in the months following childbirth, but also following a surgical operation, an emotional shock or a change in seasons (spring and autumn). It can also be due to nutritional deficiencies − particularly if the individual is following a strict diet − or to extreme fatigue.
For more information about telogen effluvium, please see the expert advice page devoted to the topic.
• Hair loss due to hair pulling
Certain tight hairdos, such as buns, plaits or ponytails, can place excessive strain on hair roots. Putting hair up like this too often can lead to hair loss, scalp inflammation, and can cause hair to grow back thinner and thinner. This is a common occurrence among people with frizzy hair.
Trichotillomania, a nervous tic which consists in tugging at or pulling out one’s hair, can have the same consequences. It is more common in women.
• Alopecia areata
Alopecia areata manifests itself as the sudden appearance of round, completely hairless patches of smooth skin on the scalp. Although it is still poorly understood, this inflammatory disorder seems linked to an autoimmune disease: for some unidentified reason, the immune system suddenly attacks the hair follicles and stops their activity. In most cases, alopecia areata heals spontaneously after a few months, but relapses are common. It affects both men and women, particularly before the age of 20.
For more information about alopecia areata, please see the expert advice page devoted to the topic.
- Treating hair loss in women
Women often see alopecia as a real handicap. To limit hair loss and its psychological impact as much as possible, it is important to take action as early as possible: treatments are much more effective when there is still a lot of hair. Consequently, you should see your skin specialist as soon as you notice that your hair has started thinning. They will help you determine the cause of your hair loss and decide on an appropriate treatment: treatments applied locally, oral medication, or even surgery in the most severe cases.
In parallel, eating a balanced diet that is particularly high in protein, iron, zinc, magnesium and vitamins will help avoid any deficiencies that could affect your hair. In your daily life, avoid tight hairdos and harsh practices that damage hair, such as chemical dyes, hair drying, hair straightening, etc.
Whether used alone or in combination with drug therapy, skin treatments and food supplements also contribute to treating hair loss: discuss your options with your chemist.
For more information on preventing and treating hair loss, please see the expert advice page devoted to the topic.