Thinning hair in women
Reviewed by our clinical team
Hair loss and thinning can be a source of real stress and anxiety, particularly in women, and can trigger feelings of shame and serious self-image issues.
Thinning hair and hair loss in women can be due to a number of things, and take many different forms, from minor thinning on the crown of the head to total baldness. Hair loss can occur at any age.
Whatever the cause, it’s important to know that there may be treatments available for hair thinning, and there’s no need to tackle this all by yourself.
What causes thinning hair in women?
There are a number of conditions that can trigger, or are associated with hair thinning in women.
Female pattern hair loss
It's thought that around 40% of women aged 70 years and over experience female-pattern baldness in some form, but it can occur at any age. Female pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia, is thought to be inherited, just like male pattern baldness
Female pattern hair loss usually manifests with a gradual thinning of the hair on the top of the head. It doesn’t generally lead to total hair loss but can cause widespread thinning.
Another type of hair loss, alopecia areata, is thought to be an immune disorder where the immune system inadvertently attacks the hair follicles. We don’t really know why this happens, but it’s thought to be due to both genetic and non-genetic (environmental) factors.
Alopecia areata usually presents with loss of hair in oval patches, either on the scalp or across the body. Regrowth often reoccurs eventually, but alopecia areata can also trigger alopecia totalis, or total loss of hair on the scalp, and even alopecia universalis, where all the body hair including eyebrows, pubic and armpit hair, is lost.
There are quite a few triggers for alopecia areata and there is no single cure available that works for everybody. In most cases the hair grows back after the trigger or cause (illness, medication, stress are some examples) has gone away. Treatments that are sometimes tried are immunotherapy or corticosteroids.
Traction alopecia is caused by repeated pulling or tugging on your hair. You might develop traction alopecia if you regularly wear your hair in braids, or tight buns and ponytails, particularly if you also use chemicals or heat on a regular basis.
Traction alopecia can usually be reversed by being kinder to your hair and wearing it down or in looser styles. Unfortunately, hair loss from traction alopecia can be permanent if you don’t intervene quickly enough.
Hair growth has two stages, the anagen phase, or ‘growing phase’, and the telogen phase, or ‘resting phase’. Hairs stay in the growing phase for two-four years, resting for two-four months before falling out to be replaced by new hair. Telogen effluvium is a condition where more hairs move into the resting phase, leading to the loss of around 300 hairs a day rather than the average 100.
Telogen effluvium usually presents with thinning hair rather than patches, and there are a number of triggers ranging from physical injury to stress and even some medications. Treating the cause will usually stop telogen effluvium, though there’s no guarantee the hair will return.
Stress-related hair loss
Although stress by itself does not directly cause hair loss, it can contribute to other hair loss conditions such as telogen effluvium and alopecia areata, or trigger trichotillomania, a psychological condition that leads to obsessive hair pulling.
In the case of stress-related hair loss, your GP may recommend a course of therapy or medication to reduce stress, which can stop ongoing hair loss and triggers regrowth.
Although there haven’t been any studies directly linking menopause to hair loss, many women report hair loss thinning during menopause or perimenopause. Most of these women report hair falling out when showering or brushing.
Any hair loss during menopause is likely due to changing hormone levels, particularly the drop in production of oestrogen and progesterone, which contribute to hair health.
It’s important to know that there could be other reasons for hair loss, including more serious immune disorders and scarring. It’s important to speak to your doctor to identify the root cause.
Hair loss treatment for women
Depending on the reason behind the hair loss, and how advanced it is, your GP may recommend one of a number of treatments. Unfortunately, hair loss treatment for women is less effective when thinning is left to progress for too long.
Potential hair loss treatments for women (depending on the cause) include:
There are few studies available on the effectiveness of Minoxidil in women, but in men, one study showed that up to 60% of men saw greater hair coverage after 48 weeks of use.
Hair loss vitamins
Hair loss vitamins are nutritional supplements designed to improve the health of your hair. Hair loss vitamins include biotin, selenium, zinc, niacin, Vitamin C, and iron.
It’s important to note that there’s no evidence that hair loss vitamins stop hair loss or encourage regrowth at all, and hair loss vitamins are not available on or endorsed by the NHS. However, if your hair loss is being triggered or made worse by a particular vitamin deficiency, then hair loss vitamins could help. You should speak to your doctor first to identify the cause.
Hairstyles for hair loss
In cases where hair loss is being caused or made worse by the way you wear your hair (i.e. tight buns or ponytails) then your doctor might recommend you try a different style to minimise the impact. You should avoid braids, weaves, and anything else that might be putting undue pressure on your hair follicles.
If other treatments fail, then you might opt for a hair transplant. More common in men, these treatments are available to women. According to the NHS, a hair transplant in the UK can cost anywhere between £1,000 and £30,000, depending on the extent of the hair loss and the particular procedure you need.
Hair transplants are considered cosmetic surgery and are not available on the NHS. You should discuss the problem with your doctor prior to seeking out a hair transplant to rule out other treatable conditions.
Women’s hair regrowth
The potential for regrowth will depend on a range of factors, including the root cause of your hair loss, your age, and how far hair loss has progressed. Unfortunately, there’s no magic cure for hair loss, but often the condition can be treated and hair loss minimised. It’s important to talk to your GP as soon as possible to maximise your chances of regrowth.
Hair loss can be incredibly stressful, particularly in women, and it can be difficult to access the right information leading to further frustration. As with any type of medical condition, you should seek the advice of a doctor for a proper diagnosis, as well as the right advice on treatment.