18 Common Causes of Thinning Hair in Women
Yes, men are more prone to hair loss and hair thinning than women mainly because of a condition called male pattern baldness, but these issues are common in women too and are just as upsetting.
Hair thinning in women is often temporary and mild. According to many sources, it is normal to lose up to 100 hairs per day. However, if you’re one of those women who used to lose way less than this and are now losing an amount of hair which doesn’t seem normal to you, some lifestyle modifications may be necessary. In certain occasions, an underlying health condition may be the cause as well.
In most cases however, female hair loss and thinning can be treated depending on the cause. Some common causes of hair thinning in women include:
1. Iron-deficiency anemia
Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia which occurs in about one in 10 women of age 20 to 49. However, as scary as this may sound, iron-deficiency anemia can be reversed. If you suspect you have anemia, see a doctor to get a blood test done. Apart from hair loss, other common symptoms of anemia include fatigue, dizziness, headaches, cold extremities and pale skin.
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To combat this issue, you can simply start having more foods containing iron. The richest sources of iron include red meat, chicken, fish, dark leafy greens, dairy, soy and soy products and lentils. You can also take an iron supplement if you feel modifying the diet alone cannot make up for the deficiency.
2. Lack of protein in the diet
Your hair is primarily made up of keratin, a protein. Therefore, your best bet would be to evaluate your diet and see if you are having enough protein every day. Insufficient protein in the diet may slow down hair growth and even lead to hair shedding.
Unlike with skin, changes in hair health due to any internal cause do not occur until a few months later. Therefore, a drastic drop in protein in your diet may result in hair loss two to three months later. Unless your doctor recommends it, there’s no reason why you should cut down on healthy protein. Grass-fed lean red meat, poultry breasts, fish, eggs, dairy, lentils, nuts, collard greens, quinoa and oats are all excellent sources of protein. Contrary to popular belief, animal meat isn’t the only source of vital protein. Quinoa contains all essential amino acids the body requires! There are plenty of other amazing vegan protein sources as well, other than the ones mentioned above, such as soy milk, TVP, tofu, soy cheese (yes, it melts!), garbanzo beans, kidney beans, chia seeds and much more.
Okay, this is a tricky one because you are born with it. Female-pattern hair loss or androgenic alopecia, which is male pattern baldness in female form, is a condition that might occur if you have a family with women who start losing their hair after a certain age. In most cases, women don’t experience receding hairline like men do but they do notice hair thinning when their parts widen.
In order to slow down this type of hair loss, you should first consider modifying your diet and lifestyle. Have foods that are hair-friendly and minimize sugar, trans fat, and foods containing man-made stuff such as preservatives, artificial flavoring and colorants, just to name a few. In addition, quitting smoking if you smoke will definitely help too. Exercise more to reduce stress in your life and to simply feel better and feel like you look better.
You may benefit from Rogaine, which can be found over-the-counter. Rogaine is recommended for women experiencing alopecia as it can help improve hair growth, or at least maintain the hair you already have.
Hypothyroidism refers to an underactive thyroid gland, which means it’s not producing enough hormones, which are crucial for metabolism and growth and development. This can further lead to hair loss. The solution: Visit your doctor to get some tests done and determine the cause of the issue. Your doctor may prescribe thyroid medication to fix the problem. Once your thyroid hormone levels are back to normal, your hair will return to its normal condition in no time.
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5. Polycystic ovary syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an imbalance of male and female sex hormones. When women have an excess of androgens in their body, they tend to experience weight gain, ovarian cysts and changes in their menstrual cycle. PCOS also increases a woman’s risk of diabetes, infertility and hair thinning. An excess of male hormones can also lead to more hair on the body and face along with hair thinning on the scalp.
This condition can be improved with certain changes in your lifestyle and treating individual problems caused by PCOS such as risk of diabetes and infertility. Treatments for hair thinning caused by PCOS include exercise and diet.
6. Female hormonal imbalances
Going off on or changing your birth control pills is a common cause of telogen effluvium, just like in the case of pregnancy, when the hormone changes affect hair growth. Telogen effluvium is more likely to occur if you have a family history of hair fall problems. Similarly, changes in hormonal balance during menopause may also lead to hair fall and thinning.
When the hormonal balance in a woman’s body changes, the androgen receptors on her scalp become activated, causing the hair follicles to diminish in size. This causes hair to fall off and cause hair thinning.
Recommended Reading: How Exercise and Nutrition Gives You Thicker and Fuller Hair
It is important to note that in the case of birth control pills, if switching to new ones is causing hair loss, switch back or talk to your doctor about an alternative. If you’ve stopped using birth control pills, avoid turning towards expensive hair treatments because the change is only temporary and your hair will back to its normal health soon.
7. Vitamin B deficiency
Vitamin B deficiency is a serious issue that causes hair loss because your hair and scalp thrive on vital B vitamins. Fortunately, this too is reversible. Just like in the case of anemia, vitamin B deficiency can be corrected with the consumption of foods rich in vitamin B, such as meat, fish, collard greens and starchy veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds and whole grains. Almost every real food i.e. food that is created by nature and not by humans, consist of vitamin B’s that can improve hair health.
8. Drastic weight loss
Weight loss should be gradual and sustainable as sudden and dramatic loss of weight can lead to a plethora of issues, with hair loss being one of them. Drastic weight loss is a physical trauma that can cause hair shedding. This is mainly because you’re reducing the amount of important nutrients your body requires. Even if the weight loss ultimately becomes good for you, hair loss will occur. Fortunately, your hair will return to its normal health within around six months.
Rapid weight loss can stress your body and lead to mineral and vitamin deficiencies. Therefore, try your best to lose weight gradually by eliminating all the unhealthy foods in your diet. Avoid starving your body as this may starve your hair too. If you have to lose a lot of weight, instead of eating less, have more of foods that are nutrient-dense and contain minimum calories such as salad greens, cucumbers fish and poultry. Note that hair loss may also be a sign of eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.
9. Alopecia areata
This is an autoimmune disorder, which means hair loss takes place due to an overactive immune system. The body’s immune system sees hair follicles as foreign and targets them. This causes dramatic hair loss leaving bald patches and making it a condition that needs to be treated medically. The doctor will first administer steroid injections to treat alopecia areata. Other drugs may be used as well, such as Rogaine. Hair loss may be irregular as hair may grow back and fall out again.
Lupus is another autoimmune disease that may cause hair loss. The hair follicles are again, targeted by immune system cells, causing dramatic hair loss. Hair loss due to this condition is characterized as scarring, which means that hair will not grow back.
If you’re experiencing mild hair loss, consider visiting your stylist and getting a new hairstyle that hides the damage caused. Getting a shorter haircut is always best as hair appears thicker and helps hide bald areas.
Chemotherapy medication can fight cancer but it can cause your hair to fall out as well. Some chemotherapy drugs target rapidly dividing cancer cells. However, since your hair follicles divide rapidly as well, they become a target along with cancer cells.
Your hair will grow back after chemotherapy is stopped. The texture and color of your hair may differ, however. During chemotherapy, while some women prefer to rock a bald and beautiful look, others like to use a wig and look equally gorgeous.
12. Physical stress
Surgeries, severe illnesses, car accidents, flu, injuries etc. are examples of physical trauma that may cause hair loss. Hair loss in these cases is temporary and your hair will be healthy again after a certain period of time.
Physical trauma leads to telogen effluvium. Your hair has its own life cycle, consisting of three phases, growth, rest and shedding phase. A stressful event will push your hair to the shedding phase because of the shock your body experiences. Hair loss may become noticeable after three to six months following the physical stress, but it is often temporary. Growth can be speeded up by practicing healthy lifestyle tips such as having a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly.
13. Excessive hairstyling
Styling your hair vigorously and using too much product on your hair can lead to hair loss if done excessively for a long time. Hairstyles that may lead to hair loss include hair weaves, corn rows, tight braids, tight up dos, hair straightening (chemically and with straightener), hot oil treatments, hair perming treatments, hot rollers and other treatments that use heat and chemicals. Some of these treatments cause hair pulling and lead to hair breakage and fall. Chemical treatments affect the hair from its roots, causing hair to fall. Sometimes, this may even be permanent.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using hair conditioner after shampooing and air drying your hair, while limiting heat treatments using hair straighteners and curling irons.
Trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder in which people may pull their hair out compulsively. A person with this disorder may be seen constantly playing with or pulling his or her hair. This constant hair pulling may cause excessive hair loss. The disorder typically takes place before the age of 17 and is more likely to occur in women than in men. Behavioral modification therapy and antidepressants are commonly prescribed treatments for trichotillomania.
15. Emotional stress
Although a woman may be less prone to hair loss due to emotional stress than physical stress, hair loss due to emotional stress in cases of upcoming exams, work-related stress, divorce, the loss of a loved one etc., is common. Hair loss will eventually reduce with time unless a person continues to experience emotional stress. Steps to combat stress include exercising or taking leisurely walks, dancing, hanging out with some friends, getting support from friends and family and seeing a therapist.
16. Certain medications
Blood thinners, antidepressants and blood pressure drugs may promote hair loss in some people. Blood pressure drugs and blood thinners come under the class of beta-blockers. Drugs such as methotrexate used for rheumatoid and some skin conditions, NSAIDs and lithium for bipolar disorder may accelerate hair loss as well.
If the doctor has prescribed any of the above drugs to you and you suspect that it is causing hair fall, talk to him or her about any alternative. Ask your doctor if lowering the dose is a possible solution.
17. Anabolic steroids
Anabolic steroids, which are abused by athletes to increase muscle mass, can lead to hair loss, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Anabolic steroids can affect your body the same way polycystic ovary disease does, causing hair loss and thinning from the scalp. Your hair health should show some improvement after you’ve stopped taking the drug.
Hair loss in women after a certain age is common and there is not enough evidence on why this happens. You can slow down hair loss by modifying your diet and having foods that improve hair health (more on this later).
Exercise is another way that keeps the body and everything else in it young.
Experts do not recommend employing expensive treatments for hair loss due to aging. Instead, changing up your hair style to reduce the appearance of bald areas, getting a shorter haircut to make your hair look thicker and using scarves and wigs are damage-free and failsafe methods of dealing with hair loss.
How you can feed your hair
Any change you make to your lifestyle will only show its effects within a few months to a year, whether it’s a good change or bad. Right now, we’re talking about positive changes in your lifestyle and you can’t go wrong with having the right foods to make your hair grow faster, shiner and thicker. As a matter of fact we also wrote a helpful guide on 10 foods to eat for thicker and healthier hair here.
So what are these amazing superfoods that everybody keeps talking about?
- Eggs - Rich in good fats and heaps of biotin-goodness, a B vitamin critical for hair growth and your overall scalp health, egg are perhaps the best hair food that you can consume and apply topically! Watch this video to find out how you can make a DIY protein mask using eggs. It’s simple and super effective.
We’re pretty sure most of you may have heard about biotin on some shampoo commercial on TV or a magazine article. Hair products containing biotin and biotin supplements are advertised everywhere for a reason – your hair needs it. So never starve your hair of clean and healthy foods that contain it.
Note that your body manufactures biotin on its own in the intestines and it can be found in abundant supplies in many natural foods, therefore, biotin deficiency is a rare scenario. However, a drastic change in your diet can take a toll on your hair, especially if you’re trying to lose weight by reducing what you eat per day dramatically.
You don’t need biotin supplements to promote hair growth, however. Consuming foods containing it is more than enough because nature has a plentiful supply of it already. Foods such as eggs, almonds, peanuts, avocados, salmon, tuna, poultry, red meat, wheat bran, oatmeal, quinoa and low-fat dairy are some excellent sources of biotin that you can’t miss.
- Salmon - Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that line the cells of the scalp. These good fats are vital for the production of sebum, an oily substance that conditions and hydrates your scalp and hair, making it grow thicker and faster. Furthermore, salmon is rich in B vitamins that are crucial for the formation of red blood cells. You need foods that help in red blood cell production because red blood cells are carriers of oxygen to all body cells, including those in your scalp. Lack of B vitamins in your diet can starve your hair, causing it to break and fall. Other amazing sources of B vitamins and omega 3s include shellfish, oatmeal, eggs, nuts and nut butters, chia seeds, low-fat dairy and whole grain and whole grain cereals.
Here’s a must-try salmon recipe. It’s paleo and is super delicious!
- Oysters - Oysters are one of the richest sources of zinc, which is required for tissue growth and repair. Not only does zinc aid in hair growth, it also ensures that the oil glands around your hair follicles are functioning well. Low zinc levels in the body are linked to slow hair growth, hair loss, scalp dryness and dandruff.
Other great sources of zinc include nuts and seeds, liver, clams, crab, lean beef, nut butters, low-fat yogurt and cheese and wheat germ. Taking a zinc supplement in addition, can help but avoid it if you’re getting enough of it from your diet because too much zinc may limit your body’s ability to absorb copper.
- Spinach - Spinach, among other leafy greens, is an excellent source of folate and iron and is required by the body for a number of reasons. Folate and vitamin B aid in the formation of red blood cells in the body. Iron is needed for the manufacture of hemoglobin in the blood, the red pigment that carries oxygen. Lack of iron in the diet is linked to iron deficiency anemia, a common cause of hair loss in women.
Anemia occurs when the cells in the body do not get enough oxygen to function properly. Effects of anemia include pale skin, weakness, fatigue, headaches, hair loss and cold hands and feet.
One study found that women going through premenopause are more likely to experience hair loss if they have low iron reserves compared to women who had enough iron reserves in the body. Premenopausal women may benefit from consuming iron-rich sources such as red meat, poultry, fish, whole grains, nuts and seeds, dark green leafy vegetables and dairy. Iron supplements with an iron-rich diet can definitely help combat hair loss linked to menopause.
Roast trout and spinach? Count me in! Recipe here.
- Lentils - Although not as talked about as other superfoods for hair, lentils have earned their rep in South Asia as a delicious source or protein and iron. Your body and hair require protein because it is the building block of life. Your hair is made of keratin, a protein. Therefore, having more protein will not only enhance hair growth but promote your overall health and wellbeing too.
As explained above, you need iron for the production of red blood cells that supply oxygen to all cells in the body, including those in the scalp.
Some excellent sources of protein and iron include red meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, whole grains and whole grain cereals, nuts and seeds, black eyed peas, soy beans and soy products such as tofu and collard greens.
Couple an iron rich meal with vitamin C-rich foods such as lemons and limes, oranges, strawberries, blueberries, guava, cabbage, broccoli and papaya as vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron.
- Bell peppers - Bell peppers are a yummy source of vitamin C, which is vital for hair growth. Vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron and the production of collagen which is required for the formation for hair shafts, holding all bodies together. Collagen is an important component of hair, skin and blood vessels and it helps in optimizing their health.
Make sure you have plenty of vitamin C foods in your diet, including limes and lemons, oranges, grapefruit, papaya, guava, kiwi, sweet potato, cabbage and lettuce. Even a small dip in vitamin C levels in the body can result in hair breakage.
Try this vitamin C-rich recipe for lunch starring bell peppers:
- Sweet potato - Sweet potato is rich in beta-carotene, an orange pigment that is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is not only required for better eye health, but it helps in growing thicker hair too. Lack of vitamin A in the diet may lead to dull, dry and brittle hair. Look for bright orange or yellow foods as they are rich sources of vitamin A. Some examples include carrots, cantaloupe, pumpkin, butternut squash and papaya. Asparagus, dark green leafy veggies and kale are also fantastic sources of vitamin A.
Vitamin A can be harmful in excess as it can lead to hair loss. Therefore, instead of turning towards a supplement, have a diet rich in vitamin A-rich foods for long and lustrous hair.