Women, especially those with long hair, are notorious for leaving it all over the place. My boyfriend accuses me of it all the time, but there’s nothing I can do it stop it! We are all constantly shedding hairs, and it’s estimated that both men and women lose about 100 hairs per day! That sounds like a lot, but when you consider that the average person has 100,000 hairs on their head at any given time, it’s only 1% – which sounds much more reasonable!
But for some women shedding becomes a serious concern when the lost hairs are not renewed, and visible thinning and bald patches occur. Especially when we are inundated with advertisements with women showing off their thick and impossibly smooth locks, the loss of volume in your own hair can be upsetting. Pattern baldness is so common in men that there’s almost no stigma against it (except for maybe a few jokes made among friends). But for women it’s less common and can feel embarrassing and difficult to talk about.
The medical name for the condition is ‘androgenetic alopecia’, but is more commonly referred to as pattern baldness, and it affects hundreds of thousands of people every year. For women, the first sign is noticeably thinner hair, but rarely shows up in the form of a receding hairline which is often seen in men. Women over the age of 50 are more likely to experience hair loss, and it is even more common after menopause. If one or both of your parents suffer from alopecia then you are more likely to experience it as well – the gene can be inherited from either parent.
Other causes include side effects from some medications, illness, autoimmune disease, or even wearing your hair tightly too often (known as traction alopecia). If you can identify the cause of your alopecia, it’s much easier to treat it.
Check WebMD (but don’t freak out! They’re infamous for assuming the worst, and WebMD is not your doctor) for a list of medications that list alopecia as a side effect. If your medication is listed, talk to your doctor so you can explore alternatives. Some medications cause permanent hair loss, while others can be remedied.
Alopecia can develop after surgery, a severe illness, and of course extreme medical treatments like chemotherapy. It’s also common after prolonged body stress, and happens to a lot of women after childbirth. Most of the time this type of hair loss is temporary and grows back when your body is in better fighting shape.
When the immune system weakens or shuts down, it’s common for the hair follicles to stop being able to grow new hair. You will still lose the normal 100 hairs (or more, in some cases) per day but they won’t regenerate as normal. Some autoimmune diseases like Lupus actually attack the body’s own tissue and cause the follicles to shed hair faster. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease specifically targeted to the body’s ability to grow hair, but is commonly treated by dermatologists.
If you wear your hair too tightly it might cause too much stress on your follicles and cause the strands to fall out. Black women tend to be more prone to traction alopecia because of the stress put on hair while wearing weaves, wigs, extensions, and tight braids. Many people I know have started wearing their hair more naturally to avoid damage being done to their curls. It’s more comfortable and healthier for the hair long term! It’s possible for these hairstyles to be worn safely, but if they’re worn all the time or for too long then hair loss becomes inevitable. It helps to be sure you’re going to a professional hairdresser who knows the risks and can take care of your hair.
There are also some other but much rarer illnesses that cause alopecia in women, including things like ringworm of the scalp, trichotillomania, cicatricial alopecia, and more.
It’s important to speak to your doctor about your concerns in any case, because they may be able to provide some insight or perform tests to identify the cause and advise on the best option for treatment. The good news is that the most common causes of alopecia can be treated, and there are many affordable and accessible options on the market to choose from.