Identifying the reasons for female hair loss and thinning is much more complicated than it is for males. While not discussed nearly as often as it for males, hair loss and thinning among females is just as common as it is for males. In fact, women make up 40% of American hair loss sufferers.
Far more often than men, hair loss and thinning experienced by women can be the result of numerous factors, other than genetics. This edition of our Blog discusses how normal aging influences female hair loss, thinning and the general quality of your hair.
Your Hair By The Decade
When we talk about aging in beauty, we typically talk about skin. What we do not commonly hear about, however, is aging hair (other than the obvious graying and hair loss). Similar to skin, hair undergoes gradual changes as we get older due to numerous factors, such as hormones, stress, genetics, lifestyle, and just plain old aging.
Here is what you can generally expect from your hair as you age and what can be done to help counter these age-related issues:
A woman's hair will generally be at its best in her 20s. During this decade, hair shafts are generally their thickest and your hair will generally be as full and luxuriant as it is ever going to be. A few things can affect its luster, however, during this decade.
Strict diets and heavy periods, to which women of this age are prone, can deplete B vitamins — essential for healthy hair. A lack of iron, for example, can also dramatically slow hair growth.
Styling techniques can also have a major impact on hair quality during this decade. Hair color changes, heat styling, curling and straightening can take a toll on your hair. Overuse of heat tools or over-processing hair can also make it dry, brittle and prone to breakage.
In your 20s, hormones can also play a large role in hair texture. For example, if you have a thyroid issue—a common issue among younger women—your hair can become weakened and fall out or break more easily.
If you become pregnant in your 20s, pregnancy hormones can actually promote hair thickness and shine. However, once women have children, this can negatively impact the hair. 6-to-12 weeks after giving birth, approximately 50% of women experience a type of hair shedding known as "post-partum hair fall'"– and this is, in fact, one of the most common hair concerns for women in their 30s, as well.
If you are experiencing hair loss or thinning, and you believe it is due to overuse of hair dyes or heat styling, the good news is that simple solutions can go a long way at this age. Take a break from applying heat, dye, and bleach, and you will likely see noticeable improvement within a few weeks.
Choose gentle, sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners, such as those offered by Hair Restoration Laboratories, so that you do not strip strands while cleansing. You can also use a heat-protecting spray when you use heat tools to straighten or curl your hair.
And, most importantly, protect your hair from the sun—not a lot of people remember to wear hats, but it is a simple way of preventing further damage to your hair.
Many women begin a family in their 30s, and pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding changes the hormones in the body, which can profoundly affect the hair cycle, leading to excess shedding and hair thinning.
Pregnancy also affects the oil glands that lubricate and moisturize hair, with hair becoming more lustrous and beautiful during pregnancy followed by a big change after childbirth where hair becomes dull and more brittle. During pregnancy, an increased number of hair follicles shift to a resting cycle and stop shedding--so, for nine months, you are holding on to most of the hair you otherwise would have lost. However, after you have your baby and your hormone levels return to normal, that extra hair can drop all at once. The good news is that post-partum hair loss generally subsides after a few months.
Our 30s is also generally when women may begin to notice gray hair—though this varies dramatically by person, and is thought to be genetic. Some people start graying as early as their early-20s, while others make it to their 50s and 60s without seeing a gray hair.
Your hair starts to thin at a rate of around 3% a year after the age of 20. However, you have to lose at least 15% of it before you are able to notice the difference. So it may not be until this decade that you first notice that your hair is no longer as full as it used to be.
Too much sun may also have damaged your hair by this age. This is because hair contains many different types of amino acids and proteins, some of which are sensitive and broken down by UV light. So you may come back from a week in the sun with weaker, brittle hair.
Ferritin (stored iron) deficiency is also a common issue for women in their 30s (and 40s) – and remains common up until periods stop at menopause. Ferritin is needed by the body to produce hair cell protein and a deficiency can cause excessive daily hair shedding, as well as loss of length – particularly around the temple areas.
Most hair loss related to iron deficiency is not permanent. The best way to treat hair loss is to address the underlying cause of the problem. If you think that your hair loss is related to an iron deficiency, consult a doctor to measure your iron levels. Your doctor will most likely order a blood test, which measures the levels of ferritin that helps store iron. If your test results show low iron levels, you can treat it with iron supplements. Eventually, hair loss caused by an iron deficiency should resolve and thicker hair will regrow.
Many women find themselves professionally and personally busy in their 40s, as family and careers compete for time. As a result, many feel more stress during this decade and are not taking care of themselves which, in turn, affects their hair.
Hair loss caused by stress is also called telogen effluvium. Telogen effluvium disrupts your hair's normal growth cycle. Hair goes through a stage of active growth, known as the anagen phase, which can last for up to three years. The telogen phase of growth is when your hair rests; this phase can last for up to four months. Telogen effluvium occurs when more hairs than normal are pushed into the resting phase of growth.
The good news is that hair that thins out because of stress does grow back, but it can take several months. You might not experience thinning follicles right after a stressful event. Most of the time, there is a three-month delay before you notice hair loss. It may take another three months before your hair begins to grow back, meaning that it may be six months or even longer before your hair returns to its former thickness.
Hair shafts also become more brittle and prone to breakage in your 40s. If you color your hair regularly, that can further damage and weaken the hair. Volume reduction can occur at any age but, for the majority of women, it usually becomes noticeable in their 40s. It is not that women in this age group have fewer hairs in number than they used to, but that each hair is simply finer.
First, density of hair decreases. Second, hair grows in finer. Research shows that around the age of 40, a woman's hair also starts to grow finer as time passes. This finer hair that makes your hair look and feel thinner, whether you experience a significant loss of hair density or not.
Then, there is the actual loss of hair. As our hair continues to age, instead of losing 100 to 125 hairs a day, which is normal, shedding speeds up, causing thinning in the crown and, in some cases, more scalp to appear as hair follicles are not replacing those lost hairs as quickly. This actual loss of hair and inability to grow back can create a receding hairline or widening partline.
Many women begin menopause in their 50s which leads to having a shorter hair cycle. The average age of menopause is around 52. While subtle changes to the hair can and often do occur long before this decade, menopause speeds up these changes. As the body produces less estrogen, and the percentage of androgens (male hormones) increase, the hair's diameter and the length to which it will grow gradually decreases.
As many as half of all women suffer some hair loss after menopause kicks in. This is because some of us are genetically predisposed to be sensitive to an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase which is naturally found in the follicles. As estrogen drops, the testosterone that remains reacts with this enzyme to form a new compound. This shrinks hair follicles, leaving hair so fine it becomes almost invisible. However, for reasons not yet understood, women do not generally thin around the hair line and on the crown, like with men. Instead, they get general thinning all over (also called "diffuse thinning").
Hair growth rate also slows at midlife and beyond—it spends less time in the growth phase and more in the resting phase, which means it will grow more slowly, and won't be able to grow as long as it once did.
By now, menopause is typically complete. Many women will see a drop in estrogen and a rise in testosterone. Testosterone can affect women’s follicles in the same way as in some men, causing women's hair to become even more brittle.
Sebum (oil) secretion tends to diminish in our 60s and 70s, and this can make the hair dry and brittle. Our hemoglobin levels also tend to decrease during at this time of life, and this can affect hair health.
A natural loss of fatty acids and keratin proteins makes hair duller and more vulnerable to damage, so things you've always done (color, heat style, etc.) rough up the hair's surface and damage its inner cortex, too. What's more, naturally wiry grays don't reflect light as well as your once-smooth hair did.
If your hair was curly, you may have noticed it has straightened.
One of the main reasons hair is wavy is because it is shaped by the hair strands next to it. Now your hair is thinning, and strands are further apart, it is less likely to keep its spiral shape.
To assist in maintaining the quality of your hair, it is important that women in their 60s and 70s keep up their protein intake if they want to keep their hair looking healthy.
Research shows our diets become increasingly carb-based as we age because older people find these foods easier to prepare and chew. But it is essential to keep up your intake of protein so you have the building blocks to grow good hair.
How To Keep Hair Healthy Through The Years
Given how stress can play a role in our hair growth, you should be doing whatever you can to keep stress levels down.
Exercising boosts your metabolism, and can help in hair growth as well.
Avoiding harsh chemical treatments, and if you are wearing weaves or extensions, you must make sure they are not too heavy, as they can lead to hair follicle death.
Chances are whatever changes your hair is going through as you age are completely normal, and, like most other aspects of our health, eating well, exercising and keeping stress down is your best bet.
Despite this inevitable progression with aging, there exists an array of treatments, such as those offered by Hair Restoration Laboratories, which have been formulated to mitigate the effects of aging, particularly balding and thinning hair. All aim to maintain or potentially restore the youthful look of your hair.