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Hair loss and balding may be commonly associated with men, but female pattern baldness and thinning hair affects 50 per cent of women.
According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, approximately 40 per cent of women experience signs of thinning hair by the age of 50. While some changes to your hair are temporary, others can be a red flag for female pattern baldness and experts say there are signs you should watch out for.
How much hair loss is normal?
It’s normal to lose up to 100 hairs a day and for someone who doesn’t shampoo their hair often that number can be higher on hair-washing days.
Hair loss becomes abnormal when you start noticing changes to your hair that don’t seem to be getting better with time.
“If someone finds they have ongoing hair loss or they have hair loss that’s accompanied by itching, burning or tenderness, they really need an evaluation [by a specialist],” says Dr. Jeff Donovan, a hair loss specialist and the president of the Canadian Hair Loss Foundation.
What is considered female pattern baldness?
Female pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia, is a hereditary condition that occurs when the hair follicle becomes damaged or slows down growth. While it's similar to male pattern baldness the main difference of female pattern baldness is where the thinning occurs on the scalp.
For women, the thinning often begins in the middle of the scalp and the crown, and can eventually affect the entire scalp. Whereas for men, thinning of the hair generally begins at the temples and the crown.
What causes female pattern baldness?
Low iron levels, stress, a recent pregnancy and certain medications can all cause temporary hair loss. The more permanent hair loss associated with female pattern baldness is usually caused by genetics, although it's not alway that easy to explain.
“It's something we see in 15 to 20 per cent of women," Donovan explains to Yahoo Canada. "There may be some genetics in the family tree and great-grandparents that we don’t quite get a sense of, but we know it’s more complicated than just family trees and family history."
How do I know if I have female pattern baldness?
The Canadian Hair Loss Foundation notes a common sign of female pattern baldness is the widening of the central part of the hair at the top of your scalp. The hair thinning becomes most evident on the top and sides of the head.
Another sign of female pattern baldness is changes to the diameter of your ponytail. If you've noticed your ponytail thinning or an increased amount of shedding, it may be time to see your doctor or dermatologist.
What age does female pattern baldness begin?
While many women will begin noticing changes to their hair in their 30s and 40s, it's possible for women in their teens and 20s to report thinning hair.
According to Donovan, about six to 10 per cent of women will experience hair thinning in late high school or early university.
“I always tell the doctors I teach that if a patient comes in to see you at 17 or 18, don’t have in your mind that female balding doesn’t occur at this age because you’re going to miss these important diagnoses,” Donovan adds. “It certainly can occur in many ages.”
When should you see a doctor for hair loss?
Each person knows their hair the best and needs to pay attention to any changes that are happening.
If you notice pro-longed differences with your hair, the first recommended step is to see a family physician. A doctor can check iron and thyroid levels and review any medications you are taking before referring you to a specialist.
“If hair loss goes beyond six months or there’s hair loss on the scalp accompanied by eyebrow loss or eyelash loss or body hair loss then I encourage patients to really seek the advice of a specialist,” Donovan adds.
How do you treat female pattern baldness?
While there is no cure for female pattern hair loss, treatments are available.
Health Canada and U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved topical treatments like Minoxidil or Rogaine, have been used for more than 30 years to treat thinning hair and hair loss.
A doctor can also recommend hair transplants or a newer treatment called Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy (PRP) which uses a patient’s blood cells to accelerate healing in a specific area.
If you want to go the non-medical route you can use hair pieces or wigs to camouflage the hair loss.
Can a healthy lifestyle help prevent hair loss?
While hair loss is incredibly complicated, there are certain lifestyle factors, such as smoking, that can accelerate hair loss. In addition, colouring your hair and wearing hair extensions can cause damage to the hair and scalp.
Even though there’s not enough research for any consistent dietary recommendations, Donovan believes obesity can accelerate genetic hair loss and that maintaining a good body weight is important.