Hair loss in women occurs when people assigned female at birth lose more than 125 hairs per day. This can cause shedding, bald spots and thinning hair. A dermatologist can help you determine what caused your hair loss and recommend treatment options.
Hair loss in women is just that — when people assigned female at birth (AFAB) experience unexpected, heavy loss of hair. Generally, humans shed between 50 and 100 single hairs per day. Hair shedding is part of a natural balance — some hairs fall out while others grow in. An interruption in this balance — when hair falls out and less hair grows in — causes hair loss. The medical term for hair loss is “alopecia.”
Hair grows on almost all of your skin surfaces — not the palms of your hands, soles of your feet, lips or eyelids. Light, fine, short hair is called vellus hair. Terminal hair is thicker, darker and longer.
NOTE: This article uses the term “women” to refer to people AFAB. This includes people who are transgender, non-binary and others who don’t identify as women but were born with female anatomy.
Hair goes through three cycles:
Your shorter hairs — like eyelashes, arm and leg hair, and eyebrows —have a short anagen phase (about one month). Your scalp hair can last up to six years or even longer.
There are three types of hair loss in women:
Many people think that hair loss only affects people assigned male at birth (AMAB). However, studies show that more than 50% of people assigned female at birth will experience noticeable hair loss. The most significant cause of hair loss in women is female-pattern hair loss (FPHL). This affects about 30 million people in the United States.
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The signs of hair loss in women may include:
There are several possible causes of hair loss in women, including:
Your body experiences changes during menopause. This can affect your hair and cause:
These changes happen due to varying levels of hormones during menopause. In addition, your hair follicles shrink. This makes your hair grow finer (thinner).
Hair loss in women can affect anyone assigned female at birth at any age. However, it’s usually more common if it runs in your biological family history and/or after:
A healthcare provider will do a thorough examination and take a detailed history to understand changes in your hair growth. Your provider will also ask about what medications or supplements you currently take. Tests may follow the exam.
The tests to diagnose hair loss in women may include:
To diagnose hair loss, your healthcare provider might ask questions about your hair habits, like:
They might ask questions about your history, including:
Also, they might ask questions about your observations, such as:
Treatment for hair loss depends on the cause. It may include:
In addition, a healthcare provider might recommend forms of light therapy like using the HairMax Lasercomb®. This low-light laser is approved by the U.S. FDA to treat FPHL. Another FDA-approved laser product is the Theradome LH80 PRO® helmet and low-light laser helmets and caps.
If you have hair loss due to stress or hormone changes like pregnancy, you may not need treatment. The hair loss will stop after a period of time.
Other forms of hair loss treatment may include:
It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider before starting any form of treatment for hair loss. Some types of treatment aren’t safe to use if you’re pregnant, planning on becoming pregnant or going through menopause.
A healthcare provider might recommend using minoxidil (Rogaine®). This is approved for treating FPHL. You can purchase the 2% or 5% solution over the counter (OTC). However, you have to follow directions exactly and use the product indefinitely. Don’t use this product if you’re pregnant, if you plan to get pregnant or if you’re breastfeeding (chestfeeding).
Other medications that treat hair loss in women may include:
Minoxidil may irritate your scalp and cause dryness, scaling, itching and/or redness. See your dermatologist if this happens.
With minoxidil, you might also see hair growing in places other than your scalp (cheeks and forehead, for example). Wash your face after you apply minoxidil and make sure you avoid other areas when you apply it.
A dermatologist usually treats hair loss in women.
You can’t prevent all cases of hair loss in women. You can prevent hair loss caused by chemical hair treatments by not using them. You might be able to prevent some hair loss by eating nutritious foods that provide necessary nutrients (like vitamins, minerals and protein) or adding vitamins to your daily routine.
The type and severity of hair loss you experience may determine the outcome (prognosis). Some types of hair loss are permanent, especially if you have damage to your hair follicles. But not all cases are. For example, anagen and telogen shedding may stop with time. Managing any underlying health conditions improves hair loss. And early treatment of alopecia may reduce the speed of thinning and promote regrowth. A healthcare provider can tell you more about what to expect in your situation.
There are some things you can do to manage your hair loss and feel more comfortable, including:
See a dermatologist as soon as possible when you notice hair loss. The sooner you get treatment, the more effective it’ll be.
You may want to ask your provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
While hair loss isn’t itself dangerous, losing your hair is an emotional experience. Unwanted changes to your appearance can influence your self-esteem and social life. Some people find comfort in talking with a mental health professional if their hair loss causes discomfort. Others may find relief in changing their hairstyle or wearing a wig.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/10/2021.
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