Hormones & Hair Loss
Hair loss is common, affecting an estimated 35 million men and 21 million women in the U.S. alone at some point in their lives. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, nearly 50% of adults in the U.S. will experience thinning hair by age 40. While chemotherapy can lead to hair loss, there are other underlying causes including aging, hormonal imbalances, certain medical conditions like alopecia, emotional stress, medications, and the use of hair care products themselves. Hair loss can contribute to emotional grief, especially for someone already dealing with a life-threatening illness like cancer. Sorting out fact from fiction is a good first step in taking control of the situation.
To understand hair loss, it helps to know the basics about hair growth. Hair normally grows in cycles. The active phase is called the anagen phase. During this phase, which lasts 2 to 7 years, hair grows from the follicle. The catagen phase is a transitional stage lasting 10 to 20 days in which hair growth stops. The telogen phase is the resting phase lasting up to 100 days. During this phase, hair does not grow at all. It is normal to shed 25 to 100 hairs a day during the telogen phase.
Hormonal Causes of Hair Loss
Hair follicles are androgen sensitive, meaning they respond to fluctuations in male hormones like testosterone. Hormonally-induced hair loss occurs when an enzyme starts to convert the hormone testosterone on the scalp to a less useful version called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT attacks and shrinks hair follicles, sometimes making them disappear completely. Hair becomes thinner and finer and may stop growing. Any of the following may contribute to hormone-related hair loss in women.
Birth control pills: Most pills contain synthetic forms of the female hormones estrogen and progestin. Birth control pills can cause the hair to move from the growing phase to the resting phase too soon. This form of hair loss is called telogen effluvium and is associated with large degrees of hair loss. A family history of hormone-related hair loss may result in the loss of hair while on the pill or just after discontinuing birth control. If baldness is familial, birth control pills can speed up the hair loss process. Pills with more estrogen than progestin are low on the androgen index, meaning they can stimulate hair growth by keeping hair in the anagen phase longer.
Low thyroid function (hypothyroidism): Hair follicles are sensitive to thyroid hormones. Some people experience thinning hair or large amounts of hair falling out in the shower or sink. Changes in hair texture can make it dry, coarse, or easily tangled. When hair changes are accompanied by fatigue, unexplained weight gain, aching joints, constipation, dry skin, feeling cold all the time or poor sleep, the stymptoms could be possible signs of hypothyroidism. It is necessary to test all thyroid levels to get accurate results and begin replacement therapy if needed. This could reduce hair loss depending on the type of drug used. Unfortunately for some people, thyroid replacement therapy with levothyroxine can lead to prolonged or excessive hair loss as a side effect.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): This condition can cause excessive hair shedding and hair thinning in those with a genetic predisposition and follicle sensitivity. PCOS can lead to hyperandrogenism, a state in which the body produces too many androgens (male hormones). If hair follicles are androgen-sensitive, this can decrease the growth of hair on the scalp and increase the growth of body hair, especially when androgen levels are excessive. PCOS-related hair thinning can be effectively treated using a combination of oral and topical treatments.
Childbirth and postpartum: Many women have thicker hair during pregnancy because more hairs than normal are growing and fewer than normal are resting/shedding. During and after pregnancy, estrogen levels fluctuate. A sudden decrease in estrogen after giving birth can lead to hair loss, most commonly in the first three months. This generally subsides as hormone levels balance out.
Menopause: During this time, a woman’s levels of estrogen and progesterone decrease, signaling an end of fertility. This change commonly affects the normal functioning of the hair follicles and disrupts the hair growth cycle. Many women experience thinner hair on their heads, while the hair on their face may become more coarse.
Coping with Hormone Related Hair Loss
Finding out why your hair falls out can help to alleviate some of the stress associated with hair loss; but once you know the answer as to why your hair is falling out, it is often helpful to decide how you will manage the symptoms of hair loss.
One of our favorite option for women with thinning hair due to hormonal hair loss is to use a hair topper to disguise areas of hair loss or thinning hair. Different toppers use various methods of attachment to clip in to your existing hair and cover areas of hair loss. Some offer more converge than others, but all are designed to seamlessly blend with your own hair when applied correctly. You can read more about how to wear a hair topper in our resources library here.
Take a look at our head cover options, find support within your family or community, and browse our resource library for tips on dealing with hair loss. Whether your hair loss is caused by hormone changes or another medical condition, take advantage of every tool available to you – including our headwear, wigs and toppers, as well as beauty products – to help you feel your best when dealing with hair loss.
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