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Why is my hair falling out? The top 9 causes of hair loss in women (and how to stop it)

Perhaps you recently pulled a matted ball of hair out of your shower drain. Or you've simply noticed a bit more scalp showing through your updo. Hair loss is something many women experience, with a study by Nioxin revealing that the figures could be as high as 40%.

While many think that hair loss is only something that happens to men of a certain age, hair thinning and balding does affect women, too. And given we put so much importance on our hair (the same study revealed that 79% of women admit that their hair is a huge part of who they are), more than one in 10 of those who have experienced hair loss have sought professional help due to the impact it had on their mental health.

And the sad truth is, a lot of this upset comes down to stigma. While male hair loss is regarded part and parcel of the ageing process for many men, for women, it is often shrouded in shame and embarrassment – which should never be the case. The same study shows that 59% of women with hair loss hide the condition from strangers, work colleagues and even their own friends and family.

This means that many of us are suffering in silence. But take this as a sign that you’re not alone. Mark Blake, Nioxin trichologist says: “Hair loss in women is not something that should be kept quiet and is more common than you might think. Demand in our clinics from women suffering from hair loss has increased by 200%, so you really are not alone.”

It’s also worth noting that there is likely a very reasonable cause for your hair loss, and there are things that can be done to prevent it and better the situation. “The stigma around hair loss and the belief that it is only a ‘male condition’ is stopping women from seeking help, which could not only improve their hair but also their confidence and mental health as a result. There are options out there if you are struggling,” adds Mark.

Each hair on your head has a life cycle, starting with the anagen, or active growth, phase, which can last between three to seven years. The hair follicle then moves into a transitional phase called catagen, followed by the resting phase telogen, which lasts around three months when old hair is shed and replaced with new anagen hair.

Ahead, the professionals reveal what might be disrupting this healthy growth cycle, why your hair might be thinning and, crucially, what to do about it.

The different types of hair loss affecting women

Genetic hair loss

"The rate at which hair grows, and the length to which it will grow, is genetically determined," says Anabel Kingsley, consultant trichologist and Philip Kingsley brand president. “For most, this is 0.5 inches a month.” Similarly, pattern hair loss (also known as androgenic alopecia) can be inherited from either parent and can occur at any age after puberty. “It is affected by hormone levels in your body, and by your individual sensitivity to them,” says Anabel, adding that over several years hairs grow back slightly thinner and shorter with each hair growth cycle. “Eventually, hair follicles can become so small that they stop producing a hair altogether,” she notes.

Reactive hair loss and Covid

Reactive hair loss involves a trigger. For example, a sudden weight loss or diet change can affect your follicles. “As hair is non-essential tissue, it is the first part of you to be deprived of nutrients when your diet is lacking,” says Anabel. When you restrict your diet, especially limiting main food groups that help with hair such as protein and complex carbohydrates, your body realises that it is not receiving the same nutrients as it did before.

Illness is another reactive form of hair loss. The high temperature (32C or over) that accompanied Covid-19, is one reason that hair follicles can temporarily shut down as the body concentrates on fighting infection. The higher and longer the temperature, the more hair is lost. "If a client has had Covid-19, he or she will almost certainly have hair loss around six weeks after catching the virus," says Mark, who saw a marked increase in hair shedding during the Pandemic.

“Many people don’t make the connection between an illness a couple of months prior to hair loss, they tend to think more about what they have done or changed recently to cause it, but it’s often just delayed,” says Sally-Ann Traver, Consultant Trichologist at The Cotswold Trichology Centre.

Stress-induced hair loss

Chronic stress can cause malting. Officially known as Telogen Effluvium, a stressful event or severe systemic infection can cause more hairs than usual to move out of their growth phase and into their shedding phase at the same time.

“Stress can wreak havoc on your hair growth cycle and your scalp,” says Anabel. “One reason for this is that stress can raise androgen (male hormone) levels, which can worsen or trigger female pattern hair loss if you have a genetic predisposition towards it,” she continues. "Plus stress can make it harder for your body to absorb nutrients."

Telogen Effluvium has been confirmed as one of the side effects of Covid. Those not infected by the virus may also find that the stress of the past couple of years has prompted some shedding.

The good news is, unless it’s something more serious, your hair will grow back. “Hair loss will increase approximately two months after the stress begins and stop approximately four months after the stress stops,” says Sally-Ann.

Traction alopecia

Anything that involves repeatedly pulling your hair into a tight style should be avoided. Even though your hair isn’t falling out at the root, breaking the strands can mean you’ll malt. This includes protective styles and even the simple act of tying your hair bobble too tight when crafting a ponytail.

"Over-processing can also impact the strength of your hair strands and lead to breakage that appears as hair loss," says Inanch Emir from Inanch London. "If you notice hair loss, but don't see a difference in the density of hair at the scalp, this is likely the cause. Talk to your stylist and discuss colouring options that will be more gentle on your hair."

Iron deficiency

Heavy periods and vegetarianism can lead to low Ferritin levels. This protein stores iron in the body and is needed to produce hair cell protein. Low iron is one of the most common mineral deficiencies in young women with hair thinning. “The hair follicles receive nutrients from blood capillaries in the scalp,” says Anabel. “So, in terms of boosting hair growth, proper nutritional support is a key ingredient," she adds. “Ferritin deficiency commonly causes increased hair fall and a shortening of the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle. This means hair may not be able to grow as long as it is capable of.”

Neglecting your scalp

Scalp health is instrumental to hair growth, especially in the face of high levels of pollution and a growing reliance on dry shampoo, which creates a paste-like mixture with dead skin and oil and is a major cause of congestion on our scalps. "Any kind of blockages or buildup on the scalp can suffocate the hair cuticle and therefore does not allow it to 'breathe'", says Sam Burnett from Hare & Bone. "This can cause the hair to not grow to its full potential."

Vitamin B12 deficiency

Vitamin B12 and D are relatively common deficiencies in hair loss sufferers. Reasonable dietary B12 can only be obtained from animal sources, which is why the deficiency is common in vegetarians and vegans.

Vitamin D deficiency is on the rise as 85% is made via our skin during sun exposure. In recent years as we have become educated on sun exposure; to cover up, seek shade and use high SPF to prevent burning, hence the increase in deficiency rates. Taking supplements can really help to boost your Vitamin B12 and D levels.

Hormonal hair loss

Hormones also play a major role in your hair growth cycle. “Oestrogens are ‘hair friendly’ and help to keep your strands in the anagen phase for anywhere between three to seven years,” explains Anabel. Androgens and progesterone (male hormones) can have the opposite effect.

If you’re switching up your birth control or have just started the pill, it can have a negative effect on your hair. Generally-speaking, birth control pills with oestrogen tend to be better for your hair, but ones with progesterone only can contribute to hair loss. Before selecting the right birth control, consult your doctor about possible side effects.

Pregnancy can cause a rise in oestrogen, which typically makes hair luscious and thick, especially in the final few months. “Essentially, this increase keeps hairs in the growth phase for longer,” explains Anabel.

But what goes up, must come down and, thanks to hormonal changes, hair loss is also a possibility. “After childbirth or after breast-feeding, oestrogen levels return to normal and approximately 50% of women experience ‘post partum’ shedding,” Anabel notes. While distressing, this shedding should stop after three months.

The biggest hormonal shift, however, occurs in your 40s and 50s. You might be perimenopausal or in the throws of the menopause and notice some hair loss or thinning. “When oestrogen levels drop, your hair follicles are more exposed to the influence of testosterone, a male hormone,” adds Anabel.

Thyroid conditions

Thyroid conditions, particularly hypothyroidism, can cause hair thinning and is most common in postmenopausal women. “The condition also causes hair to become dry, lead to brittle nails, weight gain and tiredness,” says Sally-Ann. If you’re concerned you may be suffering with hypothyroidism, consult your GP.

The best hair loss treatments

Increase the amount of protein and iron in your diet

Hair is made of protein, perhaps making this the most essential nutrient for hair growth. "Increasing the amount of dietary protein you eat, can help with nutritional hair loss," says Sally-Ann. "A reasonable portion of meat or fish every day can make up around half of your 45g quota. Try adding up how much protein you consume daily for a week to get a feel for how much you really need – you may surprise yourself as to how little you really consume." Quinoa and nuts are good sources of protein for vegetarians.

Also be sure to include whole grains in your diet. “Complex carbohydrates provide you with slow-release energy,” says Anabel. “Being the second fastest growing cells the body produces, hair cells need a consistent energy supply.”

First thing in the morning is when hair cells are their most active, so it's the ideal time to feed your follicles.

Take a supplement

Supplementation can be helpful for boosting levels of vitamins and minerals – but only alongside a healthy diet.

Iron levels can be increased by incorporating certain foods in your diet – but supplements are also available, especially if you don't eat red meat. “Although dark, leafy greens such as spinach contain iron, it is ‘non-haem iron’ – and this is harder for the body to break down and absorb," Anabel adds.

Talk to your doctor first about testing for iron deficiency before changing your diet or taking a supplement.

The Nue Co's Growth Phase Hair Supplements have also got a loyal following among beauty editors, thanks to a daily dose of key vitamins, proteins and adaptogens that balance nutritional deficiencies, regulate hormones, calm stress and protect against free radicals. In an independent blind clinical trial with 33 subjects, the supplement was found to reduce hair shedding by 87%.

Try head massage to stimulate blood flow

Nikita Mehta, co-founder of Fable & Mane, has brought hair-oiling to the masses and swears by traditional head massage for stimulating blood flow to the scalp. “In Ayurveda, the act of self-love starts at the crown,” she says. “The head is home to our nervous system. Scalp massage, using oils that contain adaptogens, is a daily routine to calm the nervous system and balance energy. The ritual also stretches the hair from the roots, stimulating them to produce thicker strands.”

The brand's cult-ish HoliRoots Hair Oil is spiked with circulation-boosting castor oil and the Ayurvedic adaptogen ashwagandha, which has anti-inflammatory properties, according to several published studies.

Switch up your haircare

"Healthy hair begins with a healthy scalp," says Sally-Ann. "If your scalp has a tendency to be dry, one of the most amazing low cost solutions is pure coconut oil. Apply it before bed, sleep in it and wash off the next day. Do this for several nights in a row and often even some of the thickest scale will slowly break down and come away from the scalp."

As well as rotating between dry and wet shampoo every other day, add a clarifying shampoo into your hair-washing routine to remove product build-up. “It’s beneficial to use an antioxidant-packed vitamin C product every two weeks to remove hard water mineral build-up and to thoroughly cleanse the scalp,” explains Anabel, who recommends the Philip Kingsley Vitamin C Jelly Detoxifying Hair and Scalp Treatment.

She also notes that applying prescription-only anti-androgenic scalp drops such as Minoxidil every day can help to block testosterone’s effect on your hair follicles and stimulate hair growth.

Choose your brush carefully

“While boar bristle brushes provide great traction and control when styling, they are also very scratchy and can remove sections of your hair's outer cuticle (its protective layer),” says Anabel, who adds that a paddle brush with rounded, plastic prongs and a vented, cushioned base is the most hair-friendly brush.

This article was originally published on Glamour UK.

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