May 18th, 2017 Written by a Staff Member of Hair Loss in Women
Figuring out what’s causing your hair loss can be a bit overwhelming. Our team tried to make your research a little easier by categorizing all the most common causes of hair loss in women below. To our knowledge, this is the most comprehensive list of causes of hair loss in women on the web at this time. If you find that we are missing something, please let us know so that we can review.
Genetic Hair Loss
1. Androgenetic Alopecia (or Androgenic Alopecia)
This cause of hair loss in women is responsible for 90% of all women’s hair loss. Also called female-pattern hair loss, it results in thinning in the part of the hair, and all over the top of the scalp. It rarely leads to complete baldness. This is different from men’s hair loss, where the hairline recedes and eventually they lose the hair everywhere on the scalp, except on the sides and at the very back.
It’s believed that the way this type of hair loss is due to a process involving male hormones. Women normally produce a small amount of testosterone. The testosterone is converted to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) via an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase, which then binds to receptor cells in hair follicles, causing miniaturization (thinning of the hair), and even killing the hair follicle.
If you have hair loss on either side of your family, your chances of hair loss are higher. Your genetics will also influence when you start to experience hair loss, it’s speed, and it’s extent. This type of hair loss will only increase over time, and will not respond to changes in diet, or other remedies that may work for non-genetic hair loss. Women with androgenetic alopecia can use several different DHT blockers, such as minoxodil (the active ingredient in Rogaine), an over the counter drug that helps regrow hair, or at least slows the hair loss.
2. Excessive Sebum
Sebum is your bodies natural oil that lubricates the skin and hair, keeping it from drying out, and it gives hair its shine. It’s produced by the sebaceous gland, which is shaped like a tiny balloon under the skin. Excessive sebum, which is usually genetic (although it could be the result of not washing your hair and scalp enough, or diet, or medication), can block hair follicles from producing hair, leading to hair loss.
Diet & Lifestyle
If you suspect that your hair loss falls within this category, you’re in for good news: your hair loss is generally easily reversible! If you stop whatever is causing your hair loss, you can expect to see your hair coming back (though it won’t necessarily grow back immediately).
3. Anabolic Steroids
If you take anabolic steroids to get bigger muscles, or for quicker muscle recovery (like some mixed martial arts fighters do), you can lose your hair. They can have the same impact on you as polycystic ovary disease (PCOS), which can result in acne, hair growth in the face and other parts of the body, ovarian cysts, weight gain or trouble losing weight, depression, fertility problems, and irregular periods.
By going off anabolic steroids, your hair should return to normal.
4. Low Iron (Anemia)
You can develop anemia from pregnancy, a diet that’s low in iron rich foods, ulcers, sickle-cell anemia, cancer, and from heavy periods. Common symptoms of anemia are fatigue, headaches, lack of focus, poor sleep, cold hands and feet, and you may see it in thinning hair. To find out if you’re iron deficient, your doctor can give you a blood test.
To remedy anemia you can supplement iron, and you can also get iron from iron rich foods such as beef, pork, fish, leafy greens, and beans, especially in combination with vitamin C, which enhances the absorption of iron.
5. Excessive Vitamin A (Hypervitaminosis A)
You can get excess vitamin A from your diet (especially if you eat a lot of liver), supplements (cod liver oil being the most common culprit), or medications. The Mayo Clinic recommends 2300 IU daily for women. If you are experiencing hair loss due to excess vitamin A, you will see a return to normal after reducing your intake.
6. Extreme Weight Loss
Losing a large amount of weight in a short amount of time can shock your system. If you did it by severely restricting your caloric intake, you may have a nutritional deficiency. Usually your hair will go back to normal after a several month period of hair loss.
7. Heavy Metal & Toxic Chemicals
As your hair is a barometer of your overall health, exposure to heavy metals and toxins will often result in unhealthy hair. In fact, the EPA tests people’s hair when checking for toxins.
Residents in the small town of Rosebery, a coastal town in the Australian state of Tasmania, sued the local mine for health issues that they believed came from the heavy metal mining that was done from 2008-2010. Residents suffered from a number of health problems including hair loss.
If you are exposed to a large amount of toxins in your diet, your job, or elsewhere in your environment, this could be causing hair loss.
8. Nutritional Deficiencies
Deficiencies in specific vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, and essential fatty acids can cause hair loss. If you are deficient in any of these nutrients, and you have a hard time getting enough of them through your diet, you can supplement them individually, or find a high quality, highly assimilable, multivitamin.
9. Protein Deficiency
If you are deficient in protein, your body may not be able to regrow the hair that you lose every day (most people lose around 100 hairs per day).
If there was a period where you were deficient in protein, you may see visible hair loss two to three months after. This is common with people who go on crash diets or have abnormal eating habits. It can also easily occur in vegetarians and vegans. When someone doesn’t consume enough protein, their hair follicles go into the resting phase, using whatever protein is supplied to the body for other areas. This problem is easily remedied by getting 2-3 servings of protein per day.
There are several ways that smoking causes hair loss in women, one being that it raises your levels of dihydrotestosterone or DHT, which is one of the leading causes of hair loss in women. If you or someone you know smokes, and is losing their hair, share this page that explains the links between smoking and women’s hair loss.
Physical or emotional stress can cause temporary hair loss (even coming out in clumps), called Telogen Effluvium. A death of a loved one, divorce, car accident, stress from a disease, or anything that has the power to upset your hair follicle’s normal functioning can create hair loss that can last for months. It can even happen after childbirth, or extreme dieting. It can start six weeks to three months after a stressful event.
To reduce stress from a specific incident, you may want to see a therapist. If you’re dealing with chronic life stress, you may see your hair return after making the necessary lifestyle changes. Many people reduce their stress with exercise, yoga, meditation, and even stress reducing practices like using essential oils.
If you have patches of hair loss, you may be dealing with a skin condition.
12. Fungal Infections
The most commonly fungal infection is ringworm, which isn’t a worm, but makes a circular, bumpy, scaly mark on your skin. Ringworm is contagious, and it’s recommended that you take precautions to not spread to others. The good news is that hair loss from ringworm is temporary, and is easily remedied with over-the-counter drugs.
13. Seborrheic Dermatitis
Seborrheic dermatitis is a non-contagious skin condition that can cause temporary hair loss. Skin can become scaly, sometimes oily, and inflamed, and can be itchy and even painful to touch. It’s believed to have a genetic connection where Caucasians, and especially people of Celtic origin are most commonly affected. There are other circumstances it’s more common: newborn babies sometimes develop it after delivery, stroke, head injury, and Parkinson’s disease. Stress and chronic fatigue can exacerbate the symptoms.
The good news is that treatment involves using an anti-dandruff shampoo, or a hair loss shampoo such as ketaconazole (brand name Nizoral), which blocks the effects of dihydrotestosterone, which is the hormone that shrinks hair follicles and causes hair loss.
Psoriasis is a skin condition resulting in redness and irritation with flaky white patches. Your doctor or dermatologist will prescribe medications for this condition.
It’s common for women to experience temporary hair loss 1 to 5 months after giving birth, called “telogen effluvium”. During pregnancy, women’s hair is often fuller and thicker, due to the abundance of female hormones in their system. After childbirth, the hair that wasn’t lost will fall out over a few week period.
This form of female alopecia is temporary, and women can expect their hair to grow back to where it was before pregnancy in 6 to 12 months.
Just as high levels of female hormones during pregnancy leave women with fuller and healthier hair, lower levels during menopause may cause thinner hair. And when female hormones decline, male hormones (androgens) increase, which is the number one cause of female alopecia (hair loss). To learn more about the role of male hormones in women’s hair loss, check out our Guide to Androgenetic Alopecia.
There are many medications that can cause fluctuations in many systems in your body, such as your hormones. To find out if your hormones are in balance, get your thyroid, estrogen, and testosterone levels check by a doctor (thyroid imbalance is VERY common in women). Some women will use hormone replacement therapy (HRT). If you suspect that a medication that you’re taking is causing hair loss, talk to your dermatologist or doctor.
18. Birth Control Pills & Contraception
The use of birth control pills, or going off of birth control pills, as well as other types of contraceptives (such as the vaginal ring, hormone injections, progestin implants, or a patch) can cause fluctuations in hormone levels, which are a common cause of female hair loss. Talk to your dermatologist or doctor about changing the type of birth control that you’re using to see if this could be the sourceo f your hair loss.
19. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
These are caused by a hormone imbalance where the ovaries produce too much male hormones. This can result in acne, hair growth in the face and other parts of the body, ovarian cysts, weight gain or trouble losing weight, depression, fertility problems, and irregular periods.
PCOS is thought to be genetic, and it can run on either side of your family. Your chances of PCOS are higher if irregular periods or diabetes run in your family.
PCOS is normally treated with birth control pills, or another drug used to block male hormones, such as Aldactone.
20. Thyroid Imbalance
This is the most common form of hormone imbalance in women. And imbalance in the thyroid and hair loss can be correlated. If your thyroid is producing too much (hyperthyroidism, which is rare), or too little (hypothyroidism), it can affect your hair.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism can include fatigue, increased sensitivity to cold, constipation, dry skin, weight gain, weakness and muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness, pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints, heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods, slowed heart rate, depression, and impaired memory. To see if you have a thyroid imbalance, get a blood test from your doctor.
If you’re already taking medications for a thyroid imbalance, be aware that some medications for the thyroid and hair loss are related.
Improper Hair Care & Treatment
21. Certain Hairstyles (Traction Alopecia)
Corn rows, tight clips, extensions, or anything that puts a lot of pressure on your hair can cause temporary or even permanent hair loss. Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and Naomi Cambell developed bald patches due to long term use of extensions. If you relieve the pressure, your hair should go back to normal. But if you’ve put lots of stress on your hair for years, you may have permanent hair loss.
This form of hair loss is common among African American women.
22. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
Not to be confused with sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), this organic compound found in many hair products has gotten a lot of attention recently. There’s a lot of controversy about whether SLS is bad for you and your hair. On top of that, there’s a lot of incorrect information about SLS floating around on the internet.
The National Toxic Encephalopathy Foundation says that if you don’t rinse the shampoo out of your hair that has SLS in it, it can deposit in your hair follicles. This will damage the hair follicle that can lead to hair loss, as well as irritate the skin around the follicle, which can cause dry skin and dandruff. It can also disturb the growth of new hair, slowing it by eight times its normal rate of growth.
Read more about what you need to know about sodium lauryl sulfate and women’s hair loss.
Four times more common in women than in men, trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder where a person continuously pulling on and playing with their hair, which will cause thinning and bald patches.
Some people have found success with antidepressants, and/or behavior modification therapy.
24. Excessive Hair Styling & Treatments
If you do an excessive amount of hair drying on high heat, ironing, straightening, extensions, relaxers, perms, coloring, or a combination of these (which is common in African-American women), it can weaken your hair and cause it to break easily. Applying gel or hairspray, letting it dry, then blow drying it can also cause weakness. Even the way you wash your hair can cause damage!
To see if you have weak hair, you can gently pull a few strands of hair and see whether the hair that comes out has the root end still attached to it. If most of them don’t, you may be weakening your hair.
Drugs & Medical Treatment
Pharmaceuticals and medical treatments have side effects, and something you’re taking may be causing your hair to thin or fall out. If you suspect that one of the drugs you’re taking is to blame, talk to your doctor about changing the medication or the dosage to stop your hair loss.
Here are some classes of drugs that can be causes of hair loss:
- Acne medications containing vitamin A (retinoids)
- Antibiotics and antifungal drugs
- Anticonvulsants(for treating epilepsy)
- Anticlotting drugs
- Breast cancer drugs
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs
- High blood pressure medications (anti-hypertensives), such as beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and diuretics
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Mood stabilizers
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen.
- Parkinson’s disease drugs
- Weight loss drugs
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy used to kill cancer cells can cause Anagen Effluvium, which is the shedding of hair during it’s growth phase. Anagen Effluvium often results in almost complete balding.
Hair loss that will generally start one to three weeks after you begin treatment, and generally regrow after three to ten months after treatment ends. And when your hair grows back, it may initially grow back a different color and/or texture.
Applying minoxidil (the most common brand name is Rogaine) during and after chemotherapy may speed hair regrowth.
If you or a loved one will be going through chemotherapy, check out our “Guide To Cancer And Hair Loss.”
27. Bariatric Surgery
40% of all patients that undergo bariatric surgery experience hair loss after their surgery.
Autoimmune disease is where your immune system misfires and attacks healthy parts of your body, such as your hair follicles, which can result in round bald spots on the head, legs, or eyebrows.
28. Alopecia Areata
Most commonly, alopecia areata causes patches of hair loss on the scalp.In rare cases, it can spread to where people lose all of the hair on their scalp (alepecia totalis), and others may lose hair everywhere on their body (alopecia universalis). About 4.7 million people in the U.S. suffer from this disorder.
Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disorder which causes the body to attack its own hair follicles. The cause of this illness is unknown, although thought to be genetic. If the patch of hair loss is small, sometimes the hair will eventually grow back. Most commonly it’s treated by steroid injections, and may be used in combination with minoxidil.
29. Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus)
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy parts of the body, including the hair follicles. It affects around 1.5 million people in the U.S., more common in women (especially in African-Americans and Asians), and often affects women during their childbearing years. Symptoms vary from person to person, and may appear and disappear, but almost always include joint pain, which can develop into arthritis.
Although there is no cure for SLE, there are treatment options for dealing with the side effects, such as prednisone, and you may have to see a specialist to deal with individual symptoms ( such as a dermatologist). If you have lupus, talk to your doctor about regrowing your hair. Hair loss may be a result of SLE, or it may be caused by medications used for SLE.
Other Causes of Hair Loss in Women
As you age, everyone loses some hair, and the rate of growth slows down.
Hair strands also become smaller as you age. If you had thick hair when you were younger, it may become thinner, shorter, and more brittle (a process called miniaturization). Some follicles stop producing new hairs, which also thins out your scalp. Two-thirds of postmenopausal women suffer from hair thinning or bald spots.
Are there any causes of women’s hair loss that we’re missing? Let us know in the comment section below.