What's Causing Your Hair Loss?
Stressed about shedding strands? Get to the bottom of what's going on up top with a decade-by-decade guide to hair loss.
The idea of thinning hair may conjure images of balding men with awkward comb-overs, but approximately 40 percent of sufferers are female. Losing around 100 strands daily is normal; if your hair is coming out by the handful or your scalp is showing through, it's time to get help. And there is help. Female pattern hair loss (FPHL), called androgenetic alopecia, is the most likely cause. Your derm will probably recommend a topical product with minoxidil, typically the first line of defense. Other treatments include spironolactone, finasteride, platelet-rich plasma injections, and hair transplantation, when your doctor moves hair-producing follicles from the back of the head to sparse areas. If FPHL has been ruled out, however, your age can help pinpoint the culprit.
IN YOUR 30s
Possible cause: Pregnancy. As many as half of postpartum women notice "a massive loss of hair around two or three months after giving birth," says Lisa Ishii, MD, a hair restoration expert at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. During pregnancy, an increased number of hair follicles shift to a resting cycle and stop shedding, "so for nine months, you're holding on to hair you otherwise would have lost," Ishii explains. After you have the baby and your hormone levels return to normal, that extra hair can drop all at once. Another cause could be an underactive thyroid, though additional symptoms, like constipation and weight gain, are also usually present.
Treatment: Postpartum? You just have to ride it out. But your hair should grow back to its normal fullness. If you suspect you have a thyroid problem, see an endocrinologist to address the underlying condition.
IN YOUR 40s
Possible cause: Major psychological stress (the death of a loved one, divorce, job change) or physical stress (a major surgery) may be at the root. "Your body is redirecting energy to give extra support to overworked vital organs rather than to growing your hair," says Ishii. Stopping birth control can also cause temporary hair loss in some women.
Treatment: If the loss stems from stress, you'll have to wait for hair to begin to fill out again (don't worry, it will). In the meantime, it may be helpful to discuss the cause of your anxiety with a therapist—and consider practicing known destressors like yoga and meditation.
IN YOUR 50s AND 60s
Possible cause: Frontal fibrosing alopecia (FFA), a disease associated with inflammation of hair follicles, is rare but on the rise, says Lynne Goldberg, MD, director of the hair clinic at Boston Medical Center. It commonly takes out your frontal hairline and eyebrows.
Treatment: If you suspect FFA, see a doctor as soon as possible: "The earlier you address the condition with topical and systemic anti-inflammatory medications, the more hair you can save," Goldberg says. Now...get growing.