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Approaches to hair loss in women

Ian 'Harry' Harris

If a man starts losing hair as he gets older, it is usually accepted as a normal part of aging.  Many women also experience thinning hair related to aging but work hard to hide it.  Women may expect the other signs of aging, such as wrinkling and grey hair, but hair loss often catches them off guard.

This week on “Take Care,” we talk to Dr. Maria Hordinsky about the causes of hair loss in women and how to prevent or mitigate its symptoms.  Hordinsky is professor and chairwoman of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota.

Click 'Read More' to hear our interview with Dr. Hordinsky.

Hair loss in women is fairly pervasive but its effects can vary in degree. 

“Most women will experience some change in their hair density or change in the perception of the quality of hair with aging,” Hordinsky says.

The causes of hair loss include aging, medical conditions, hormonal changes, and genetic predisposition.  Some women start losing hair in their teens and early twenties, usually because of family genetics. 

Other women begin losing hair around the time of menopause when hormonal changes can affect its growth.

Hordinsky says that dietary changes can also cause hair thinning.  Not getting enough iron or consuming too much vitamin A are two common dietary problems that can lead to hair loss.

While men typically begin losing hair on the front hairline, women generally lose hair on the top or back of the head.  Hordinsky says that women can lose 50 to 125 hairs per day.

Many women reduce shampooing when they start losing hair, but Hordinsky says that doing so does not reduce hair loss.  Instead, it gives women the sense that they are losing more hair because greater amounts of hair are lost when they do wash their hair.

Using blow-dryers or curling irons can also harm your hair, but in different ways.  The heat from blow-dryers can irritate your scalp, while curling irons can cause breakage and create the appearance of hair loss.

Although much more research needs to be done before potent treatments are available, Hordinsky says there are some products that can be used after dietary and medical conditions have been ruled out.

Rogaine, the product that is usually marketed to men, has been approved by the FDA and is now available for women in smaller concentrations.

Many shampoos claim to help reduce hair loss, but they have yet to be proven effective.

“There really isn’t a shampoo out there that is going to grow hair that’s been scientifically proven, tested, and supported by an organization like the Food and Drug Administration,” Hordinsky says.

The dietary supplement Biotin is often used to strengthen nails and some believe it helps prevent hair loss.  However, there is little supporting evidence for such an application of the product.

Hordinsky says that light-facilitated hair growth can help some people, and there are FDA-approved devices on the market.

No woman wants to lose her hair, but the good news is that it is a common condition in women and should not be viewed as a devastating change.

“At the end of the day, all of us as we get older are probably going to experience some change in the quality and character of our hair.”