Many women experience different forms of hair loss at some point in their lives, especially after pregnancy, during times of stress or as a side effect of certain medications. Additionally, any medication or therapy that alters a woman’s hormonal activity, such as contraceptives, can trigger hair loss.
Extensive and long-term hair loss is described by the generic medical term alopecia. The most common types of female hair loss are androgenetic alopecia, telogen effluvium, anagen effluvium and traction alopecia.
Androgenetic alopecia (AGA) or “female pattern” hair loss is a type of hair loss manifested by diffuse thinning on all areas of the scalp. AGA results from male hormones that are typically present in small amounts in women called androgens. The male hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) causes certain hair follicles on the scalp to become shorter and shorter, eventually disappearing. Although heredity is involved in AGA, hormone activity can also play a role. Major instances causing hormone shifts such as pregnancy, menopause, ovarian cysts and taking birth control pills with a high androgen index can be linked to this form of hair loss.
Stages of female pattern hair loss are measured by the Ludwig Scale. There are a variety of treatment options available for women with AGA regardless of stage, spanning the spectrum from surgical hair replacement to non-surgical hair replacement systems.
Telogen effluvium (TE) is another type of hair loss in women, typically catalyzed when the body goes through a traumatic event such as major surgery, childbirth or suffers from malnutrition. Experience of trauma can cause hair follicles to transition from the “rest” phase (telogen) to a shedding phase resulting in hair loss. At any given time, a healthy scalp has 10% – 20% of the hair follicles in the resting phase. Other stressors include certain types of medication or environmental exposures. There are also chronic forms of TE in women.
To treat TE, the cause must first be discovered. If the cause is an event or trauma, hair growth can resume normally within a few months once the body and mind have had a chance to recover. However if the hair loss remains or the cause cannot be identified, a direct hair growth stimulator may be employed to block TE from redeveloping.
Anagen effluvium is a form of hair loss that occurs when something inhibits the hair follicle’s metabolic activity. Commonly associated with chemotherapy, this type of effluvium hair loss affects hairs in the active or anagen phase. Once chemotherapy has begun, 90% or more of the hairs can fall out while in this anagen phase. A tapered hair shaft characterizes anagen effluvium, fracturing as it narrows and resulting in hair loss.
Various hair replacement systems, including wigs and wiglets, can be attractive and effective solutions for women experiencing this type of hair loss.
Traction alopecia is caused by hairstyles inflicting trauma on the hair follicles. Tight hairstyles such as cornrows, braiding, extensions and strained ponytails/buns are the most common styles that produce traction alopecia.
Typically hair will regrow if the condition is detected early, though hair replacement systems are options for women who experience this type of hair loss and the hair does not regenerate.