Many women experience some degree of hair loss throughout their lifetime, in particular after menopause. While female pattern baldness is similar to male pattern baldness, it isn't nearly as common and can have a huge impact on women’s emotional wellbeing and their quality of life.
Dr Iaisha Ali is a consultant dermatologist in London with more than 20 years of experience in treating women with hair loss. We spoke to her about female pattern baldness to understand how she diagnoses this condition and if there are any effective treatments available to reverse it.
How much hair loss is normal in women?
Some hair shedding is a normal part of the growth cycle of healthy hair. On average, a person loses around a hundred strands of hair per day, although this can vary between individuals and shedding must always be taken relative to what each person observes as normal for them. Therefore, if there are sudden changes in the amount of hair being shed – it could indicate a problem.
What is female pattern baldness?
Female pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia, is the diffuse loss of hair density in women across areas of the scalp that are genetically susceptible to the ‘male’ type hormone, known as androgens. This area is mainly the frontal temple hairline and the crown of the scalp. The density of hair at the very back of the scalp is usually unaffected. Female pattern baldness is similar to male pattern baldness; however, women tend to lose their hair in a different pattern than men.
What causes female pattern baldness?
There can be many causes but it usually indicates that you have a genetic predisposition to the condition. In some cases, it can be caused due to higher levels of the ‘male’ type hormone (androgen) being produced in your body, which you might see for example in women with polycystic ovarian disease.
In most cases, however, women with hair loss of this kind tend to have normal hormone levels and the real issue lies with the androgen receptor and how it responds to the androgen hormone.
How is it diagnosed?
Female pattern baldness is usually diagnosed by taking a careful account of your symptoms and examining the scalp for specific signs – I usually use a special video dermatoscopy to help with the examination and look for the very typical signs of female pattern hair loss. In rarer cases, a scalp biopsy may be needed.
Can it be reversed and are there any treatments?
Yes, it can be reversed. Several types of medication can be used to neutralise the effect of androgen on the scalp hair. This allows the hair to recover and grow as normal again.
Topical lotions can also be used to support hair growth. In some cases, more advanced techniques are needed such as platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP).
In addition to medical treatments, I also ensure that nutritional factors are all optimised to allow for healthy hair growth. This includes making sure you are getting the right amount of iron, vitamin D, zinc and other important vitamins.
I often find female pattern hair loss occurs alongside other forms of hair loss - often nutritional deficiency. It is always important to treat all the detectable causes affecting the hair to get the best outcome.
If you are experiencing female pattern hair loss and would like to see a specialist to treat it, visit Dr Iaisha Ali's Top Doctors profile and book a consultation with her.