What are the most common causes of hair loss in women?

Written by: Dr Kapil Bhargava
Edited by: Jay Staniland

Hair loss affects more women than one may think, with approximately 1 in 6 women aged in their thirties from UK, US or Australian ancestry experiencing female pattern hair loss (FPHL), the most common form of hair loss in women. This rises to over 50% of women experiencing FPHL over the age of 65 years. By comparison, only 1 in 50 women aged in their 30s from China and South Korea are affected by hair loss, and 1 in 4 over the age of 65.


What are the causes of hair loss in women?


Female pattern hair loss (FPHL), otherwise known as androgenetic alopecia, is the female equivalent of male pattern baldness. In women, FPHL causes progressive thinning of the hair, particularly on the top and crown of the scalp. The hair becomes finer, and hair partings may become wider.

FPHL is a genetic condition in most cases, but in approximately 10% of cases, it can be related to hormonal abnormalities, such as PCOS.

Excessive hair shedding, otherwise known as telogen effluvium, is another condition where a physically or emotionally stressful event can cause hair loss. It often occurs suddenly, around three months following a stressful event, and usually resolves within approximately six months. It is most commonly seen after pregnancy, however severe illness, major surgery, chronic illness, crash dieting, nutritional deficiencies and medication can be causative. Additionally stopping the combined oral contraceptive pill or Minoxidil may be responsible.

Another common cause of hair loss in women is alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the hair follicles. This commonly results in patches of complete hair loss, usually on the scalp, but can affect any hair-baring site.


How is hair loss treated?


Many cases of hair loss in women may be temporary. Others may be progressive, requiring treatment to prevent additional and on-going loss. The correct diagnosis is key to understanding what may happen in the future and what the best treatment options are.

The most common treatment for FPHL is Minoxidil, which is available over the counter. It comes as a lotion or foam and may slow further hair loss, or, to a lesser extent, encourage regrowth. There are a number of other tablet medications that can be of benefit for certain women.

For alopecia areata, there are a number of options available, including medicines to apply to the scalp, injections or tablets. Additionally immunotherapy and light therapy are sometimes used and newer medications are currently on the horizon.

The right treatment option is based on a number of factors, however central to this is an understanding of the person as a whole, not just the hair loss in isolation.

For more information regarding the treatment options available to you, make an appointment with a specialist here.

By Dr Kapil Bhargava

Dr Kapil Bhargava is a leading London-based consultant dermatologist and dermatologic (Mohs) surgeon. Specialising in skin cancer, hair disorders and cosmetic dermatology, he offers a range of evidence-based skin treatments from his Harley Street practice and has received multiple awards for his work in the field. Dr Bhargava is not only one of the most highly revered consultant dermatologists in London, but is so too an incredibly well-regarded skin specialist who is constantly in extremely high demand due, at large, to his highly trusted and expert patient care. 

Dr Bhargava, who is also a specialist in laser and cosmetic dermatology, is mightily experienced when it comes to all the various different general conditions relating to hair loss, acne, and surgical dermatology. He completed his medical training in general and specialist dermatology at the highly established and well-renowned St John's Institute of Dermatology after beginning his medical training in 1997 at the prestigious University College London Medical School. One of Dr Bhargava's biggest and most noteable achievements to-date is Fellowship in Mohs and Advanced Dermatologic Surgery, which he obtained from the Joint Royal Colleges of Physicians Training Board following the successful completion of his medical training. 

Trained in the UK and working in prestigious hospitals across London, Dr Bhargava has also completed training in the United States and continental Europe and continues to develop and gain valuable experience his field. Currently, he is the lead clinician for skin cancer and dermatologic surgery at St Bartholomew's and The Royal London Hospitals (the UK's largest hospital Trust), alongside running a specialist hair clinic at St John's Institute that takes referrals from across the country. 

As well as his, to-date, extensive clinical work, Dr Bhargava has also authored a numerous amount of scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals and has also contributed to book chapters such as the hair and scalp chapter in the renowned ABC in Dermatology series. He lectures nationally and internationally and is actively involved in the teaching and training of trainee dermatologists.

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