Latest Research & Findings About Female Hair Loss and Treatment

While fewer women than men will experience hair loss, the emotional consequences for women are far greater. Often women can go into denial by trying to cover up the loss with different hair styles, but this works only for so long, and worse, it can delay effective treatment and make what permanent solutions do exist less effective. Compared to men, less is known about female hair loss and how best to treat it — however, there exists today more highly effective hair loss treatments for women than ever before.

Latest Research Into the Causes of Temporary Female Hair Loss

Doctors have long known that hormonal changes associated with childbirth and menopause as well as prescription medications can  cause temporary hair loss in women,  most often by shifting an abnormal number of hair follicles into a resting (“telogen”) state or by increasing the duration of that  state. Now recent studies have found that stress can also cause a similar type of temporary hair loss, especially in women.

A Case Western Reserve research study published this year found that stress can operate to cause hair loss by the same mechanism as drugs, i.e., it can “shock” the hair follicles into an early and/or prolong telgen phase. Specifically the study found that stress, for women, particularly stress stemming from the death of a spouse or from divorce, is one of the best predictors of hair loss in women, right up there with genetics — (see: Gatherwright J, Liu MT, Gliniak C, Totonchi A, Guyuron B (2012), The Contribution of Endogenous and Exogenous Factors to Female Alopecia: A Study of Identical Twins, “Plast Reconstr Surg.”, Aug 8). Note: If you’re smoker — stop.  According to this study, no other single factor more strongly predicts female hair loss than smoking, even more than genetics.

Latest Research Into the Causes of Permanent Female Hair Loss

Doctors have long known that women can suffer from female androgenetic alopecia or female pattern balding.  Fortunately, many women have the same array of effective surgical and pharmaceutical treatment options that men have, and this type of  loss rarely leads to complete balding in women as it can  in men.  Effective treatments for a more severe form of hair loss, alopecia areata, on the other hand, have still confounded researchers.

Some doctors have recently found that some psoriasis medications, e.g., Cyclosporine, may have effective anti-inflammatory properties by working at the T-cell level to suppress the autoimmune response implicated in androgenetic alopecia.  This medication, however, has potentially serious side effects.

Researchers have also found that DNCB, a human made chemical used in biomedical research, can directly cause hair growth in some women with some types of alopecia.

It bears repeating that certain drugs that are effective in slowing hair loss in men (i.e., finasteride, or Propecia, and Dutasteride, or Avodart) are not proven in women. Minoxidil (trade name: Rogaine), on the other hand is probably the most well-known topical medication which may benefit women experiencing hair loss.

While doctors know less about the causes of permanent hair loss in women compared to men, recent studies have significantly advanced the understanding of permanent hair loss due to hormonal changes in women, especially those that occur during menopause:

  • Doctors know that menopause does not damage hair follicles. Instead, it lengthens the normal resting phase and this leads to noticeable thinning.
  • Doctors also know that hair thickens in pregnant pre-menopausal women due to increased levels of estrogen.  Increased estrogen increases the ratio of actively growing hair (anagen) to resting hair (telogen), the exact opposite of what happens to women after entering menopause.

These two observations have motivated doctors to try “Hormone Replacement Therapy” to treat and  reverse menopause related hair loss.  Doctors can also use HRT to combat hair loss in younger women (perimenopause) with a hormone imbalance.

HRT For Female Hair Loss Called Into  Question

However, recent research has called this low estrogen – hair loss link into question, at least for some women.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne have discovered a “baldness” gene in women, ages 18 to 65, who have lost over 50% of their hair. This gene affects the estrogen sensitivity of female hair follicles but in exactly the opposite way the researchers expected given the current rational for using HRT to treat hormone related female pattern baldness, i.e., it makes the hair follicle more rather than less sensitive to estrogen, and the heightened sensitivity of the hair follicles to estrogen causes baldness in women with this particular gene — (see: Yip, L., Zaloumis, S., Irwin, D., Severi, G., Hopper, J., Giles, G., Harrap, S., Sinclair, R. and Ellis, J. (2012), Association analysis of oestrogen receptor beta gene (ESR2) polymorphisms with female pattern hair loss. “British Journal of Dermatology,” 166: 1131–1134).

Says Dr. Sinclair, lead researcher, “in situations where women are taking either the contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy and they experience hair loss it may be advantageous to select low-estrogen preparations to minimize the impact on hair.”

[box type=”important”]In sum, our understanding of the causes of hair loss in women continues to advance. Coupled with advances in medical technology, female hair loss sufferers today have more effective options than ever before. If you’re suffering from hair loss, don’t wait; seek out a qualified hair loss specialist as soon as possible.[/box]

Dr. John Frank, MD

Dr. John Frank, M.D. is recommended by the International Alliance of Hair Restoration Surgeons, American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery, International Society for Hair Restoration Surgery, American Hair Loss Association, & XM Radio's 'The Bald Truth.' He is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology in Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and founder of the Anapelli Hair Clinic. He has worked extensively with Dr. Sheldon Kabaker, the former president of the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery well known for his scalp lowering techniques. Dr. Frank has presented & published original research on hair loss & advanced hair transplant techniques. He has treated more than 10,000 hair loss patients and performed over 2,500 hair transplants in NYC, California and world wide over the last 15 years. He's now opened state-of-the-art, hair loss treatment centers in Melville Long Island, Columbus Ohio and in Oakland and Torrance California.

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