We speak to the experts about why your hair is falling out, and what you can do to encourage hair growth.
Medically reviewed by Dr Juliet McGrattan (MBChB) and words by Claire Lavelle
Ever find yourself, hairbrush in hand, thinking: where’s the rest of it? If you once had voluminous hair that is now starting to look suspiciously thin and fine, you’re not alone. Hair loss in women is relatively common and studies show that fewer than 45 per cent of women go through life with a full head of hair, as female pattern hair loss increases with advancing age.
While thinning hair is usually nothing to worry about, sometimes it can be a sign of an underlying health condition. So what causes hair loss in women, is it hereditary and can you prevent it? We speak to trichologist Sally-Ann Tarver and consultant dermatologist Dr Adam Friedmann about hair loss treatment and prevention tips:
What causes hair loss in women?
There are a number of reasons why you might be losing your hair. According to Tarver, these include:
- Pregnancy and childbirth
Hair loss after pregnancy is common. Your hormonal profile changes after birth, and you’re more likely to be low in iron, which combined with the stress of looking after a young child can affect the quality and growth of your hair.
Periods can be heavier after having a baby, which also impacts on iron levels – iron deficiency anaemia shows up in about 70 per cent of women with hair loss. And pernicious anaemia, which is a lack of vitamin B12, is also common, particularly in women experiencing rapid hair loss. Where there is deficiency, the body will send nutrients to the essential organs, such as the heart, first, and there’s not always enough left over for the hair.
- Severe stress
We lose between 100-200 hairs a day naturally but after a stressful event or illness, this can double or even triple. Stress increases the levels of cortisol in the body, which triggers hormonal changes that result in hair loss. Occasionally antibiotics can reduce haemoglobin in the body, resulting in low iron levels, which affects the hair.
Many other medications, including those used to treat acne and high blood pressure, can also interfere with the normal cycle of hair growth resulting in something called telogen effluvium, which causes the hair follicles to go into their ‘resting’ phase and fall out too early.
- Under or overactive thyroid
If you have other symptoms, such as low mood, lethargy and weight gain or at the other end of the scale, experience weight loss and a feeling of being constantly ‘revved up’, an under or overactive thyroid might be the reason for your hair loss.
With an overactive thyroid, everything speeds up, including the reproduction of the hair follicle cells, which means the hair falls out faster than it can grow. With an under-active thyroid, everything slows down, so hair doesn’t grow as quickly. Luckily, thyroid conditions are usually well-diagnosed and easy to treat with the appropriate medication.
Is thinning hair hereditary?
The short answer, says Dr Friedmann, is yes. Thinning hair is hereditary, so you have your genes to blame. ‘One of the most common reasons for thinning hair in women is androgenic female pattern hair loss. If your mum has noticed her hair thinning as she ages, you might too.’
Each time a normal hair follicle is shed, it’s replaced with hair that is finer and thinner until it just stops growing altogether.
One of the most common reasons for thinning hair in women is androgenic female pattern hair loss.
‘Genetic or age-related hair loss can be treated with minoxidil, which is the active ingredient in a product such as Regaine. Caffeine shampoos such as Alpecin, which stimulates the root, may also be useful, although they don’t work for everyone.
‘It’s helpful to feel that you’re being proactive about a problem that many women find profoundly upsetting. Don’t forget it can take months to see an improvement, as hair grows slowly,’ says Dr Friedmann.
Food supplements to stop hair loss
Tarver recommends eating the following foods and supplements to help promote a healthy head of hair:
Ferritin is a form of iron that encourages the hair to grow to its full length.
Where to find it: Ferrous sulphate supplements. Include red meat, spinach, pulses and broccoli in your diet.
✔️ Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 encourages hair regrowth.
Where to find it: B12 supplements. Consider a chewable tablet, which is better for those people who have trouble absorbing it. Also include salmon, eggs and fortified cereal in your diet.
✔️ Vitamin D
Vitamin D can help create new hair follicles and re-energise dormant ones.
Where to find it: Vitamin D supplements – adults need 10 micrograms each day. Exposure to sunshine helps our bodies to make vitamin D – try 10 minutes in the sun without sunscreen (avoid the hottest part of the day and be careful not to burn).
Sardines, milk, yoghurt or egg yolk are also all good vitamin D dietary choices.