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Why Women Over Age 50 Have Thinning Hair

A recent study upends the misperception that losing hair in midlife is something that only men need to worry about. Researchers found that more than half of healthy post-menopausal women they studied had female pattern hair loss (FPHL) and that it negatively impacted their self-image.

“It usually impacts women in a different way, especially their self-confidence. Someone like Bruce Willis can just shave their head and look fine, but it tends to be a bigger deal for women,” she says.

What Is Female Pattern Hair Loss?

Hair follicles shrink, which causes the hair to become thinner and finer, with decreased numbers of hairs overall. The hair’s growing phase also gets shorter and fewer hairs are in the active growing phase. Dr. Bruce was not involved in this study.

Age, Family History, and Body Mass Index (BMI) Are Associated With Hair Loss in Women

The medical definition of menopause is no period for a year, and the average age for menopause in the United States is 51 years old, says Stephanie S. Faubion, MD, the director of the Center for Women’s Health at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and the medical director of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), in an earlier interview with Everyday Health.

A total of 93 women (52.2 percent) had female pattern hair loss. Using a standardized tool known as Ludwig’s classification to rate the amount of hair loss in those women, researchers found that of those women, 73.2 percent of women had mild hair loss, 22.6 percent had moderate hair loss, and 4.3 percent had severe hair loss.

Age, family history of FPHL, and a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher were significantly associated with FPHL.

What Causes Women to Lose Their Hair?

“A better understanding of the mechanisms responsible for this common type of hair loss in women may lead to more effective preventive strategies and treatment options,” said Dr. Faubion in a release.

Although it isn’t clear exactly what causes FPHL, there are a few potential causes that experts have identified.

Genetics Whether or not a woman will experience hair loss is influenced by genetics, says Dr. Bruce. “There are multiple different genes related to hair loss and this is a very complex interplay of many genes. You shouldn’t assume you’ve done anything to cause your hair loss, especially if you are otherwise healthy,” she adds.

Anemia or vitamin deficiencies Both these conditions are associated with hair loss, says Bruce. A blood test is used to screen for anemia, and a dietary assessment can reveal if hair loss is related to poor nutrition.

High stress “Extreme stress can be a problem and cause hair loss,” says Faubion. The condition is called telogen effluvium, and fortunately, the hair loss it causes is temporary, she says.

Inflammation in the scalp Some conditions, including some autoimmune diseases, can be related to inflammation in the scalp and may cause hair loss, says Bruce.

Hormonal changes Hair loss might also be related to a shift in hormones, says Faubion. Androgens, a group of hormones that include testosterone and androstenedione, don’t increase during the menopause transition, but the ratio between estrogen and androgen changes, so you have less estrogen and relatively more androgen, she explains.

Concerned About Losing Your Hair? Talk With Your Doctor

Your doctor or dermatologist can help guide you on what medications, supplements, and procedures may help with hair loss.

The simplest solution is to start using minoxidil — a 5 percent solution — that you can buy over the counter, says Bruce. “The trade name is Rogaine, but there are also generic versions available. This treatment is effective in about two or three people who use it,” she says.

“Unfortunately, you have to use it every day for it to continue working — once you stop, so do the benefits,” says Bruce. Insider tip: Many medications that contain minoxidil are marketed to both men and women, but women can use the men’s formulation and it is often less expensive, she says.

Not ready to talk with your doctor? There are also hair stylists who specialize in cutting and styling thinning hair, says Bruce.

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