Hair Loss In Older Women: Causes and Cures

hair loss older womanAmong the various indignities many post-menopausal women face, thinning hair and hair loss is often an unwelcome surprise. Graying locks is one thing – that’s easily rectified with a dye job. But having hair patches fall out in clumps, watching your part recede or seeing your sparsely covered scalp shine through formerly lustrous locks can be a big ego hit. On one hand we know “it’s just hair,” and health issues certainly trump vanity issues. Nevertheless, it can be distressing to watch your tresses deplete this way.

Almost half of all women find they have detectable thinning hair by age 50, and in older age groups as many as two-thirds report hair loss. We’re talking about more than the average 50 to 150 strands a day we normally lose on a daily basis. Sure, many men suffer the same follicle fate, and usually at younger ages. As a culture, however, hair loss seems to be less socially acceptable in women than men and therefore it has a greater impact on their emotional health and quality of life.

The official name for this bothersome condition is called androgenetic alopecia. In men, hair loss tends to begin above the temples, and the hairline eventually recedes into an “M” shape or back of the head circle, perhaps progressing to full baldness. In women, androgenetic alopecia begins with a gradual thinning at the part, followed by increasing hair loss from the top of the head. It’s rare for a woman’s hairline to recede, and even more rare for women to become bald.

The Ludwig Classification is used by clinicians to describe the types of female pattern hair loss. Type I involves minimal thinning, which can often be camouflaged through styling techniques. Type II is noted by a decrease in hair volume and a noticeable widening of the mid-part line. Type III is characterized by diffuse thinning, where the scalp is often visible through the hair.

There are several potential causes of female hair loss, such as medical conditions, medication side-effects and physical or emotional stress. You should definitely discuss it with your doctor to rule out underlying concerns like hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism or iron deficiency . However, a genetically predetermined hair life-cycle and hormone changes after menopause are the likely cause of hair loss in older women. Estrogen loss seems to be a major factor. Essentially, the hair’s growing phase shortens and the time between shedding and regrowth lengthens. Furthermore, the hair shaft tends to thin at this life stage too (which is called follicular miniaturization). So thicker, longer-lived, pigmented hairs are replaced by thinner, shorter-lived, non-pigmented hairs. Sigh.

So what can you do about excessive hair shedding besides shedding tears?

For starters, don’t fall for the many scams out there on the internet that promise a flowing mane through the use of their pricey topical shampoo, “neutroceutical” regemen or proverbial snake oil. If there truly was such an effective elixir out there, we’d all be using it.

Minoxidil, an over the counter foam or lotion you may know by the brand name Rogaine, is a first line treatment for hair loss. It takes about six weeks to see improvement, and around half of women users report that they have not lost a lot hair a year after using it. Note, however, that some women experience increased facial hair and other unwelcome side effects.

Topical tretinoin, otherwise known as Retin-A, is sometimes used with Minoxidil as a combination therapy for androgenic alopecia.

The blood pressure drug Spironolactone, also known as Aldactone, can also help, but it can take many months to have a effect. Hormone replacement pills, such as Prempro, in conjunction with Spironolactone can be an effective combo for post-menopausal women.

Avoid tight hairstyles that can damage your hair follicles and pull at your strands, like braids, ponytails or buns.

Be careful using heating tools like blow dryers with brushes, flat irons and curling rods. If you must use them, do so on a low setting and consider using a heat-protective product on your strands.

Cut down on chemical processing such as bleaching or straightening, which can damage the hair shaft. You want to preserve and protect every strand you have at this stage of life.

Try taking dietary supplements like biotin, zinc, iron and vitamin B12. There is some evidence that dietary and nutritional intake can help with hair loss.

Other cosmetic approaches you can try include camouflage sprays and powders that color the underlying scalp so the thinning is less obvious.

If all else fails and your hair loss is really bothersome, you can look into surgical hair transplants which use donor hair from the back of your scalp. New promising scalp treatments using low-level laser lights are also on the horizon. And don’t forget, you can always add wigs or weaves to your beauty arsenal.

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