While we may spend most of our time cursing it for being uncontrollable and knotty, your hair is actually really helpful in keeping track of your health – which is why it can be the first thing affected when something’s not right.
Far from being a problem only men experience, it’s estimated that over two million Australian women are affected by some kind of hair loss condition.
Given the focus on women’s hair, it can be an extremely difficult experience losing some or all your hair, no matter what the cause. Here are 8 things you need to know about female hair loss.
1. It can happen at any age.
According to Andrew Wilson, Director of Transitions Hair one of the biggest misconceptions people have about hair loss is that it doesn’t happen to young women.
“Hair loss and thinning doesn’t age-discriminate and can affect young girls as much as any other age group,” he says.
However for most women it occurs later in life, often as a result of menopause.
2. Your diet plays a significant part.
What you eat can affect the health or loss of your hair in many ways. Hair is made of protein, which is essential to repair or grow our bones, skin, muscles and hair. If your body is lacking protein, the rate of new hair growth will slow down. Ensuring your providing your body with the nutrients it needs and eating a balanced diet can go a long way to reducing your risk of hair loss and keeping remaining hair healthy.
3. It can be caused by stress.
Stress is one of the most common causes of hair loss – but it takes more than just one busy day at work.
“Emotional stress is the most harmful I’ve seen in terms of hair loss. It can be triggered by a significant event like a death, divorce or constant prolonged stress of something like a bad relationship,” says Trichologist Anthony Pearce.
It largely affects hair loss by impacting your body’s production of various hormones, including adrenaline and testosterone. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone that raises blood sugar, resulting in more glucose than normal, while adrenaline elevates the blood pressure and heart rate. The body then goes into defence mode, preparing to fix any damaged tissue. As a result, this stress can cause two types of hair loss: Alopecia Areata and Telgen Effluvium. (Post continues after gallery.)
4. It’s very different to male baldness.
While both genders can be affected by hair loss, Pearce stresses that female hair loss is much more complex in both the cause and the treatment. What works for men is not always suitable for women, which is why seeing a specialist is so important.
5. There are many different forms of hair loss conditions.
While the most common forms of hair loss conditions are usually grouped together and referred to as Alopecia Areata, according to the Australia Alopecia Areata Foundation, there are actually many different categories. The difference usually refers to the location of the baldness such as at the back of the head (Alopecia Areata Ophiasis) or all body hair (Alopecia Areata Universalis). Because of this, it’s important to make an appointment with a trichologist who can identify your specific condition.
6. It's not always permanent.
"Permanent hair conditions are usually scarring conditions and are very rare. Some conditions can be treated and not cured, but around 75 per cent can be cured," says Pearce.
Young women in particular are more prone to zinc and iodine deficiencies, which is a common cause that Pearce calls a "continuing until corrected condition". It will go on as long as it remains undiagnosed. This is because when your body lacks the vitamins it needs, the first thing it will do is take the support from your hair as it is non-essential tissue.
Given that hair loss is usually an indication of another underlying health problem, the treatment varies from individual to individual, but usually involves a combination of nutritional supplements and then some topical treatments to help speed up the process. (Post continues after gallery.)
7. Recovery will take time.
"While hair is often the first area to display signs of a problem, it's also the last to recover," says Pearce.
The most important thing is to be patient. It can take three to six months minimum from when action is taken to see visible results.
"But I always tell my patients to be optimistic - the problem is treatable," he says.
8. There are ways to conceal the issue.
While sufferers often turn to wigs or scarves in severe cases, there are simple hair changes you can make to conceal the problem in the mean time.
When your hair is thinning, consider going lighter (but not bleach blonde) as the scalp becomes less noticeable than darker colours.
A great cut can also go a long way in making the problem less obvious - going shorter can make your hair look thicker. (Post continues after gallery.)
9. You can minimise your risk.
While you can't prevent the problem completely, looking after yourself by ensuring your eating a balanced diet, staying healthy and taking measures to relieve prolonged stress can all go some way into minimising your risk of hair loss.
Pearce also advises going to your doctor once a year to get your iron, Vitamin D and Iodine levels checked as they are the most common deficiencies that contribute to hair loss, particularly in young women.
Have you experienced hair loss before?