beauty

"It does play on your emotions": One in two women experience hair loss. But few talk about it.

Mamamia's executive editor and host of the You Beauty podcast, Leigh Campbell, was a couple of months postpartum when she noticed her hair started to thin and break around the hairline.

"Working in the beauty industry, I take a lot of photos, I do a lot of videos, and I'm talking about how to have great hair, skin and nails. But privately my hair was going through that," she said. "So it's definitely tough. It definitely does play on your emotions and make you feel self-conscious about your appearance. As much as you know that it's common, it's normal, it's still a difficult thing to go through."

For Mamamia's Pop Culture Editor, Keryn Donnelly, hair loss was triggered by a period of extreme stress.

"I'd had a few things happening in my life that were causing me stress and anxiety. And I hadn't really dealt with it; I was just sort of pushing it down. And then I started to notice that my hair was falling out. I'd get in the shower, and I'd be washing my hair and big clumps of it were coming out," she said.

"I've always really liked my hair, and it has always been really big. And I thought, what if it just keeps falling out? So I was stressing out about that a lot, which was also adding to my stress level."

Watch: There are some benefits to life without hair...


Video via Mamamia.

Leigh and Keryn are far from alone.

Female pattern hair loss (FPHL) will affect roughly 49 per cent of women at some point in their lifetime, though it's talked about far less than male pattern hair loss. 

While men are advertised treatments on prime time television, FPHL remains somewhat of a taboo for women, such is the strength of our cultural association between long, thick hair and beauty and feminity. 

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But there are a number of effective treatments available. More on that below. But first...

What is female pattern hair loss, and what causes it?

Female pattern hair loss is a term used to describe hair loss or hair thinning in women.

It occurs in a different pattern to men, with hair typically beginning to thin on the top and at the front parts of the scalp.

In some cases, it can be triggered by illnesses including nutritional deficiencies or infection, or by periods of extreme stress or hormonal conditions.

But for the vast majority of women who experience hair loss, it's the result of a genetic predisposition. It can occur at any age, though is typically most noticeable after menopause.

The psychological impacts can be significant. Hair loss has been linked to feelings of low self-esteem, introversion and depression in both men and women.

FPHL can be diagnosed by a doctor, who may refer the patient to a dermatologist for specialist treatment.

Mamamia's daily news podcast The Quicky spoke to Rob Sinclair, a professor of dermatology at the University of Melbourne and co-director of Sinclair Dermatology, about some of those treatment options.

Here's what you need to know.

How do treatments differ for men and women experiencing hair loss?

There are two ways to treat hair loss, Prof. Sinclair said. There are treatments that stimulate hair growth, and there are treatments that tackle the hormonal cause of the hair loss. 

When it comes to the latter, yes, the treatments differ for men and women.

"If you're tackling the hormonal basis, then you need to have quite different and specific treatments for men and women because they have different hormonal backgrounds," he said.

What are some of the most effective treatment options for women experiencing hair loss?

An effective and commonly used treatment, according to Prof. Sinclair, is is a drug called minoxidil, which is administered in tablet form and was originally used to treat high blood pressure.

"What we've found is that if you use minoxidil in low doses, it doesn't affect the blood pressure and it doesn't make hair grow all over your body," he said. "If you get the dose right, you can use it to target hair on the scalp and you can actually get quite significant improvement in your hair growth."

This can be combined with medications like spironolactone for even more substantial results.

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These medications are available via prescription, while topical minoxidil lotions are available over the counter at pharmacies. Consult your GP or dermatologist.

Listen: The Quicky explores the causes, consequences and treatments for FPHL. (Article continues below.) 


What about hair transplants?

Hair transplants involves taking hairs from one part of the scalp and placing them on others to fill in bald patches.

"It's a complex technique. And so when we do it here in our office, we have a surgeon and probably six or seven technicians operating on the one patient for eight to 10 hours. And so you could imagine having a team of medical professionals, and an operating theatre for a whole day makes it an expensive procedure," Prof. Sinclair said. 

"But for those people who go through the process, they often find it a very rewarding procedure because, in the space of one day, they can really turn around something about their physical appearance that's been bothering them, often for years."

The cost will vary depending on the patient's goals and the number of grafts required to achieve them, but consumer group CHOICE estimated that transplantation costs on average $11,000 to 18,000. Plus, the procedure may need to be repeated over time.

What about the shampoos and conditioners that we see on the shelves in supermarkets or at hairdressers? Are they effective?

Prof. Sinclair said that off-the-shelf products are only effective in limited cases. For example, medicated anti-fungal products designed to treat dandruff.

"If you have very severe dandruff, that can interrupt or affect your hair growth. If you have psoriasis, which is probably the most severe form of dandruff, that also can affect the quality of your hair and hair growth," he said. "And if you use a medicated shampoo that fixes [those issues] that can help hair growth."

However, one of the more promising products available, according to Prof. Sinclair, is in the Kérastase Densifique range.

It contains something called prostaglandin, which was originally used in eye drops to treat glaucoma.

"Patients were complaining that these eyedrops made their eyelashes grow so long that they couldn't wear their glasses anymore because, every time they blinked, their eyelashes hit the lens. So from that observation, people developed a topical form of that eyedrop," he said.

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"That's very good at both stopping hair shedding and also stimulating hair growth. So that's something that you can buy in your hairdressing salon."

Does it matter how far advanced your hair loss is before you seek treatment? Can you reverse it?

The sooner you seek treatment, the better.

"When we treat people with pattern hair loss, we're very confident that we can put a handbrake on it, because we know that if we don't treat it, it is something that gets worse year on year," Prof. Sinclair said.

He said the success rates for stopping the progression of pattern hair loss are at least 95 per cent. 

As far as reversing it, you may be able to regrow about 20 per cent of what's been lost. Hence, the importance of getting in early.

"Now, if you've only lost a little bit, that 20 per cent is going to be very significant. If you've got a totally bald head, putting 20 per cent of the hair back on, that's not going to be cosmetically important for you," he said.

The above is general information only and should not be substituted for personalised medical advice. If you are experiencing hair loss, consult your GP.

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia

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