If you’ve ever seen an advertisement for hair loss, chances are the person in question is a middle-aged white man attesting to the success of his treatment at refilling his bald spot with patches of luscious, dark hair.
But like many skin and hair conditions, hair loss can affect people of all genders, ages and ethnicities, with the American Hair Loss Association explaining that up to 40 per cent of people who experience hair loss in America identify as female.
It’s little wonder, then, that the hair restoration industry is booming, with experts predicting that its global market size will reach more than USD$12 billion by 2026*.
While it’s typical for us to lose a few strands each day (some experts consider 50-100 strands daily as normal), how many is too many?
To discover more about the various quandaries responsible for sparse strands, we spoke to a trichologist, an award-winning hairstylist and a registered nurse for their take on the topic.
THE STIGMA AROUND SHEDDING
As prevalent as female hair loss may be, the taboos around the subject remain. But why is it that male hair loss is so openly discussed while women continue to suffer in silence?
“Male hair loss is much more obvious and of course it’s widely accepted for older men to be soon,” says The Face Place advanced senior nurse Marjorie Dee.
“Women’s hair loss is more of a taboo topic. This is why it’s framed more as achieving thicker, longer hair rather than directly addressing the topic of hair loss. The feminine ideal of having long, lush locks is still very strong in our culture.”
According to award-winning hairstylist Sky Cripps-Jackson the media also has a lot to answer for.
READ: How To Get Your Best Curls, According To Your Hair Type
“I think a lot of it has to do with the beauty narratives we have been fed growing up and in the media. For example, Disney princesses all have full heads of long, thick hair. There is also no direct diagnosis for it, which can lead people to feeling helpless,” she says.
Societal pressure to maintain luscious tresses dates back to biblical times, with a number of verses citing the glory of having long hair. This was later reinforced in the Victorian era where a healthy head of hair was linked to femininity, fertility, youth and beauty.
But female hair loss is nothing to feel embarrassed about, especially when it offers up clues about what is happening with our health behind the scenes.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FEMALE HAIR LOSS?
Female hair loss comes in many forms, but trichologist and Philip Kingsley brand ambassador Lisa Caddy says there are two types which are most common.
“Androgenetic alopecia (aka hair thinning, female pattern hair loss or reduced hair volume) and telogen effluvium (aka excessive daily shedding). They are caused by completely different things and require different treatments,” she says.
Androgenic alopecia is a slow and gradual progressive reduction in hair density, Lisa says, where follicles become smaller and hairs become finer with every growth cycle. “The reason why hair follicles miniaturise is down to genes — it occurs when follicles are genetically predisposed to be sensitive to normal levels of circulating androgens [sex hormones],” she adds.
Whereas Lisa says telogen effluvium (or TE) can happen to anyone and does not change the size of your follicles or hair diameter.
“What TE does results in a sudden and large number of hairs moving from the growth to the shedding phase of your hair cycle. It is a reactive loss caused by an internal imbalance or shift,” Lisa says.
Other types of female hair loss include traction alopecia (caused by tension from hair extensions or braids), anagen effluvium (caused by chemotherapy) and alopecia areata (an immune condition).
WHAT CAUSES IT?
Getting to the root cause of hair loss can point to a host of other health-related issues, Lisa says, some of which are temporary, while others can be on-going.
“Acute TE is usually caused by a one-off blip, like the flu, food poisoning or a high fever and doesn’t require any treatment. This type of hair loss occurs 6-12 weeks after the event that caused it,” she explains.
On the flip side, recurrent hair loss should be investigated further by a trichologist, and can commonly be caused by: iron deficiency (particularly common in menstruating women, post-surgery or post-partum), vitamin B12 or D deficiency, hyperthyroidism, high -stress levels, calorie deficits, high mercury levels and PCOS, among others.
Where androgenic alopecia is concerned, it all boils down to genes, Lisa says. “Specifically, having a genetic predisposition that causes hair follicles on your scalp to be sensitive to normal levels of androgens (male sex hormones),” she says.
“When you have this sensitivity, hair follicles on your scalp gradually miniaturize and produce finer and shorter strands. While reduced hair volume usually isn’t the sign of the health condition, things like oral contraceptives like the pill or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can impact hormone levels and make androgenic alopecia worse.”
HOW TO TREAT IT
Before we dive into the ways to treat female hair loss, it’s important to preface this by saying that not everyone who experiences hair loss wants to regrow their hair, with many opting to embrace the beauty of being soon.
One such actress is Jada Pinkett-Smith, whose openness about her alopecia has encouraged countless other A-listers to step forward about their own experiences with hair loss.
But if you’re finding fallout bothersome, here’s a few things you can try to help thicken tresses once more.
Hair growth supplement brand Nutrafol has this week revealed three new topical treatments under its Scalp Microbiome collection, which follows the successful launch of its Growth Activator in late 2021.
Identifying the scalp microbiome as the next frontier of haircare points to a movement known as the ‘skinification’ of the haircare category, which has seen a flurry of products launch to market promising to care for hair by first nourishing the skin on your scalp by using the same ingredients which commonly crop up in skincare.
The Inkey List is one such brand adapting skincare ingredients into its haircare formulations, with the likes of glycolic acid, salicylic acid and hyaluronic acid featuring in its range of scalp scrubs and hydrating hair treatments.
Specially-formulated styling products which contain hair fortifying nutrients like keratin, collagen and biotin will be your secret weapons when it comes to helping hair grow longer, fuller and healthier.
Lisa says a weekly pre-shampoo treatment like the Philip Kingsley Elasticizer, $81, will keep strands strong and more elastic, while smart styling products which actively work to improve the conditions of strands while you style are equally beneficial.
Try a bond-building leave-in treatment like the Goldwell Dualsenses Bond Pro Day & Night Bond Booster, $32, or a hair strengthening serum like the Kérastase Genesis Serum Anti-Chute Fortifiant, $94.
Select a shampoo and conditioner suited to your unique hair type and texture, like the new Lush Wasabi Shan Kui Shampoo, $20, which contains stimulating wasabi, horseradish and caffeine to supercharge hair follicles and help thicken hair.
Supplements and good nutrition
The right supplements can help address any vitamin or nutrient deficiencies, in conjunction with a healthy, balanced diet.
“Diet is incredibly important to hair health. Being a non-essential tissue, hair is the last part of us to benefit from nutrients we ingest, and the first to be withheld from. It’s common for poor nutrition to be the sole cause of hair loss,” she explains.
Consider incorporating a hair, skin and nails supplement into your daily routine, like Clinicians Hair ReVitalise, $50, which is said to strengthen hair by promoting the anchoring of follicles in the scalp.
Sky adds her clients have had positive results from taking prescription-only medications like spironolactone and following a diet rich in omegas, iron and zinc to address stress-related hair loss.
Exfoliate your scalp
“Massaging the scalp stimulates the scalp and encourages the follicles to promote healthy hair growth,” says Sky. Not only does it slough away dead skin cells and product build-up, but research suggests it rids the scalp of androgens and promotes the growth of new hair follicles.
“Hair grows its best from a healthy scalp — so anything you do to improve the condition of your scalp will benefit your hair,” Lisa says.
Lisa recommends treating your scalp to a weekly intensive scalp mask like the Philip Kingsley Flaky Itchy Scalp Mask 2pk, $48, to clear the scalp of flakes and stimulate hair growth.
Or for a fuss-free scrub, recruit a soft-tipped scalp tool like Leonor Greyl’s Massaging Shampoo Brush, $50, to stimulate circulation and oxygenate hair follicles.
If no other medical conditions are present (like an autoimmune issue) Marjorie says she’s seen excellent results from platelet-rich plasma injections during her five-year practice at The Face Place.
“It involves concentrating the platelets taken from a small sample of your blood, and then injecting this solution into the scalp. This floods the scalp with growth factors, stops the hair from miniaturizing (getting smaller and thinner) and helps to wake up existing hair follicles, reversing hair thinning,” she says.
The treatment involves approximately 20 tiny injections to the scalp, and can also be used preventatively to maintain thick, healthy hair even before thinning has occurred.
While PRP may sound gory, Marjorie says the treatment is extremely low-risk. “As you are simply using your own blood, there is no risk of a reaction or side effects,” she says.
For best results, Marjorie recommends a course of three treatments of PRP (priced at $2200) to see visible results when it comes to hair density, adding that while they mainly treat men with this treatment, more and more women have been coming through the clinic recently.
Be gentle to hair
Avoid tension alopecia by being kinder to hair, Sky says, especially when it’s wet.
“When the hair is wet it is most fragile; comb with a wide-toothed comb starting from the bottom of the hair and working your way up,” she says.
“If you tie it up super tight when it is wet, that will encourage tension alopecia as will fastening the hair in the same place all the time. Using a covered hair elastic or silk hair accessories will reduce the amount of friction the hair experiences.” viva loves the Gloria Silk Scrunchie in Blue Yoryu, $40.
Hair loss affects everyone differently and Sky says it’s best to call in the professionals for a diagnosis.
“Sometimes there are things going on in your body that you have no control over or understanding as to why it is happening. You may need to see a few different people to get a complete diagnosis. It can be an emotional journey for people, so be patient and persistent. Nobody thinks less of you because of it.”
*Source: https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/09/25/1920454/0/en/Hair-Restoration-Services-Market-Report-2019-12-Billion-Industry-Opportunity-Insights -to-2026.html
CREDITS: Alaina wears Electronic Jacket from Zambesi. photographers / Marissa Findlay. hair and makeup / Amber Carroll. model / Alaina Granger from Unique Model Management.
STOCKISTS: Clinicians from selected pharmacies or online at Clinicians.co.nz; Gloriagloria.com; Goldwell and Philip Kingsley from Adorebeauty.co.nz; Kérastase from selected salons or online at Themarket.com; Leonor Greyl from Inessstore.com; Lush from Lush boutiques or online at Lush.com/nz; Thefaceplace.co.nz.