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Alopecia in Women: What to Know About Female Balding

A wide range of conditions that can bring on hair loss…

You’re pulling at your hair in utter frustration, and to make your horrific day even worse, you find clumps of it in your hand! The good news is you’re not the only one, and that beautiful head of hair can be salvaged if you take care of it properly. Click through to learn about the different types, causes, and treatments of alopecia and remember it's not that big of a deal...

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It's not just a man's world

While it isn’t as common as male hair loss, female alopecia strikes a significant number of women every year, Dr Enas Bukhari, a dermatologist at a private practice in Jeddah, said.
 “Although hair loss may seem like a major problem among men, women are just as likely to lose or have thinning hair. Most women notice it in their 50s or 60s, but it can happen at any age and for a variety of reasons,” Bukhari added.
 Women are especially depressed about losing their hair as their beauty depends a lot on their coiffures. In fact, it has been found to have deleterious effects on self-esteem, psychological wellbeing, and body image. Fortunately though, hair loss in women does not typically result in complete baldness, as is often the case with men.

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Why does it happen?

According to Bukhari alopecia can occur for many reasons. She said hereditary factors are the most difficult to deal with, but it is possible to reduce the effect from an early stage. Since many of the hair roots are still alive, it is still possible to grow them back, she explained. One thing women do have a choice in is the excessive use of chemicals on their scalps. “Women use shampoos and conditioners that are based on chemical ingredients, which can weaken the scalp and make it hard to hold on to the hair,” she said. “They also dye their hair way too much. I could never say they shouldn’t, but they should use less chemical dyes and use more natural resources like Henna for instance.”
 Another reason Bukhari sites for hair falling out is dandruff. She said you could avoid dandruff by making sure your daily intake of water is enough. She also recommended a gentle, daily rub using natural oils and a deep conditioner on the scalp at night for a whole week. What’s more, washing your hair every day in the morning, for practical reasons, before starting your daily activities can be beneficial. The specialist also underlined the importance of using a shampoo made especially for people with dandruff.  

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Pregnancy & menopause

It is widely known that pregnancy causes hormonal changes that ultimately lead to excessive hair loss. “During pregnancy, a large reserve of protein and calcium is absorbed by the baby, causing a lack of essential nutrients, which are beneficial for hair growth. This major transfer of nutrients leaves a woman severely deficient in hair food,” Bukhari explained. She advised women to eat healthily during pregnancy and to consult with their physician to ensure a proper balance of hormones. Menopause is another reason women might experience the effects of alopecia, due to the lack of oestrogen. According to Bukhari, a thinning scalp along with a growth of excessive facial hair occurs in about half of all women by age 50, although it may begin anytime after puberty. “We can always blame postmenopausal hair loss on a lack of oestrogen, but research has shown that more than one hormone is involved in this process. The loss of progesterone and oestrogen throughout menopause seems to lead to a new hormonal pattern that leads to hair loss and an increase in facial hair,” she said. 

If you are concerned about hair loss or the growth of unwanted facial hair during menopause, Bukhari recommends visiting your doctor for a check-up and a diet review.
A doctor’s treatment plan will be based on your medical and lifestyle information and a short-term dose of estrogen may be prescribed to see if that addresses the problem. “I also suggest drinking plenty of green tea, getting enough vitamin B6, losing weight and getting enough sleep because your problem might be fixed if you just switch to a healthier lifestyle,” she added. 

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Looking after your locks

Women suffering from hair loss should avoid ponytails, hair weaves, braids and tight hair rollers, which can pull and stress your hair, Bukhari stated. If using a blow dryer or other heated hair instruments is essential, try using a cooler setting. The specialist also finds using shampoos and conditioners that contain biotin and silica a good preventative step. Head massages are also great as they can help with blood circulation in the scalp and promote hair growth. “Give yourself a head massage every day by putting your fingers gently, but firmly, on the scalp and start moving the scalp in small circles for a few seconds in each spot until you’re done with your whole head. This can be done for five minutes twice a day,” she added. 

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Don’t worry, be happy

Constant stress and worrying are the biggest and worst reasons to trigger hair loss, Bukhari said. “This affects women much more than men because men tend to let out their stress, but women keep it inside, which eventually builds up and affects their health and mind,” she explained. The doctor explained a sudden or stressful event could cause the hair follicles to prematurely stop growing and enter into a resting phase. This can last anywhere from six to 12 weeks (or much longer if left untreated). If ignored, this could lead to temporary hair loss, she added.

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Different types of alopecia & treatment

Alopecia can be divided into disorders in which the hair follicle is normal but the cycling of hair growth is abnormal and disorders in which the hair follicle is damaged. Androgenetic alopecia, or female pattern boldness, is the most common cause of hair loss in women. Other disorders include alopecia areata, telogen effluvium, cicatricial alopecia, and traumatic alopecias, with telogen effluvium often being a self-limited disorder. The diagnosis is usually based on a thorough history and a focused physical examination. In some patients, selected laboratory tests or punch biopsy may be necessary. Topically administered minoxidil is labelled for the treatment of androgenetic alopecia in women. Corticosteroids and other agents are typically used in women with alopecia areata.

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