Why is my hair thinning? 13 causes of female hair loss—and what to do about it

Preventive Care

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Jun 20, 2024

Hair loss, while common for women, can feel incredibly overwhelming—especially if you’re dealing with it for the first time. Most people lose between 50 to 150 hair strands on a daily basis. But what happens when one day your ponytail is full of volume and the next it feels like half its size?

With so many potential causes of women’s hair loss, figuring out why yours is falling out can be a frustrating journey. Let’s find out the common causes of hair loss, what lifestyle changes you can make to support hair growth and when to speak with your primary care doctor.

What is alopecia (hair loss)?

The medical term for hair loss is “alopecia.” While many think hair loss can only happen in men, women at a variety of ages can experience it. Hair loss is most common in women in their 40s and 50s, although younger women in their 20s and 30s may see hair loss due to specific triggers.

Seeing hair in the shower drain or on your hairbrush doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem. But if you notice you’re losing more, it may be a sign of excess shedding. When you start to lose more hair than you replace, you’ll begin to see signs of hair thinning and hair loss.

Some common signs that you could be experiencing abnormal hair loss include:

  • Hair thinning
  • Bald spots
  • A receding hairline or a widening hair part

The hair growth cycle

Your hair goes through different cycles. This is a common reason why hair loss occurs on a daily basis.

The 3 stages in the hair growth cycle

  • Anagen (growth): This is when your hair is actively growing. About 85 to 90% of hairs are in this stage and it can last for years. Anagen is nonsynchronous, meaning hair follicles cycle independently to prevent losing hair all at once.
  • Catagen (transition): This is the stage in which the hair follicles shrink and stop growing. It lasts a few weeks.
  • Telogen (resting): The resting phase takes about two to four months and lasts until the hair strands fall out. About 10% of your hair is in this stage at any one time.

It’s important to note that not all hairs are on the same timeline. This is why the average person loses 50-150 strands of hair per day. But when should you be concerned?

“If you notice more hair falling out, specifically in clumps, or involving other areas of your body, such as eyelashes or eyebrows, it may be a sign to look into what’s going on,” said Anne Marie Eschberger, MD, a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Clinic – Bryan West Villa Maria Road.

13 common causes of female hair loss

Female hair loss can be caused by a variety of factors, from your genetics to your diet. Here are some of the most common causes of hair loss in women:

  1. Aggressive styling
  2. Dieting
  3. Genetics
  4. Heat and chemical treatments, such as dyeing and bleaching your hair
  5. Hormonal changes and imbalances
  6. Lack of protein
  7.  Medication
  8. Menopause
  9. Neglected scalp health
  10. Pregnancy and childbirth
  11. Stress
  12. Vitamin deficiency
  13. Major surgery, such as bariatric weight loss surgery

Postpartum hair loss

Hair loss during and after pregnancy is common. If you’re pregnant, you might have noticed that your hair is getting slightly thicker and fuller. This is due to a change in estrogen levels and other hormones in the body during pregnancy.

When these levels increase, more hairs remain in the “resting” phase. As a result, less hair is shed during pregnancy. Other women may notice their hair seems drier, oilier or even frizzier than it was pre-pregnancy. If your hair seems different than it once was, know that this is normal.

Postpartum, your hair may also change. If you’ve noticed hair thinning after giving birth, you’re not alone—50% of women experience postpartum hair loss after delivering a baby. When estrogen returns to pre-pregnancy levels, the normal hair growth pattern resumes.

“Postpartum hair loss occurs because of a condition known as Telogen Effluvium. Hair follicles spend an excess amount of time in the telogen (resting) phase,” said Dr. Eschberger. “You may notice a decrease in hair density, as hair follicles do not re-enter the Anagen (growth) phase after shedding. As the extra hair did not fall out during pregnancy, it begins to shed at once.”

Postpartum hair loss can start any time after childbirth, but most commonly begins three to four months after giving birth. The shedding usually peaks at about four months, after this your hair returns to its normal growth cycle. Most new moms notice their hair is back to pre-pregnancy fullness by their child’s first birthday.

What can you do about postpartum hair loss?

While there normally isn’t any need to visit your physician since your hair will return to normal on its own, there are several things you can do to help keep your hair healthier and appear fuller:

  • Avoid applying conditioner directly to your scalp
  • Avoid using heavy shampoos or conditioners that could weigh down hair
  • Choose looser hairstyles that minimize breakage and damage
  • Use volumizing and thickening hair products
  • Eat a high protein diet

7 ways to combat hair loss  

The good news is, while hair loss can be frustrating, there are effective treatments for women experiencing hair loss. While talking to your primary care physician or dermatologist is a good place to start, there are also lifestyle changes you can implement.

Hair is an extension of the body, so a healthy lifestyle is key to supporting hair growth. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Avoid hairstyles that pull tight on hair
  2. Eat a well-balanced diet full of protein
  3. Get enough sleep
  4. Limit hair treatments, harsh styling products and heat styling
  5. Manage stress
  6. Protect your hair and scalp from UV damage
  7. Turn down the shower temperature

Can supplements or food help with hair loss?

Your dietary habits can significantly impact your hair’s health. Ensuring you consume adequate vitamins and minerals is important to your hair, just as much as eating a well-balanced diet full of nutrients. With a variety of hair supplements on the market, it’s important to remember that there are no FDA-approved hair growth supplements.

Treating hair loss for women

If you're living with hair loss, help is out there.

"It’s important to speak with your doctor if you’re battling hair loss, especially if hair loss is more diffuse, rather than only involving your scalp, or if you notice any rash in the area of hair loss, pain or scarring to the scalp,” said Dr. Eschberger.

Your primary care provider can pinpoint what’s behind hair thinning and can help you come up with an effective treatment plan.

Treatment options depend on the underlying cause. Some treatment options your doctor may recommend include:

  • Finasteride, commonly known as Proscar or Propecia
  • Laser therapy
  • Minoxidil topical solution, commonly known as Rogaine
  • Microneedling
  • Platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP)
  • Prescription spironolactone

If you’re worried about hair loss, your doctor can help you understand if this is due to normal life stressors or if you have an underlying condition. Find a primary care physician near you.

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