Answers to frequently asked questions about hair loss in women.
Q: What is female androgenetic alopecia?
A: Female androgenetic alopecia, also called female pattern hair loss, is caused by the shrinking of susceptible hair follicles in response to normal levels of hormones (androgens). It is the most common type of hair loss in women, affecting perhaps 1/3 of the adult female population. It is seen as a general thinning over the entire scalp, but can also present in a more localized pattern i.e. just limited to the front and top. The condition is characterized by a gradual thinning and shortening (miniaturization) of individual hair follicles, rather than their complete loss and, although the condition tends to be progressive, it rarely leads to complete baldness.
Q: Is the hair transplant for women different from the one for men? Anything easier? Anything more difficult?
A: Women’s hairlines are far more complex than men’s as the hair in a women’s hairline often creates subtle swirls and directional changes. These must be mimicked in the surgical design for the hair transplant to look natural.
In women, we are more often working in and around existing hair, as most women that seek hair transplantation are thinning rather than bald. This slows down the graft insertion steps and makes the procedure take a bit longer compared to men.
Read more about hair loss in women or see before/after photos in our Women’s Hair Transplant Gallery.
Q: Why is hair loss in women harder to treat with hair transplants than hair loss in men?
A: The majority of women present with diffuse hair loss (i.e. thinning all over) rather than the patterned hair loss seen in men (where the hair loss is localized to the front and top of the scalp).
Diffuse thinning presents two problems for a potential hair transplant candidate.
The first is that there is no permanent area where the hair can be taken from. If hair is taken from an area that is thinning, the transplanted hair will continue to thin after the procedure, since moving it doesn’t make it more permanent.
The second problem is that since the areas to be transplanted are thin, rather than completely bald, the existing hair in the area of the hair transplant is at some risk to shedding as a result of the procedure.
When women have a more defined pattern (i.e. more localized thinning on the front part of the scalp with a stable back and sides), they can make excellent candidates for surgery. This pattern occurs in about 20% of women. A small percentage of men have diffuse thinning and are, therefore, poor candidates for a hair restoration surgery as well.
Q: What are the most common causes of hair loss in women other than genes?
A: The most common causes for localized hair loss in women are traction (due to tight braiding) and alopecia areata (an autoimmune disease that produces smooth round patches of hair loss).
Other than genetic (hereditary) thinning; generalized hair loss is most commonly caused by medications, anemia, and thyroid disease.
Q: How common is female pattern hair loss?
A: It is very common. It affects about 40% of women.
Q: I’ve been losing my hair just around the front of my scalp for years, but now it’s bad enough that I need to wear a wig to hide the top and back. Do you transplant women?
A: If you have thinning in such a broad area, most likely your donor area is also thin and you would not be a good candidate for surgery.
An examination can determine this and also determine if there is some other cause of your hair loss other than genetics.
Q: I am female and thinning can I be a candidate for a Follicular Unit Hair Transplant?
A: If it turns out that you have female pattern hair loss, you may be a candidate a hair transplant, but would need to be evaluated by a doctor who specializes in surgical hair restoration.
In the evaluation, you should have your degree of hair loss assessed and donor supply measured, using an instrument called a densitometer, to be certain that you have enough permanent donor hair to meet your desired goals. For more information about hair loss in women, please see the Diagnosis of Hair Loss in Women page of the Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration website.
Q: I heard that a smaller per cent of women are candidates for hair transplants compared to men. Is this true?
A: Yes, that is true. Women more commonly have diffuse hair loss where the thinning is all over the scalp. This means that the donor area (the back and sides of the scalp) are thinning as well.
If the donor area is not stable, then there is no point in doing a hair transplant, since the transplanted hair will continue to fall out. Remember, the transplanted hair is no better than the area where is comes from.
On the other hand, women with stable donor areas can be great candidates for surgical hair restoration. The stability of the donor area can be assessed using a procedure called densitometry and should be part of the hair loss evaluation when you see your physician.
Q: I am a 33 year old women and am just starting to thin on the top of my scalp behind my frontal hairline. What should I do? Should I have a hair transplant?
A: There are a number of things that you should consider that can be effective in early hair loss. These include minoxidil (Rogaine), laser therapy, and using cosmetics specifically made to make the hair appear fuller. Lightening or streaking the hair, as well as parting the hair off to the side, will also make the hair appear fuller.
If a surgical hair restoration is performed too early and there is still a lot of existing hair in the area, the hair transplant may actually accelerate hair loss. Surgery should not be performed prematurely.
Also, it is important that the doctor check the stability of the donor area, using densitometry, to make sure that the procedure is even possible. For those women who are good candidates, and if it is done at the appropriate time, a follicular unit hair transplant is a great procedure that can produce really natural results.
Q: I had a baby 12 weeks ago and have recently been diagnosed with a hyperactive thyroid, although only slightly. I was also taking Prozac for 7-10 days. I am 27 and have been experiencing a significant amount of hair loss from all over my scalp. What are the chances that this would be permanent?
A: Based upon your history, you have three possible reasons for having a type of hair loss called telogen effluvium; thyroid disease, medication induced (Prozac) and pregnancy.
Telogen effluvium is diagnosed by a hair pull test and observing club hairs under the microscope. It is generally a reversible condition, regardless of the cause. Telogen effluvium most often occurs 2-3 months after the inducing event, so your pregnancy is the most likely cause. Prozac would less likely be the problem since you have only been on it for a short time. Besides causing Telogen effluvium, thyroid disease can also alter your hair characteristics, which can make your hair appear thinner.
Other causes of hair loss, such as genetic female pattern hair alopecia, must be ruled out. Please see the Hair Loss in Women page on the Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration website for more information.
Q: Although I read that women are supposedly protected from hair loss in the frontal hairline by the enzyme aromatase that is exactly where I am losing hair. My hairline has receded and I have developed a widow’s peak. What can be causing this, and how can I fix it? It seems to have been happening gradually for a few years.
Women with this pattern can often be good candidates for hair transplant surgery, particularly if the donor area is stable. View our Women’s Hair Transplant Gallery for some examples of the kind of results we can achieve for women at Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration.
Q: I am a 48 year old woman. Since I have used a new hair dye, I seem to be going bald. Is this possible?
A: Dying hair is a very common practice and hair loss in women who are 48 years old is also very common. The fact that the two have occurred together does not necessarily imply that there is a cause and effect relationship.
Women who are already losing hair often go to a great deal of effort to disguise this fact with dying, bleaching, and perming. These procedures, particularly if too aggressive, or done too frequently, can cause weakening and increased fragility of the hair shaft and increased hair breakage may result. This is more common if the hair is already fine in texture. This breakage is frequently interpreted as “hair loss” and it certainly does result in a significant loss of hair bulk, although the follicle itself is not damaged.
When there is a relationship between hair dye and hair loss in women, it is usually an inflammatory/allergic or irritant reaction. If severe, there may be an actual burn. In these cases, there would be a history of redness and swelling. An inflammatory reaction could cause hair loss but it would be unusual to damage follicles enough to produce scarring – although this occasionally does occur. A scalp biopsy is often helpful to sort out these cases.
Q: Dr. Bernstein, a lot of older women are taking testosterone to restore libido, but are they going to suffer hair loss as a consequence?
A: They can. In women there is a delicate balance between the androgens, i.e. testosterone and estrogens. Estrogen is protective to some degree against hair loss in women, which is why most women don’t experience such severe hair loss as do men.
When a woman takes testosterone supplements it upsets that balance and can cause hair loss. However, hair loss in post-menopausal women is usually due to age related changes. Typically, the hair decreases in size in a genetically determined progression that seems not to be directly related to changes in the levels of hormones.
For more information, please see the Causes of Hair Loss in Women page on the Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration website.