As disturbing as this can be for anyone, for women, hair loss can be downright devastating.
"Men like to have hair. Women have to have hair," said Dr. Michael Reed, a Manhattan-based dermatologist, director of the NYU hair loss clinic and the NYU hair transplant clinic and author of "Women's Hair Loss: The Hidden Epidemic".
"Hair loss in women appears to be more prevalent and occurring at an earlier age," said Reed. "Women today are assuming more roles that used to be male roles and the stress from this can cause male hormone levels to increase which could increase hair loss."
Reed told StyleList that although there are many types of hair loss in women, most patients have one (or a combination) of the "Big Three" conditions:
Female Pattern Hair Loss (Androgenetic Alopecia)
This type of hair loss is genetic and can be seen any time after puberty with an increasing occurrence as we age. In fact, 50 percent of all women will suffer from this form of hair loss at some point in their lives, most notably after the age of 40. While this condition may be pre-determined in our genes, certain factors such as stress, medications, the pill or hormones can jump-start the thinning process.
Telogen Effluvium (Physiologic Shedding)
Mainly seen in women, this type of hair loss is typically related to an underlying cause versus genetics. An excessive number of hair follicles can suddenly stop growing due to pregnancy, illness or surgery. It can also be caused by hormonal shifts, anemia or a thyroid imbalance.
Alopecia Areata (Allergic Alopecia)
This condition is characterized by the appearance of patchy "bald spots". It can be caused by an allergic reaction within the body or an immune system imbalance. It may be limited and disappear without any treatment, or it may be widespread.
Other types of hair loss can include Traction Alopecia, hair loss related to the way the hair is styled including tight braids, excessive pulling, weaves or hair extensions. There are also a number of less common conditions due to fungus infections,scalp disorders, chemical treatments and inflammation.
Spencer Kobren, founder of the American Hair Loss Association and nationally syndicated radio talk show host of "The Bald Truth" told us that women's hair loss is a much bigger problem than people think.
"This is a $3.5 billion dollar industry," said Kobren. "And while many environmental factors can contribute to hair loss, they are simply 'flipping the genetic switch'." Meaning, stress, sleep or diet alone is not likely to be the cause of the problem. If you have hair loss in your genes, it's going to happen. But there are solutions that can slow this process down or sometimes stop it for a while.
The goal, Kobren said, is to get to the root of the problem and treat that.
Hair loss solutions can include a number of medical and surgical options and medications including hair replacement, hair restoration, laser therapy, topical creams and certain birth control pills. Lifestyle shifts can also help with diet, supplements, exercise and stress reduction, but only if those factors were contributing to the hair loss in the first place.
Be wary of the claims you see on infomercials and in the backs of magazines as 99 percent of them don't work according to Kobren.
Also, be careful of testosterone. While our hormones do shift as we age and natural levels may drop, taking additional testosterone could trigger hair loss.
To find an accurate diagnosis and the best solution for your hair loss, it's best to talk with a trusted Internist, Gynecologist or Endocrinologist. "Your doctor should always be your first line of defense," said Kobren.
For more information on women's hair loss, visit Dr. Reed's web site or Spencer Kobren's site. Both have a number of helpful resources.
In other related news, did you know there is a new gene to blame for baldness?