Baldness afflicts both sexes
What do goose fat, dog’s urine, spider webs and egg yolks have in common? They’re all ingredients in various hair loss cures some people still apply to their scalps.
Snake oil has also been tried, with usefulness as expected.
Losing hair can be stressful, and some people will do almost anything to hide or prevent it. Male pattern baldness eventually affects as much as 70 per cent of men.
Devastating for women
Female pattern baldness is less familiar, yet affects at least 50 per cent of women. And hair loss is often devastating, because beautiful hair is connected to a woman’s confidence and sense of her attractiveness.
“In society we acknowledge that as men get older, they thin, but as a society, we don’t acknowledge that as women get older, they thin as well,” says Dr. Marni C. Wiseman.
Wiseman is a dermatologist in Winnipeg, and an associate profesr at the University of Manitoba.
She says that although hair loss is worrying to both men and women, many women are surprised that there is such a thing as female pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia.
Women retain hairline
Men can start losing their hair in their twenties. For women, it usually starts about age 30. It becomes gradually more noticeable, and even more so after menopause. This type of gradual hair loss is genetic and can be inherited from either side of your family.
Dr. Wiseman points out that the pattern of loss is different for men and women. Men get that familiar bald patch, and a horseshoe pattern of hair.
Female pattern baldness generally results in the all-over thinning of the hair, or a moderate thinning at the crown, along a middle hair part.
“Women retain their hairline, most of the time, but what they notice is that on the front, their hair just looks thinner gradually at the part, or if they put their hair in a ponytail, it’s a thinner ponytail,” she says.
Next page: How hair grows
How hair grows
At any given time, about 90 per cent of hairs are in an active growing phase, while about 10 per cent are resting, and ready to be shed. A ‘normal’ head of hair will shed approximately 50 to 100 hairs a day.
When someone is losing hair, those lost hairs may not be replaced, or more than the usual numbers of hairs may be shed.
Sometimes, the remaining hairs suffer from ‘miniaturization’, meaning they don’t grow well, remaining small and thin.
Although this type of thinning has the same root cause, hair loss in men and women can’t always be treated the same way.
A common drug for men, finasteride (trade name Propecia) is not even available for women. Not only is it dangerous for those who might conceive, it is also not very effective for women. Dr. Wiseman says it’s not clear why some things work for men but not for women.
Another drug, minoxidil (also known as Rogaine), is available for both sexes, but is also less effective in women. But Wiseman says minoxidil is the only real option for women with androgenetic alopecia.
“If women are motivated, and can afford it, it’s something worth trying. But it’s not something worth trying just for the short term,” she says, because it can take up to a year to see if it’s working.
Surgical treatments such as transplants are less common for women, than for men, because their loss is usually less obvious. But some women with moderate to severe loss do choose them. They can be very expensive.
Others choose hair additions such as weaves or wigs. Dr. Wiseman says the main thing in selecting a hairpiece is finding someone who will take the time to help properly select and fit a hairpiece. Most of us have seen the results when someone hasn’t taken the time.
There are other treatments as well, from cosmetics to creams, to medications and transplants. Some women opt for hiding hair loss with perms or colour to give hair a fuller appearance.
Wiseman says women are sometimes told that dyeing or excess brushing will encourage hair to fall out.
“That’s not true. In fact, hair grooming practices for the most part, have no impact on female pattern hair loss,” she says.
Next page: Hair loss causes
Hair loss causes
There are various types of hair loss, and genetics aren’t the only cause. Women shouldn’t assume any loss is simply natural and inevitable.
“When someone has hair loss, it’s an important medical and psychological problem,” says Wiseman, and they should see a doctor to find out the cause.
Hair loss can be caused by stress, medicines, hormone deficiencies, and auto-immune diseases.
Anemia, low blood count, and thyroid problems can contribute to hair loss or thinning.
Drugs for depression, high blood pressure and arthritis are also common culprits.
Much of this type of loss can be stopped, some even reversed, by a diagnosis and treatment of disease, or a change in medication.
Stress loss reversible
When stress is the cause, hair will often fall out about three months after a triggering event. That’s because a particularly stressful event can cause your hair to stop growing, and it remains in a resting phase for about three months until it falls out.
Hair should return to full growth within months.
Although she’s not a dermatologist, Diana Saulet also sees all kinds of heads in her business. Saulet is a hair designer and scalp specialist at Medispa in Oakville, Ontario.
She says some of her clients come in to find out what they can do about thinning hair. One of the first things she tells them is to relax.
“So much is caused by stress,” she says.
Saulet tells her clients to take a look at what the major stresses are in their lives, and to evaluate their diets. She finds many types of hair loss can be stopped or reversed by simple lifestyle changes.
Attitude is important
Saulet says one of the best things to do is to stop worrying about it, and investigate what can be done about it.
“If people know there’s hope, they stop worrying,” she says. “If they know there’s help or there’s hope or the possibility of it, then internally they relax, and that really helps them.”
Wiseman agrees that much depends on the patient’s attitude.
“It’s a real individual thing in terms of how people react and perceive their self-image,” she says.
But she adds, research is ongoing, and better and treatments are definitely on the way. And they don’t require goose fat.