Hair loss may seem like a guy thing, but women can be severely affected by thinning hair, too. In fact, about 21 million women in the U.S. have experienced hair loss, according to the International Society of Hair Restoration, and 80% of women have noticeable hair loss by age 60 (compared with 65% of men).
“Female hair loss is grossly underestimated,” says Suneel Chilukuri, M.D., a cosmetic dermatologist and the founder of Refresh Dermatology in Houston. While genetics or certain illnesses may lead to thinning hair, your diet, lifestyle, and even how you wear your hair can play a part.
“Hair loss is multifactorial, but it’s highly dependent on your environment and other factors like stress, inflammation, and hormones,” says Sophia Kogan, M.D., the chief medical officer at Nutrafol, a hair-growth supplements company. Today, she says, more women are noticing changes in their locks and at ever-younger ages, with some seeing hair loss in their 20s or 30s. Here’s what may be causing the damage—and what you can do to help before it gets worse.
Your crazy-busy days may be taking a toll on your hair along with the rest of you. “Stress can lead to chronically elevated levels of cortisol, which causes inflammation at the follicle and disturbs other hormones, causing imbalances that lead to shedding,” Kogan says. A regular workout habit can go a long way to fighting stress, as can mindful techniques like yoga and meditation.
Getting a good blowout may be more affordable than ever, but it also may contribute to hair loss. “Avoid aggressive hair grooming, such as round-brushing while blow-drying,” says Lars Skjoth, the founder and head scientist of Harklinikken, a company that makes a customized topical extract for hair regrowth. “Hair is especially delicate when wet, and tugging through tangles or pulling from flat ironing can cause trauma to the follicle and lead to permanent hair loss over time.
“The chemicals in hair straighteners are very harsh and can cause structural damage and breakage,” Skjoth says. “Contact with the scalp can cause burns and result in irreversible scarring, which affects hair growth.” Even aggressive towel drying can create hair breakage.
Repeatedly wearing tight hairstyles—think braids, ponytails, and buns—can lead to permanent hair loss. These sleek looks can stress out your scalp with too much tension.
“Your hair loves nutrientdense, healthy fats found in avocado, fatty fish, nuts, and yogurt,” Skjoth says. Cut too much fat from your diet and your hair can become brittle and lifeless, he adds. And remember that protein is good for more than just your muscles. “Protein is a building block for keratin, which helps maintain the strength of your hair.”
While minoxidil, the key ingredient in Rogaine, is the only FDA-approved topical treatment to decrease hair loss, it doesn’t work for everyone, and there can be side effects, such as excess body hair, weight gain, and lethargy. Nutraceutical botanicals similar to those in Nutrafol ($88 for a monthly subscription bottle; nutrafol .com) can reduce hair loss by utilizing vitamins, amino acids, and adaptogens that target inflammation and support growth. Topical treatments like Éprouvage Reviving Scalp Serum ($30; Ulta) contain Redensyl, a supplement that keeps hair in its growth phase.