If you’ve recently pulled a matted ball of hair out of your shower drain, or you’ve simply noticed a bit more scalp showing through your updo, don’t panic. Hair loss is perfectly normal. In fact, we lose on average 80 strands a day – an amount that can go up or down, depending on several factors including season and hormones.
But if you do find you’re losing significantly more hair than normal, there is likely a very reasonable explanation. More importantly, there are things that can be done to prevent it and significantly improve the look and feel of your strands.
“The stigma around hair loss and the belief that it is only a ‘male condition’ is stopping women from seeking help, which could not only improve their hair but also their confidence and mental health as a result. There are options out there if you are struggling,” says Mark Blake, Nioxin trichologist, who estimates around 40% of women experience hair loss.
Diagnosing your thinning hair can be a tricky process as there are several contributing factors such as medication, diet and hormonal changes that can impact the wellbeing of your hair follicles, forcing them to produce thinner strands, or none at all.
Understanding the hair growth cycle and the different types of hair loss that affect women may be helpful. We’ve also spoken to the experts in order to delve into the most common causes. But if you’re looking to treat signs of hair loss, your first step should be a consultation with a trichologist or dermatologist in order to establish the root cause and create a bespoke treatment plan.
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The hair growth cycle
Each hair on your head undergoes three stages as part of its life cycle. At any one given time, the hair on your head will be at different stages.
Anagen – The active growth phase, which can last between three to seven years.
Catogen – The hair follicle then moves into a transitional phase called catagen when the hair temporarily stops growing.
Telogen – The resting phase, which lasts around three months when old hair is shed and replaced with new anagen hair.
The different types of hair loss affecting women
Ahead, the professionals reveal what might be disrupting this healthy growth cycle, why your hair might be thinning and, crucially, what to do about it.
“The rate at which hair grows, and the length to which it will grow, is genetically determined,” says Anabel Kingsley, consultant trichologist and Philip Kingsley brand president. “For most, this is 0.5 inches a month.”
Similarly, pattern hair loss (also known as androgenic alopecia) can be inherited from either parent and can occur at any age after puberty. “It is affected by hormone levels in your body, and by your individual sensitivity to them,” says Anabel, adding that over several years hairs grow back slightly thinner and shorter with each hair growth cycle.
“Eventually, hair follicles can become so small that they stop producing a hair altogether,” she notes.
Reactive hair loss involves a trigger. For example, a sudden weight loss or diet change can affect your follicles. “As hair is non-essential tissue, it is the first part of you to be deprived of nutrients when your diet is lacking,” says Anabel.
When you restrict your diet, especially limiting main food groups that help with hair such as protein and complex carbohydrates, your body realises that it is not receiving the same nutrients as it did before.
Illness is another reactive form of hair loss. The high temperature (32C or over) that accompanied Covid-19, is one reason that hair follicles can temporarily shut down as the body concentrates on fighting infection. The higher and longer the temperature, the more hair is lost. “If a client has had Covid-19, he or she will almost certainly have hair loss around six weeks after catching the virus,” says Mark, who saw a marked increase in hair shedding during the pandemic.
“Many people don’t make the connection between an illness a couple of months prior to hair loss, they tend to think more about what they have done or changed recently to cause it, but it’s often just delayed,” says Sally-Ann Traver, Consultant Trichologist at The Cotswold Trichology Centre.
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Chronic stress can cause malting, where more hairs than usual to move out of their growth phase and into their shedding phase at the same time (a process officially known as Telogen Effluvium).
“Stress can wreak havoc on your hair growth cycle and your scalp,” says Anabel. “One reason for this is that stress can raise androgen (male hormone) levels, which can worsen or trigger female pattern hair loss if you have a genetic predisposition towards it,” she continues. “Plus stress can make it harder for your body to absorb nutrients.”
The good news is, unless it’s something more serious, your hair will grow back. “Hair loss will increase approximately two months after the stress begins and stop approximately four months after the stress stops,” says Sally-Ann.
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Anything that involves repeatedly pulling your hair into a tight style should be avoided. Even though your hair isn’t falling out at the root, breaking the strands can mean you’ll malt. This includes protective styles and even the simple act of tying your hair bobble too tight when crafting a ponytail.
“Over-processing can also impact the strength of your hair strands and lead to breakage that appears as hair loss,” says Inanch Emir from Inanch London. “If you notice hair loss, but don’t see a difference in the density of hair at the scalp, this is likely the cause. Talk to your stylist and discuss colouring options that will be more gentle on your hair.”
Heavy periods and vegetarianism can lead to low Ferritin levels. This protein stores iron in the body and is needed to produce hair cell protein. Low iron is one of the most common mineral deficiencies in young women with hair thinning. “The hair follicles receive nutrients from blood capillaries in the scalp,” says Anabel.
“So, in terms of boosting hair growth, proper nutritional support is a key ingredient,” she adds. “Ferritin deficiency commonly causes increased hair fall and a shortening of the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle. This means hair may not be able to grow as long as it is capable of.”
While there’s no evidence that hair loss is a direct side effect of Ozempic, it could be a stressor for hair follicles in those taking the medication off-label for rapid weight loss.
“Ozempic affects your appetite, so by restricting your food intake, you’re also restricting the number of vitamins and minerals you’re ingesting, which are beneficial for healthy hair growth,” says Helen Reavey, trichologist and founder of Act + Acre. The American Hair Loss Association also hypothesises that hormonal shifts from the drugs can trigger temporary shedding as part of telogen effluvium phase.
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“50% of people before the age of 40 have some type of hair loss, while one in two suffer from some type of scalp issue,” Helen says, some of which is the result of a scalp that has been thrown out of balance.
High levels of pollution and a growing reliance on dry shampoo creates a paste-like mixture with dead skin and oil. According to Helen, this congestion within the hair follicle won’t create the optimum environment for hair growth and, worst-case scenario, can even trigger what she calls “inflammatory responses”, which can result in hair loss.
Vitamin B12 and D are relatively common deficiencies in hair loss sufferers. Reasonable dietary B12 can only be obtained from animal sources, which is why the deficiency is common in vegetarians and vegans.
Vitamin D deficiency is on the rise, as 85% is made via our skin during sun exposure. In recent years as we have become educated on sun exposure; to cover up, seek shade and use high SPF to prevent burning, hence the increase in deficiency rates. Taking supplements can really help to boost your Vitamin B12 and D levels.
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Hormones also play a major role in your hair growth cycle. “Oestrogens are ‘hair friendly’ and help to keep your strands in the anagen phase for anywhere between three to seven years,” explains Anabel. Androgens and progesterone (male hormones) can have the opposite effect.
If you’re switching up your birth control or have just started the pill, it can have a negative effect on your hair. Generally-speaking, birth control pills with oestrogen tend to be better for your hair, but ones with progesterone only can contribute to hair loss. Before selecting the right birth control, consult your doctor about possible side effects.
Pregnancy can cause a rise in oestrogen, which typically makes hair luscious and thick, especially in the final few months. “Essentially, this increase keeps hairs in the growth phase for longer,” explains Anabel.
But what goes up, must come down and, thanks to hormonal changes, hair loss is also a possibility. “After childbirth or after breast-feeding, oestrogen levels return to normal and approximately 50% of women experience ‘post partum’ shedding,” Anabel notes. While distressing, this shedding should stop after three months.
The biggest hormonal shift, however, occurs in your 40s and 50s. You might be perimenopausal or in the throws of the menopause and notice some hair loss or thinning. “When oestrogen levels drop, your hair follicles are more exposed to the influence of testosterone, a male hormone,” says Anabel. She adds that applying prescription-only anti-androgenic scalp drops such as Minoxidil every day can help to block testosterone’s effect on your hair follicles and stimulate hair growth.
Thyroid conditions, particularly hypothyroidism, can cause hair thinning and is most common in postmenopausal women. “The condition also causes hair to become dry, lead to brittle nails, weight gain and tiredness,” says Sally-Ann. If you’re concerned you may be suffering with hypothyroidism, consult your GP.
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“She may have lost her hair, she hasn’t lost herself.”
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Hair is made of protein, perhaps making this the most essential nutrient for hair growth. “Increasing the amount of dietary protein you eat, can help with nutritional hair loss,” says Sally-Ann, especially if you consume it first thing in the morning when hair cells are their most active.
“A reasonable portion of meat or fish every day can make up around half of your 45g quota. Try adding up how much protein you consume daily for a week to get a feel for how much you really need – you may surprise yourself as to how little you really consume.” Quinoa and nuts are good sources of protein for vegetarians.
Also be sure to include whole grains in your diet. “Complex carbohydrates provide you with slow-release energy,” says Anabel. “Being the second fastest growing cells the body produces, hair cells need a consistent energy supply.”
Supplementation can be helpful for boosting levels of vitamins and minerals – but only alongside a healthy diet.
Dr Barbara Sturm Growth Cycle Hair Supplement has a loyal following among beauty editors, including GLAMOUR’s acting associate beauty director, Fiona.
The Nue Co’s Growth Phase Hair Supplements is essentially your daily dose of key vitamins, proteins and adaptogens that balance nutritional deficiencies, regulate hormones, calm stress and protect against free radicals. In an independent blind clinical trial with 33 subjects, the supplement was found to reduce hair shedding by 87%.
Talk to your doctor first about testing for iron deficiency but if you do need to include your iron levels, supplementation may be a good option, especially if you don’t eat red meat. “Although dark, leafy greens such as spinach contain iron, it is ‘non-haem iron’ – and this is harder for the body to break down and absorb,” says Anabel, which is why iron is a core tenet of Philip Kingsley’s Density Health Hair Complex, alongside biotin.
“Silicone build up from most conditioners can make it look like you have an oily scalp because it’s like a magnet and attracts dirt and smog,” Helen explains. Throw in hard water laced with chlorine and heavy metals, such as copper, magnesium, calcium and iron, and there’s even more of an incentive to thoroughly cleanse your scalp.
Step 1: Pre-Wash Treatment
Step 2: Shampoo
Step 3: Scalp Scrub
Step 4: Nourishing Hair Mask
Step 5: Leave-In Scalp Treatment
At one point, the Act+Acre Cold Processed Stem Cell Serum boasted an 18,000-person waitlist. It’s formulated with Swiss apple stem cells, which have been shown to reduce shedding by 35% in just one month while promoting a longer hair follicle growth phase. Aveda’s Scalp Solutions Overnight Scalp Renewal Serum is packed with barrier- boosting heroes to soothe an irritated scalp, while the Dr Barbara Sturm Anti-Hair Fall Hair & Scalp Serum contains an innovative form of hyaluronic acid (cationic hyaluronic acid) that adheres to the hair follicle and strand, enable it to continue hydrate brittle strands long after rinsing.
Nikita Mehta, co-founder of Fable & Mane, has brought hair-oiling to the masses and swears by traditional head massage for stimulating blood flow to the scalp. “In Ayurveda, the act of self-love starts at the crown,” she says. “The head is home to our nervous system. Scalp massage, using oils that contain adaptogens, is a daily routine to calm the nervous system and balance energy. The ritual also stretches the hair from the roots, stimulating them to produce thicker strands.”
The brand’s cult-ish HoliRoots Hair Oil is spiked with circulation-boosting castor oil and the Ayurvedic adaptogen ashwagandha, which has anti-inflammatory properties, according to several published studies. Also worth trying is TikTok sensation Mielle Organics Rosemary Mint Scalp & Hair Strengthening Oil, which is powered by rosemary and biotin to promote hair growth.
“While boar bristle brushes provide great traction and control when styling, they are also very scratchy and can remove sections of your hair’s outer cuticle (its protective layer),” says Anabel, who adds that a paddle brush with rounded, plastic prongs and a vented, cushioned base is the most hair-friendly brush.
For more from Fiona Embleton, GLAMOUR’s Acting Associate Beauty Director, follow her on @fiembleton.
If you are concerned about alopecia or hair loss, it’s always recommended to book an appointment with your GP to discuss diagnosis and treatment. You can find your local GP here.
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