Hair loss in women could be the result of many things, including the fact that we lose an average of about 100 hairs a day. There are many ways you can do slow down hair loss or prevent your hair from going grey prematurely, but the correct treatments all require the best diagnosis and advice. In other words, how to deal with thin grey hair or hair loss in women depends entirely on the reason behind why your hair lost its health.
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Thin grey hair and hair loss in women is caused by environmental factors like stress, hormone imbalances, diet deficiencies, and scalp damage and are referred to as epigenetic factors. Genetic factors may also play a part in thinning hair and hair loss in women, where a family history of hair loss or premature greying may be an indication of a hereditary reason for your hair to be thinning or greying.
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In this wrap:
Using the Ludwig hair classification system to describe female pattern hair loss (Androgenetic Alopecia), the following characterizations apply:
Type I Alopecia
Minimal thinning of hair – can be hidden by using hair styling techniques and accessories such as curling tongs or hair dryers to build volume
Type II Alopecia
Decreased volume and a noticeable widening of parting lines
Type III Alopecia
Diffuse thinning, where the top of the hair appears see-through and the scalp is quite visible
It’s hardly surprising to hear that stress can turn your hair grey (or white, or even silver). Other health conditions and stressors can also contribute to premature greying or hair loss in women, and have the potential to change your hair’s look, feel, or thickness.
Female patients consistently relate their experiences of hair loss as being the most traumatic part of getting through chemotherapy, and a further 29% of hair loss in women aged approximately 50 is linked to depression and low self-esteem. Thinning or greying hair in women can happen in specific spots on the scalp or develop in patterns all over the head.
In the case of greying hair, most women begin “going grey” as early as their 30s or 40s, and still others could experience premature greying in their 20s already. Statistically, your chances of going grey increase by up to 20% for every decade after your 30s, until a staggering 50% of the female population will have turned 50% grey by the time they turn 50 years old.
Hair loss and premature greying affects and destroys relationships and professional lives due to the unspoken stigma attached to thinning or greying hair, especially if it occurs at an earlier-than-expected age, and more so if it is in women. In leadership roles, thinning and balding hair is a common issue, occurring in both men and women at roughly equal rates.
Although genetic or environmental baldness and greying can’t be reversed (or cured), hair loss due to medical conditions such as discontinued chemotherapy sessions or cancer in remission could be reversed once the body overcomes the cause of the hair loss.
In addition, hair loss could be caused by harsh hairdressing techniques in an effort to disguise or camouflage your existing hair condition. Known as Traction Alopecia, chemical treatments, harsh brushing, and hair being pulled too tight for too long (tight ponytails, heavy braids, tight hairclips, etc) all contribute to hair loss statistics that suggest this is a common issue in a lot of African-American communities, and spreading rapidly to other cultures.
Table 1: Different Types of Hair Loss In Women
Note: starred items are autoimmune, genetic, and hereditary in nature
While many conditions can cause either partial or temporary hair loss for women in (often) milder types of Alopecia, shedding and regrowth do happen over time in some of these cases.
Causing complete and often permanent hair loss, Alopecia Totalis is an autoimmune disease that uses your body’s natural immune system defenses against your hair follicles. Regrowth is less common than other forms of Alopecia, although it has been known to happen in rare cases of autoimmune remission.
Presenting as the most advanced autoimmune-driven form of Alopecia Areata, Alopecia Universalis causes complete and permanent hair loss in women, affecting not just scalp hair but also facial hair around the eyebrows. Alopecia Universalis could also extend to include leg, body, or arm hair.
A scarring type of Alopecia that creates a solid band of scar tissue and permanent hair loss around the front of the hairline, Frontal Fibrosing Alopecia (or FFA) is another rare autoimmune disease that affects women in their 40s and 50s.
Another scarring type of Alopecia that causes discomfort through itchy, red, raised welts, and may develop painful patches on your scalp, Lichen Planopilaris (or LPP) is yet another autoimmune disease, this time attacking healthy hair follicles and replacing them with scar tissue.
Scientifically known as Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia (or CCCA), “hot comb” Alopecia stems from a study conducted on African-American women in 1968 where 51 women were treated for “traumatic hair styling techniques” that led to a positive CCCA diagnosis in all women from the study. In these cases, the author indicated that the women had been using hot petroleum jelly and a heating iron to “glue” other types of synthetic or natural hair to their roots, creating the illusion of fuller, healthier hair and causing inflammation in the hair follicles.
In 1992, a similar (though much smaller) study of 10 women of African-American descent named the condition Follicular Degeneration Syndrome. This time, no traumatic hair styling techniques were observed or recorded, leading the authors to conclude that harsh hair chemicals and overly-tight hair styles were the leading cause of inner root sheath degeneration in the hair follicles of those who participated in the study.
An additional study (of even less women) conducted on 8 Afro-Caribbean women corroborated the results of the year before and described the same symptoms as the 1992 study.
CCCA is a name coined in a North American Hair Research Society workgroup back in 2001 and is described as “a collective name for a group of disorders that are characterized by a common feature of follicular degeneration, inflammation, and fibrosis, where follicular degeneration is due to a primary insult against the hair follicle and is not just a consequence of an adjacent process”.
CCCA begins at a central point on the scalp, is progressive and irreversible, and causes additional hair loss that can either extend to the edges of the top of the scalp, or present in patches. CCCA affects women in their 20s to 40s, and is the most common scarring alopecia among African-American women.
Statistics on CCCA for other races and sexes are increasing at alarming rates as more and more people turn to artificial and often traumatic ways of heating or chemically treating their hair in the hopes that these methods will create a full head of hair, or to mimic the customs, traditions, and temperature limits of the regions people live in.
It is currently unknown whether CCCA has genetic implications. A positive diagnosis is only possible through a (painful) biopsy at the site of the hair loss. Much more research and many more clinical trials are needed to discover optimal management and treatment options, but patients are advised to avoid hair-pulling hairstyles and chemical treatments, and to avoid using topical steroids.
Characterized by negative mental health coping issues, Trichotillomania is a disorder caused by chronic hair-pulling and skin-breaking scratching to relieve mental pain, confusion, anxiety, or depression. In days of old, the disorder was lumped together with Dermatillomania (and other similar manias) where “self-harm habits” were the overriding descriptor for these mental health disorders because patients trade one sort of “pain” for another, finding that the physical pain was preferential to coping with the mental pain.
Sadly, this disorder begins in childhood or adolescence, where children and young teens are not able to express their anxiety or mental state, and find comfort in this “self-healing” process.
Luckily for many, mental health and its related disorders and diseases is much better understood these days, and we now know that these disorders are better classified as obsessive-compulsive disorders, where repeated actions create a mental barrier to the traumatic events unfolding in our heads, and help us cope.
As with any other bad habit or addiction, disorders such as Trichotillomania (of the hair and scalp) and Dermatillomania (of the skin) are best managed with specialist care, love and support, and zero stigma or teasing. A large part of the feelings that drive these types of disorders are based in shame, embarrassment, fear (of being seen with the disorder), and fear of repercussions once caught out.
Hair loss or thinning and greying hair could also be a sign of poor health. Seek medical attention if you experience hair loss that seems abnormal or may possibly be genetically-driven (such as autoimmune diseases like diabetes, scalp psoriasis, eczema, lupus, and more), may be thyroid/hormonal in nature, could be triggered by medications, or worsens due to diet/nutrient deficiencies.
Underlying health conditions such as anemia, nutritional deficiencies (essential vitamins, minerals, and supplements), high blood pressure, fatigue, and even back pain are all clues that you may need to see a specialist to determine the causes of your thin grey hair or hair loss that is unexpected and unusual.
Pregnancy, menopause, and other hormonal changes that cause thin grey hair and hair loss in women (specifically) may resolve on their own once the hormonal imbalance has corrected itself. In some instances (like pregnancy), this may take months of gentle care, patience, and self-motivation to get through.
Persistent hair loss or premature and unprecedented greying is cause for alarm and you should seek specialist advice from your healthcare provider to eliminate the obvious thyroid issues, scalp infections, contributing stressors, or aging factors.
Follow these 5 simple hair loss prevention tips for women:
Studies reveal that a diet of (mostly) raw vegetables, fresh herbs, and fresh fruit (such as the Mediterranean diet) may reduce or slow the onset of hair loss in both men and women. For best results, add high amounts of foods such as parsley, basil, salad greens, salad reds, and rich, dark fruit to your diet 3-5 days a week.
Protein and other nutritional deficiencies include a lack of essential amino acids which are the building blocks of keratin, the protein base that hair is made of. Healthy food choices that are high in protein include eggs, beans and peas, fish, nuts, low-fat dairy products, turkey, and chicken.
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2. Herbs and Extracts
Saw palmetto is derived from the fruit of the American dwarf pine tree, and according to a 2004 journal article, studies indicate that 60+% of participants experienced improved hair growth with an average dosage of just 200 mg daily.
And while ginseng has long been regaled for its many health and energy benefits, and may promote hair growth on the scalp, many more clinical trials are needed to recommend specific dosages.
Onion juice may just be the next hair care treatment, where one study found that applying crude onion juice directly to your scalp twice a day may appear to promote regrowth. In a small 2014 study, almost 90% of all participants recorded some improvement in their hair loss issues.
Multivitamins such as vitamins A, B, C, D, iron, manganese, selenium, and zinc are all important to your hair growth and health.
In addition, Biotin (or vitamin H or B7) is responsible for fatty-acid synthesis in the body. A fatty-acid deficiency may be behind your hair loss.
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4. Hair care
As a start, washing your hair daily may protect you by keeping your scalp clean and healthy. A mild shampoo is recommended for daily washing as stronger formulas may dry out your hair and scalp – which leads to dry, brittle, thin hair and eventual hair loss.
If you can stomach the smell and texture (not to mention the mess!) of using coconut oil, a gentle head and scalp massage with this (and other) oils could help prevent hair loss caused by damage from traumatic hair treatments or harmful ultraviolet (UV) light. Massaging stimulates the cells and follicles, promoting better blood flow and eventual regrowth.
Olive oil can be used to deep-condition your scalp and hair, protecting it from drying out and breakage due to a lack of essential moisture. Apply 2 scoops of olive oil directly onto your hair, letting it sit for half an hour while massaging, and then gently wash out briefly.
If the smell of coconut or olive oil has you struggling to breathe, consider other essential oils such as lavender, lemongrass, or peppermint. You could always try mixing a couple of drops of any of these oils with 2 scoops of either jojoba or grape seed oil. Apply directly to the scalp and massage in deeply for 10 minutes before washing off gently.
Keep in mind that an oil-based solution may result in overly greasy hair falling on your face and causing blackheads, pimples, or acne.
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5. Fitness routines
Try this 2-minute YouTube video for beginner Yoga poses to
de-stress your life right now.
Yoga has long been touted as the antidote for stress and just might alleviate some of your hair loss woes when practiced regularly. Some stress-relieving yoga poses we recommend for stretching those tired, aching muscles include Downward Facing Dog, Forward Bend, Camel Pose, Shoulder Stand, Fish Pose, and Kneeling Pose.
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