Hair loss is much more common than you might think: Almost 50 percent of women suffer from hair loss at some point in their lives. The reasons range from hormones and genetics to easy-to-miss, surprisingly significant stressors in our lives. The science is still out on a lot of hair-loss solutions, says New York dermatologist and psychiatrist Dr. Amy Wechsler. “There is some good research, though,” she says. “The best place to start is what’s causing the loss in the first place.”
“Many people have a genetic predisposition toward hair loss,” says Wechsler. “The method of inheritance is not nearly as clear in women as it is in men, but hair loss in general certainly runs in families. Unlike men, women tend not to lose the frontal hairline. Instead, their overall hair becomes thinner, as the hair follicles are miniaturized.”
Hormones factor in, too. “Estrogen has a positive effect on hair growth and can prolong the growth phase,” says Dr. Carlos Wesley, a New York surgeon specializing in surgical and nonsurgical treatments for hair loss. “During pregnancy, when estrogen levels are high, women often have voluminous hair. Toward the end of the third trimester, estrogen levels drop, and levels of cortisol—the stress hormone—rise. The combination of these forces often leads to increased hair shedding in the months following pregnancy.” Women can also experience hair loss as they approach and go through menopause. “This is often a time when a genetic predisposition toward some hair loss can really kick in,” says Wechsler.
Plain old stress turns out to be a powerful factor in hair loss, too. “It can be physical, like anesthesia for a surgery, or psychological, like a death in the family, a personal scare about something, a divorce, or a breakup,” says Wechsler. “Hair follicles are sensitive to both physical and emotional stressors.” Hair loss can often show up three to six months after the stressor occurs, sometimes making it hard to pinpoint the cause. If it’s just a temporary period of stress, hair growth usually resumes within a couple of months.
Other reasons for hair loss include nutrition, particularly an iron deficiency; an over- or underactive thyroid gland; and illnesses such as cancer and autoimmune diseases. So it’s really important to check in with your doctor if you’re experiencing hair loss.
Another topical strategy comes from Harklinikken, a Danish hair clinic that’s been studying women’s hair loss for over twenty-five years. A consultation, either in person (there’s a location in New York) or through a virtual session, determines whether you’re a candidate—meaning you’ve got the potential to see at least a 30 percent improvement in hair growth. If you are a candidate, the company formulates a custom extract just for you, which you then apply daily. “Some of the key ingredients are burdock root, marigold, and proprietary constituents from cow’s milk,” says founder and lead researcher Lars Skjoth. “It’s about making the concentration so high and getting those ingredients into a completely natural fatty acid bubble tiny enough to enter your follicle.” While the program can make no drug claims, the before-and-afters are seriously compelling.