Figuring out why you’re suddenly losing more hair than usual can be tricky because there are many different causes of hair loss in women. Some, like hereditary hair loss (androgenetic alopecia), aren’t really in your control—you get the hand you’re dealt. But others, like traction alopecia or temporary hair shedding (a very common condition called telogen effluvium), can be managed or even reversed if caught early. Making things even more complicated, some causes of hair loss in women result in sudden shedding while others may become progressively more noticeable over time.
Here are some of the most common reasons for hair loss in women.
1. Overprocessing your hair
Getting frequent perms, chemical straightening procedures, or relaxing procedures—basically anything that uses harsh chemicals on your scalp and hair—can damage the hair follicle and cause permanent hair loss. “After repeated insults, the hair follicles just won’t grow back,” Dr. Schlosser says. This can cause hair to appear thinner, and may be especially noticeable on the scalp.
You can prevent further damage by avoiding those harsh procedures and using products designed to help hydrate and heal your hair and scalp. But if you want your hair to grow back, you’ll likely need to enlist the guidance of a board-certified dermatologist.
2. Wearing too-tight hairstyles too often
This can cause traction alopecia, Dr. Schlosser says. “Classically, this happens when people wear tight braids chronically, but I’ve seen it with tight ponytails too,” she explains. It can cause progressive thinning of the hairline, and if you do it for long enough, the hair loss may actually become permanent. It’s considered a scarring process, which can damage the hair follicle beyond repair.
To help prevent and treat hair loss due to traction alopecia, Dr. Schlosser advises never wearing one hairstyle for too long, and trying not to pull too tightly if you can help it.
3. Intense emotional or physical stress
When you’re experiencing something stressful or traumatic—not your average day-to-day stress, but something big and life-altering like a divorce, a death in the family, a significant job change, or a big move—you may experience a temporary halt in hair growth as your body puts its resources toward getting you through said big event.
“Hairs don’t all grow at the same rate,” Dr. Schlosser explains. “Some are growing, some are resting, and some are actively being shed. When you have these conditions, your body halts hair growth, and then things get restarted and all these hairs that have been halted start to get pushed out at the same time.” The same thing can happen with physical stress and trauma, like having a big operation, being hospitalized, or even losing a significant amount of weight very quickly.
Usually this type of hair shedding is temporary. But if it bothers you, check in with a dermatologist to learn more about styling changes and products you can use to make your hair look and feel fuller.
4. Heat-styling your hair regularly
Fusco says that women will come to her and tell her they have hair loss, when really they have something called trichorrhexis nodosa. This is a condition in which damaged, weak points in the hair shaft cause hair to break off easily. The cause? Thermal damage to the hair from things like using hot tools and overbleaching. In this case, the hair loss “is not necessarily from the root but it’s from somewhere along the shaft,” she explains.
Treatment for trichorrhexis nodosa usually involves finding and avoiding the source of the damage, which could be hot tools, harsh chemicals, or aggressive brushing. Instead, opt for gentle brushing techniques and gentle, soothing hair products.
Some “medications can cause chronic shedding,” Dr. Schlosser says. In particular, those used to manage high blood pressure, cancer, arthritis, and depression are known to cause hair loss issues, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you think your medication may be causing hair loss, check in with your doctor. In many cases, this type of hair loss is temporary. But if your hair loss becomes chronic, your doctor may be able to prescribe a different medication that doesn’t cause this side effect.
6. Changes in birth control
Going off hormonal birth control or changing to a different type of hormonal contraception can also cause hormone-induced shedding. “Whether you’re just starting it, discontinuing it, or changing brands, your body can react by causing the hair to go into an increased shedding mode,” Dr. Fusco says.
This is another form of telogen effluvium, which means that it’s usually temporary. You can rely on volumizing products and styling tricks while you wait for your hair to regain its fullness.
When we think of hereditary hair loss, we usually go straight to male pattern baldness. But people of all genders are susceptible to hereditary hair loss. In women the hair loss is usually concentrated at the crown of the head (especially noticeable at the hair part), while it’s more likely to affect men along the hairline, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) notes.
Although you can’t prevent this type of hair loss entirely, there are treatments available—such as over-the-counter minoxidil or finasteride—that can slow it down and make hair stay fuller longer. So the sooner you start treatment, the better.
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