Written by Elizabeth Millard

For many women, seeing a big clump of hair in the shower drain or on a brush can be disheartening—and for good reason. Shedding (or telogen effluvium, technical term) can also signal larger, more serious health issues in some cases. [1,2]

Regardless of why your hair might be thinning, it’s important to take a deep breath. Hair loss, even for women, is a fairly normal side effect of aging, [3,4] says Chesahna Kindred, M.D., a dermatologist at the Kindred Hair & Skin Center. And it might not always be indicative of a problem. [4]

“There are different types of hair loss for women, all with their own causes,” she explains. “The first step is to take a look at what the possible factors might be, so you can identify potential reasons. That can help you start treatment earlier, which is crucial for addressing the issue.” [2,4]

Try to rule out anything you might actively be doing to stress your strands, like excessive brushing, heat styling, or even recently switching shampoos. If nothing has changed in your routine lately, however, it might be worth exploring some of the internal reasons you’re shedding. [4]

Here are some common culprits for hair loss in women - and ways to get help.


Hair Loss Reason #1: Your Hormones Are Changing


The connection between hormones and hair loss is a well-established one, says Dr. Kindred. For example, a condition called androgenetic alopecia—also known as female pattern hair loss—is related to having an uptick in hormones called androgens. [4,6]

But a range of other hormones could be affecting that loss as well. Mayo Clinic notes that hormonal changes due to pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and thyroid function can all play a role in temporary or permanent hair loss. [7]

An at-home test that gives you a snapshot of your female hormones provides insight into potential hormone imbalances that may be caused by early menopause, thyroid issues, or ovulation function. [8]

Take a hormone test from home now.


Hair Loss Reason #2: Your Diet Could Use Some Help


Eating a healthy diet is crucial for having strong, healthy hair. But even if you’re loading up on fruits and vegetables, you could still have nutritional gaps that are leading to shedding, particularly if you’re lacking in certain micronutrients. [3,4]

One study found that deficiencies in riboflavin, biotin, folate, and vitamin B12 have all been associated with hair loss. These deficiencies may also affect hair health in general. For example, a lack of biotin—also known as vitamin B7—has been associated with hair becoming brittle and dry. [4,9]

Research suggests nutritional deficiencies may impact both hair structure and growth, and they could also be an indirect effect of sudden weight loss or decreased protein consumption. [4,9] Autoimmune disorders could be a factor as well—some research suggests celiac disease, which caused by an immune response to gluten, could lead to hair loss. [4,10]

Fortunately, at-home tests can easily pinpoint these deficiencies, including low iron levels as well as shortfalls in vitamins and minerals. And they can detect celiac disease antibodies that may be causing not only hair loss but also numerous other health issues. [11]


Hair Loss Reason #3: You’re Overwhelmed with Stress


Stress can translate to hair loss, says Dr. Kindred. [4] “People who’ve never had a problem before were calling because they were seeing shedding,” she explains. “That makes sense, because when you’re stressed, your body shifts its resources to your most important organs, like your lungs, heart, and brain. Follicles, which are microscopic organs, aren’t on that list.” [4]

While work, a loss in the family, or the pandemic can spur stress, so can any type of shock to the system, she adds. That includes surgery or having a baby. Postpartum-related hair loss, for example, is quite common, not just because of hormonal changes—which can be considerable—but also because your body has been through a significant, stressful event. [1,2,4]

Higher stress levels are related to an overabundance of cortisol, a hormone that kicks off your fight-or-flight reaction—as well as other symptoms like headaches, depression, irregular periods, and weight gain. [4,12,13]

Take a cortisol test from home now.


Hair Loss Reason #4: Your Thyroid Isn’t Functioning Properly


Endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, or a parathyroid imbalance are notorious for causing hair loss—not just on the head, either, but also throughout the body, according to research. [2,4,14]

Hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland makes more thyroid hormones than your body needs, while hypothyroidism means it’s not making enough. Your parathyroid glands, which lie just behind the main thyroid gland, help regulate essential minerals like calcium and phosphorous, and an imbalance there means you’re getting too little or too much of these minerals. [2,4,14]

Unlike some types of shedding that happen suddenly, thyroid-related hair problems may occur gradually, particularly if your thyroid condition is untreated. Your hair may also become very dry and brittle, which makes hair loss more likely. [4]

Take a thyroid test from home now.


Get the Help You Need for Hair Loss


Once you narrow down possible reasons for excessive shedding, it’s easier for a dermatologist to suggest a course of treatment. That can include a breadth of options, Dr. Kindred says, including anti-inflammatory medications, over-the-counter and prescription hair growth medicines, laser-based treatments, or even hair transplantation. [2,4]

“We want to focus on repair first, not replacement,” she notes. “But before we start anything, we need to look at why you’re losing hair in the first place. Because addressing that doesn’t just help with your hair—it also boosts your health overall.” [4]

It’s important to speak with your doctor once you spot hair loss to identify why it might be happening to get the help you need.


References


  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association
    Do You Have Hair Loss or Hair Shedding
    https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/hair-loss/insider/shedding

  2. Harvard Medical School
    Harvard Health Publishing
    Telogen Effluvium
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/telogen-effluvium-a-to-z

  3. Cleveland Clinic
    Health Essentials
    Your Guide to Aging, Thinning Hair: 5 Simple Tips
    https://health.clevelandclinic.org/your-guide-to-aging-hair/

  4. Dr. Chesahna Kindred
    Kindred Hair & Skin Center

  5. Kindred Hair & Skin Center
    Dr. Chesahna Kindred
    https://kindredhairandskin.com/meet-dr-chesahna-kindred

  6. Harvard Medical School
    Harvard Health Publishing
    Treating female pattern hair loss
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/treating-female-pattern-hair-loss

  7. Mayo Clinic
    Hair Loss
    https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hair-loss/symptoms-causes/syc-20372926?p=1

  8. LetsGetChecked
    Female Hormone Test
    https://www.letsgetchecked.com/us/en/home-female-hormone-test/

  9. Guo EL, Katta R.
    Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use.
    Dermatology Practical & Conceptual 2017 Jan 31;7(1):1-10

  10. Rodrigo L, Beteta-Gorriti V, Alvarez N, Gómez de Castro C, de Dios A, Palacios L, Santos-Juanes J.
    Cutaneous and Mucosal Manifestations Associated with Celiac Disease
    Nutrients 2018 Jun 21;10(7):800

  11. LetsGetChecked
    Celiac Test
    https://www.letsgetchecked.com/us/en/home-celiac-test/

  12. Mayo Clinic
    Chronic stress puts your health at risk
    https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

  13. LetsGetChecked
    Cortisol Test
    https://www.letsgetchecked.com/us/en/home-cortisol-test/

  14. Vincent M, Yogiraj K.
    A Descriptive Study of Alopecia Patterns and their Relation to Thyroid Dysfunction
    Int J Trichology. 2013 Jan;5(1):57-60