Hair loss — and what you can do about it

As I always say, “Aging is a fact of life; however, looking your age is not!”

Age is the #1 cause of hair loss in both men and women. Genetics is second (baldness is hereditary). Hormonal changes are third. Stress is fourth. (Other causes include nutritional deficiencies, autoimmune disorders, infection, certain medications with hair loss as a side effect, hairstyling practices such as chemical treatments, heat styling, and tight hairstyles, which can scar the follicles, and chemotherapy.)

One of the most dramatic hormonal changes accompanying aging in women is menopause. In fact, it’s sometimes called “the change”—because that’s what it initiates!

Menopause is triggered by a sudden drop in estrogen production, which ends ovulation and menstruation, can put women at risk for thinning bones and loss of muscle, contribute to weight gain, and can also cause changes in your hair and skin.

In June, I wrote about the ways that menopause can affect your skin—and what you can do about it.

This month, I am focusing on hair changes that can occur during menopause, and providing eight tips to keep your hair healthy, lustrous, and strong!

For context, hair naturally cycles through three phases:

  • The growth phase, which can last two to seven years.
  • The transition phase, which typically lasts about two weeks.
  • The resting phase, which lasts about three months and ends in shedding.

Just as estrogen promotes water retention and plumpness in the skin, it also contributes to hair growth and fullness. Without it, your hair may become thinner in quantity and volume. Your hair may grow more slowly, break more easily, and stay on your head for less time. The drop in estrogen and progesterone also triggers an increase in the production of androgens, which are a group of male hormones. Androgens shrink hair follicles, resulting in hair loss on the head.

It’s worth noting, however, that hair loss in women tends to be subtler than it is in men. Most women experience overall hair thinning rather than noticeable bald spots. Nevertheless, females can experience female pattern baldness. The thinning can occur on the front, sides, or top of the head. Hair may also fall out in large clumps during brushing and showering.

Although few women are happy about thinning hair on their head, many are pleased to learn that menopause can also slow or stop the growth of hair on their legs, arms, and armpits. Pubic hair, too, can begin to think. Although it might leave bald spots, it will also reduce the impetus to wax your “bikini line.”

Another impact on hair caused by the loss of female hormones can be the appearance of unwanted facial hair. This again is typically caused by an increase in androgens, which can cause both hair loss on your head and hair growth on your face.

What can you do?

#1. Reduce or manage your stress. Stress can exacerbate menopause-induced hair loss. In fact, I could write an entire blog post on how stress contributes to hair loss. Stress:

  • Activates neuroendocrine-immune circuits, which terminate hair growth.
  • Increases inflammation that can affect hair growth.
  • Induces immunity imbalances that can affect hair growth.
  • Increases the death of epithelial cells, which can affect hair growth.
  • Affects other hormones that affect hair growth.
  • Can cause hair follicles to go dormant, causing the affected hairs to fall out suddenly when combing or washing your hair.
  • Can cause the immune system to attack hair follicles, causing hair loss.
  • Can trigger “hair-pulling disorder,” which can result in balding.

However, exercise, yoga, relaxation exercises, breath work, affirmations (like my free daily Inspirations app), and other practices can help alleviate stress, keep your hormones balanced, and minimize hair loss! Stress management is not a luxury; it is essential!

#2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Hair needs moisture and vitamins to stay healthy. Water constitutes one-quarter of a healthy strand of hair, so if you’re dehydrated, your body will direct much-needed moisture to more critical functions, depleting the moisture in your hair. Growth may slow or stop, and the hair shafts may become brittle and develop split ends.

Faithful readers know that hydration involves eating your water (not just drinking it) and fortifying your cellular membranes through a diet that includes moisture-rich foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, “embryonic” foods such as eggs, seeds, and nuts, and lean proteins from plants, chicken, and fish, your body gets all of the other nutrients these foods contain, in addition to the all-important water. (For more about keeping your cells hydrated, see here.) The Cleveland Clinic advises that you may also need to eat more protein to counteract hair loss.

If you notice your hair beginning to thin or fall out in larger quantities than usual, increase your daily water and vitamin intake. Supplements that may be effective in slowing or preventing hair loss include saw palmetto, biotin, hydrolyzed collagen, tocotrienols, reishi mushroom, flaxseed oil, and (Tocotrienols and biotin are believed to be especially helpful in both preventing unwanted hair loss and stimulating new hair growth.)

I have found that beta-sitosterol, one of several plant-based substances known as phytosterols occurring in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and legumes, is good for treating hair loss, even though it is most often recommended in supplement form to reduce high cholesterol.

#3. Consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in the form of topical estrogen and progesterone creams. These can help alleviate menopause symptoms and also reduce the risks of osteoporosis for people with bone loss. Ask your doctor whether HRT is right for you.

#4. Use a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. Although the best hydration comes from within, it’s also good to moisturize your hair and scalp topically—and to avoid further drying it with harsh hair products or heated, moisture-zapping styling practices. You can also add a deep-conditioning treatment once a week to your hair care regime for extra hydration.

#5. Consider topical hair loss treatments. The most common of these is minoxidil (Rogaine) for hair loss associated with aging or menopause. Other hair loss treatments, such as finasteride (Propecia) and corticosteroids, are typically recommended for hair loss caused by other conditions, such as male pattern baldness or autoimmune dysfunction. See your physician for the treatment that is right for you.

#6. For unwanted hair, temporary hair-removal options include shaving, tweezing, waxing, depilatory creams, threading, and sugaring (which is similar to waxing, but the hair is pulled in the direction it grows, rather than against the grain).

Permanent hair removal solutions include electrolysis and laser hair removal. Both treatments destroy the growth cells in hair follicles so the hairs can’t grow back. A caveat regarding lasers, however: the lasers target dark hair, so this method is not an option for light-colored hair. (However, light-colored hair is less visible, so you may be willing to live with it.)

#7. Consider embracing hair loss! You might discover that shaving your head or opting for a very short buzz cut can be more attractive than any hair growth remedies or strategies you find. Like Christie Valdiserri, Sports Illustrated’s first bald swimsuit model, Jada Pinkett Smith, Charlize Theron in Mad Max, or Danai Gurira in Black Panther, or Grace Jones, Sinead O’Connor, Michael Jordan, Dwayne Johnson, or Bruce Willis, instead of trying to hide your lack of hair, flaunt it!

#8. See your dermatologist if your hair loss includes any of the following:

  • Distinct circle-shaped bald spots on the scalp.
  • Itching, burning or pain that accompanies hair loss.
  • Pimple-like bumps on the hairline.
  • Hair coming out in clumps.
  • Rash

In short, hair loss—or unwanted hair—can be a fact of aging, hereditary, menopause, or the constant, pervasive stress of modern living that I call Cultural Stress. regardless of the reason, hair loss doesn’t reflect on your innate beauty or worth. And whatever its cause, you have options.

That’s #ModernWellness!


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