Women experiencing hair loss often suffer in silence. Rather than altering their hairstyles or experimenting with hats, a visit to the dermatologist may be in order.
“Sometimes women experiencing hair loss think they should stop washing, coloring or perming their hair, but these things won’t impact the course of hair loss or speed up the process,” said dermatologist Mary Gail Mercurio, MD, FAAD, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Rochester, speaking at the 68th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.
The most common form of hair loss in women is androgenetic alopecia, usually inherited from either the mother or father. This condition, also known as pattern hair loss, affects both men and women, but in the female version, the frontal hairline is usually maintained; instead, there is visible thinning over the crown. In addition, hairs are miniaturized due to a shortened growth cycle where the hair stays on the head for a shorter period of time.
Minoxidil 2% is the only FDA-approved topical medication for female-pattern hair loss. Minoxidil 5%, for male-pattern hair loss, has been shown to be effective in women as well, but women should consult a dermatologist before starting the treatment since it can increase facial hair growth.
In some cases, a hormonal abnormality may be responsible for hair loss in women. Hyperandrogenism, a medical condition characterized by excessive production of male hormones (androgens), is one example. One clue that hormones are involved is if the hair loss pattern resembles that of a man’s. While female-pattern hair loss caused by a hormonal imbalance can be treated with prescription medications such as spironolactone or oral contraceptives, it is important that women see a dermatologist for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Also known as scarring alopecia, cicatricial alopecia is a form of hair loss in women and men marked by scarring of the scalp where the source of the hair follicle is destroyed. Unlike other forms of hair loss, cicatricial alopecia results in scattered patches of hair loss and is usually associated with redness and irritation on the scalp. Inflammation can be reduced with topical, injectable or oral medications, such as corticosteroids or anti-malarial drugs; minoxidil is not used for cicatricial alopecia. Patients with this form of hair loss should be closely monitored by a dermatologist.