Causes

Female pattern baldness

Female pattern baldness hair loss

Female pattern baldness is another term for genetic hair loss, a type of hair loss caused by your genetics. Your genes are a blueprint for your body, and determine characteristics such as your hair and eye colour. They also determine at what rate your hair will fall out as you grow older. The scientific term for this type of hair loss is androgenetic alopecia, and is the hardest type of hair loss to treat.

What causes female pattern baldness? 

Female pattern baldness can begin at any time after puberty, but typically becomes noticeable around menopause. It is a gradual form of hair loss rather than a sudden loss of hair, and for women it usually occurs around the crown of the head. The frontal hairline for women is unaffected.

 

Female pattern baldness involves the actions of the male sex hormone, androgens, but the exact nature of their role in female pattern baldness is unknown. The hair loss is caused by a shortening of the hair’s growth phase (anagen phase), and an increase in time between the shedding of a hair (exogen phase) and the starting of a new hair cycle (anagen phase). The hair follicle also changes, becoming shorter and thinner. This means longer and thicker hairs are being replaced by shorter and thinner hairs. 

This diagram shows the stages of the natural hair lifecycle. With female pattern baldnress, the anagen phase is shortened and the exogen phase is lengthened, increasing the time for hair follicles to shed.

Stages of the hair's life cycle Anagen Catagen Telogen Exogen Growth Transition Resting Shedding

The reason why this happens is not well understood by the medical community, but may include the following factors: 

  • Aging: as you age, the level of hormones in your body changes. During and after menopause, the level of oestrogen drops in your body which may result in hair loss. 

  • Genetics: your genetics are inherited from your parents. Your genes may determine at what age you begin to experience hair loss. 

  • Androgens: the role of androgens in female pattern baldness has been discussed, but their role is not fully understood. 

Genetic hair loss is very different from reactive hair loss, which is independent of your genetics and is usually possible to correct (e.g. childbirth, stress, and medication). Read more about the difference between genetic hair loss and other types of hair loss here

Patterns of female pattern baldness 

The medical community uses the Ludwig scale to classify the extent of female pattern baldness. 

  • Grade 1 begins with gradual thinning of hair on the crown (very top) of the head, but unlike male pattern baldness, it is 1-3cm behind the front hairline. 

  • Grade 2 continues with the widening of hair loss on the crown of the head, and the scalp will now start to show. 

  • Grade 3 is full baldness on the crown of the head. 

 

You should be aware that it is very rare for a woman’s hairline to recede (this is only common with men), and that women do not become fully bald. 

 

It is also worth saying that the Ludwig scale is a very general scale, and many women may not exactly fit into one grade or stage. There are other methods of measuring the extent of female pattern baldness, but the Ludwig scale is most commonly used. 

The Ludwig scale shows the stages of female pattern baldness seen around the crown of the head

How common is female pattern baldness? 

Female pattern baldness is the most common cause of hair loss in women, and almost all women eventually develop some level of female pattern baldness during their lifetime. Unlike male pattern baldness, the age where female pattern baldness usually begins is during the child-bearing age, and is often most noticeable during menopause. It is very rare to have significant female pattern baldness during puberty years. 

According to the academic article Female Pattern Hair Loss by Birch et al, 25% of women experience clinically significant female pattern baldness by the age of 49, which increases to 41% by the age of 69. Although female pattern baldness is dependent on your genetics, there are still lots of things you can do to improve your hair loss which are discussed below. 

Could it be another type of hair loss? 

Hair brush with tangled hair

It’s important that if you suspect you have significant female pattern baldness, you talk to your doctor to get the right diagnosis. There are many types of hair loss, and they may have similar patterns in the way they appear but are a result of different causes. For example, your doctor can explore whether your hair loss may be caused by stress, postpartum hair loss, vitamin deficiency, or something like alopecia areata (autoimmune disease) as a few to name. Female pattern baldness has a more gradual level of hair loss, and sudden loss of hair could indicate another type of hair loss.

When discussing with your doctor, they will work with you to rule out and define what form of hair loss you are experiencing. They will also examine the pattern of your hair loss, your medical history, and they may take blood samples to test for other diseases. Based on all this information, your doctor will be able to diagnose whether or not you have female pattern baldness. 

Why do I have female pattern baldness, but my friends don’t? 

Our bodies are all different! Your genetic makeup, which is inherited from your mom and dad, is unique and no-one in this world will share the same genetic makeup as you. As female pattern baldness is heavily dependent on your genes, you may notice that you develop female pattern baldness much quicker than your friends. On the other hand, you may never develop any form of significant female pattern baldness either.

 

Although you cannot change your genes and this type of hair loss is permanent, there are many things you can do to treat female pattern baldness. Continue reading below for tips and recommendations which we have put together. 

How to treat female pattern baldness?

Although female pattern baldness is the most challenging type of hair loss, there are many things you can do to treat female pattern baldness. There are lots of progressive treatments which have developed over the years which have shown early signs of positive results. We have a number of detailed articles on how to treat this type of hair loss: 

Remember to always speak to your doctor first, who will be able to diagnose what type of hair loss you have and the appropriate treatment you need. 

References

Please click below if you want to read the science behind this article.

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