When most people think of hair loss, they probably envision a man with a completely bald head. Men tend to be thought of more often when it comes to losing hair—especially as they age—but what a lot of people don’t realize is that women experience hair loss, too. In fact, a large portion of those who experience hair loss worldwide are women.
There are a number of problems that can lead to hair loss, including nutrition, stress and autoimmune disorders, but one of the most common causes of hair loss is linked to age and life stage. Although both men and women can experience hair loss, they don’t always experience it in the same way. This might be why there is some disparity in how people view hair loss and who suffers from it.
Here are some of the biggest differences between how men and women experience hair loss.
Male and female pattern hair loss
One of the most common causes of hair loss in both men and women is a genetic condition called androgenic alopecia.
Androgenic alopecia is a hair loss condition caused by shifts in male hormones called androgens—specifically dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Both men and women have these hormones, which help regulate hair growth and other systems in the body. High levels of androgens are believed to cause androgenic alopecia.
Hair grows out of follicles in the scalp. After a period of a few years, hair growth stops, and the hair remains in a “resting” phase for a few months before falling out. If androgens begin to affect the follicles, the hair growth cycle may be shortened, causing hair to fall out sooner, as well as a delay in new growth. This can result in fewer strands of hair on the head at one time.
Androgenic alopecia also tends to cause follicles to shrink over time. When new hair grows out of these follicles, it may be thinner than normal, causing the appearance of less or thinner hair.
Androgenic alopecia is largely age-related. Over 50 percent of men over the age of 50 experience hair loss, while women are more likely to experience it after menopause. Although both men and women can experience hair loss due to androgenic alopecia, the condition typically affects the sexes in different ways.
Androgenic alopecia in men usually causes “male pattern hair loss,” which tends to start at the front of the head, causing a receding hairline and, eventually, an “M”-shaped hair recession. In some men, androgenic alopecia results in complete baldness.
Male pattern hair loss can start relatively early in life for men. However, the majority of men who experience this type of hair loss have noticeable loss after age 50.
The same condition in women is called “female pattern hair loss,” but it tends to look different in women than in men. In women, the hair loss is much more diffuse, rather than being centralized to the front or crown of the head. Hair tends to take on the appearance of thinning, rather than balding.
As they age, many women begin to notice a widening in their hair part because of this thinning. Very few women experience total baldness as a result of female pattern hair loss.
Androgenic alopecia can also affect women in their younger years, but it tends to be much more noticeable after menopause (when hormones levels have shifted as a result of reduced estrogen production).
Because of this difference between male and female pattern hair loss, the sexes may be able to cope with and treat hair loss somewhat differently. Women may be able to hide their hair loss more easily than men can, but they may experience more distress because female hair loss is not as widely accepted as males’.
Pregnancy hair loss
Another major difference between men and women’s hair loss is the points of life at which women can experience hair loss. Pregnancy and postpartum hair changes are examples of hair loss that women can experience that men do not.
When estrogen levels soar during pregnancy, women may develop a thick, healthy head of hair that is lost in the months following giving birth. Postpartum hair loss is caused by rapidly declining estrogen levels and often occurs in a woman’s 20s and 30s. Fortunately, this hair loss is most often temporary, and hair growth gets regulated after a few months.
Other types of hair loss
The major differences between men’s and women’s hair loss are largely linked to hormones—whether because of androgens or fluctuating estrogen levels. Other types of hair loss, including stress-related conditions like telogen effluvium, can affect men and women in the same ways.
If you’re experiencing hair loss, remember that it is normal and common in both sexes—not just men! Visit your doctor to discuss the potential causes of your hair loss and explore treatment options that are right for you.