March 27th, 2009
11:33 AM ET

The secret is out – women lose their hair too!

By Danielle Dellorto
CNN Medical Producer

I was on the phone with my friend the other night having ordinary “girl talk” when I heard an exaggerated gasp on the other end of the line. “Are you OK?” I immediately asked, worried something awful had happened. “I’m fine,” she said. “I was just looking in the mirror and realized my hair is getting so thin! I’m going to be bald before you know it.”

The truth is, my thirtysomething friend is not going to end up bald like her shiny-headed husband, but she is joining over 50 percent of women who’ll experience hair loss before age 50.

That number may seem high but doctors say “female-pattern balding” occurs all the time - but women just don’t like to talk about. “It can be embarrassing for some women so they’ll just style their hair differently try to hide it,” says Dr. Paradi Mirmirani, a dermatologist in Vallejo, California and spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology.

Hair loss patterns in women are different from those you’d see in men. Most women experience thinning on the top of the head, or around the crown. Rarely do women experience receding hair lines or develop patches of total baldness, according to dermatologists.

It’s normal to lose about 100 strands of hair a day. If you notice your hair loss increasing, it’s important to talk to your doctor because while often hereditary, it can also be a sign of a serious medical condition, or a side effect from a prescription drug. (find a dermatologist in your area

I was surprised to learn not all 'hair loss' is created equal. Turns out, women can experience three different types:

Thinning:  This is the most common form of hair loss and it's hereditary. “You can pretty much look at either your mom or dad and determine if you’re at high risk,” says Mirmirani.

The normal growth cycle for hair is every two to six years. But as we age, the growth cycle shortens and the new strands of hair grow in fewer, and thinner. There is no prevention for hereditary hair thinning, but there are treatment options.

For those experiencing hereditary thinning, an over-the-counter topical medication containing 2 percent to 5 percent of the drug minoxidil will slow down the thinning process and help to re-grow new, stronger hair follicles. “This is a great treatment option but a women need to keep using it because if they stop, the same thinning pattern will develop all over again, “ notes Mirmirani.

Shedding:  Shedding occurs for a number of reasons, most often in women post-pregnancy. When pregnant, elevated hormone levels in the body cause your hair follicles to take a nap essentially and not shed the normal 100 hairs a day. “This is why you’ll often hear women talk about how great their hair looked during those nine months,” Mirmirani added. “Post-pregnancy, your hair’s natural growth cycle plays catch up and sheds a lot of hair at once, but in reality it’s the same amount you would have naturally lost if you never got pregnant.”

Over 290 medications can also cause hair shedding, according to the AAD. Most common medications to impact hair loss are amphetamines, beta blockers, antidepressants and blood thinners.

Lack of a properly balanced diet, including getting enough iron, will also cause hair to shed. An over- or under-active thyroid is also a common factor.

“The good thing for a person experiencing hair shedding to know is that it’s absolutely not permanent–the hair will grow back the same as it was before.”

Experts say about six months after eliminating the reason for the increased shedding (example, after pregnancy, or once your thyroid is regulated), your hair will go back to normal.

Breakage: If you’re like me, it’s not uncommon to frequently use an extra hot flat-iron on your luscious locks. But do you ever wonder where all the hair on your bathroom floor came from afterwards? Frequent use of flat-irons and hot rollers can cause damage and hair loss. “The root or hair follicle isn’t being impacted, but the actual hair strands are damaged and will break off from the root with frequent use.” Note to self: cut back on the flat-iron!

How about you? Have you noticed your hair thinning out as you age? Is hair loss really a “taboo” topic for women? Are there any treatments or shampoos that worked for you? Share your story below!

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