In an age where Botox derms and Brazilian waxers are readily discussed, there are few beauty taboos left.
While it certainly seems like we’ve seen it all (hello Kardashian bikini line!), one thing that’s still swept under the rug, er, so to speak? “Hair loss in women is different because unlike men, women aren’t expected to go bald,” explains Robert Bernstein, M.D., founder of the prestigious Bernstein Medical Center for Hair Restoration in New York City.
But while the stigma associated with female hair thinning and loss makes the subject feel taboo, it’s an extremely common complaint. “There’s a misconception that hair loss in women is rare,” Bernstein continues. Truth is, 30 percent of women will experience some form of thinning, whether they’re dishing about it on Facebook or not.
Compounding the issue? “For women, the underlying causes can be a more complicated issue,” he says. Your scalp contains about 100,000 hairs, and you generally lose roughly 100 of them each day. But what’s normal, and what’s not? Here’s what’s really going on, and what you can do about it.
Let’s face it: When it comes to physical changes, hair thinning is alarming, and hair loss? Well, that’s just downright devastating. It’s said to be one of the most personally distressing side effects of chemotherapy, and anyone who’s lost a clump of hair can relate to the accompanying feeling of shock and powerlessness.
Psychologically, it’s a world apart from other so-called beauty “problems” like peeling nails or even breakouts, but just like wrinkles, hair simply tends to thin with age. Another common complaint is that the hair seems to simply stop growing, which is totally related. “It can also just be growing slower because [with age], the growth cycles become shorter,” says Dr. Bernstein.
Here’s the deal: Experts call age-onset thinning “miniaturization,” which refers to a progressive decrease of the hair shaft’s diameter and length. This happens at least in part because of androgens like dihydrotestosterone (or DHT), a derivative of the male hormone testosterone that causes hair follicles to literally shrink in diameter. This type of hair thinning is referred to as androgenic alopecia, and it occurs in an equal pattern all over the scalp. And if this sounds bad, consider yourselves lucky ladies, because for men (and some women), this condition usually manifests as more distinct patterns or “patches” of baldness, which tends to be way more noticeable.
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