Is hair loss in women different than men?

Female-pattern baldness

Women lose hair on an inherited (genetic) basis too, but the female pattern is more diffuse, with less likelihood of the frontal hairline being lost. Although some women may notice hair thinning as early as their 20s, the pace of hair loss tends to be gradual, often taking years to become obvious to others. (It's common to hear women with what appear to have a full head of hair exclaim, "This is nothing--you should have seen how thick it used to be!")

Notions about baldness being inherited through the mother's family, just like stories about hats choking off follicles or long hair pulling on the roots, are just folklore.


Hair loss "myths" of special concern to women:

• Longer hair does not put a strain on roots.

• Shampooing does not accelerate hair loss; it just removes those that were ready to fall out anyway.

• Coloring, perming, and conditioning the hair do not usually cause hair loss. Styles that pull tight may cause some loss, but hair coloring and "chemicals" don't.

What treatments are there for hair loss in women?

• Ask your doctor about minoxidil (the generic name for Rogaine). This is over-the-counter and available in 2% and 5% concentrations. It's something of a nuisance to apply, but it helps conserve hair and may even grow some.

• Propecia is a drug that helps men retain their hair. It is unsafe for women of childbearing to take this drug, or even handle tablets. (It is, however, safe for their husbands to take it while they are trying to become pregnant.) Propecia is safe for older women but not very effective; newer studies suggest that it might be somewhat helpful and may be worth considering.

• Surgical procedures like hair transplants can be useful for some women as well as men to "fill in" thinned-out areas.

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