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It’s true that men are more likely to lose their hair than women, mostly due to male pattern baldness (more on that later).
But thinning hair and hair loss are also common in women, and no less demoralizing. Reasons can range from the simple and temporary—a vitamin deficiency—to the more complex, like an underlying health condition.
In many cases, there are ways to treat both male and female hair loss. It all depends on the cause. Here are some common and not-so-common reasons why you might be seeing less hair on your head.
Pregnancy is one example of the type of physical stress that can cause hair loss (that and hormones). Pregnancy-related hair loss is seen more commonly after your baby has been delivered rather than actually during pregnancy. “Giving birth is pretty traumatic,” says Glashofer.
What to do: If you do experience hair loss, rest assured that your hair will grow back in a couple of months. “It’s a normal thing and it will work its way out,” Glashofer says.
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Too much vitamin A
Overdoing vitamin A-containing supplements or medications can trigger hair loss, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The Daily Value for vitamin A is 5,000 International Units (IU) per day for adults and kids over age 4; supplements can contain 2,500 to 10,000 IU.
What to do: This is a reversible cause of hair loss and once the excess vitamin A is halted, hair should grow normally.
Lack of protein
If you don’t get enough protein in your diet, your body may ration protein by shutting down hair growth, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. This can happen about two to three months after a drop in protein intake, they say.
What to do: There are many great sources of protein, including fish, meat, and eggs. If you don’t eat meat or animal products, here are the 14 Best Vegan and Vegetarian Protein Sources.
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Male pattern baldness
About two out of three men experience hair loss by age 60, and most of the time it’s due to male pattern baldness. This type of hair loss, caused by a combo of genes and male sex hormones, usually follows a classic pattern in which the hair recedes at the temples, leaving an M-shaped hairline.
What to do: There are topical creams like minoxidil (Rogaine) and oral medications such as finasteride (Propecia) that can halt hair loss or even cause some to grow; surgery to transplant or graft hair is also an option.
Female-pattern hair loss, called androgenic or androgenetic alopecia, is basically the female version of male pattern baldness. “If you come from a family where women started to have hair loss at a certain age, then you might be more prone to it,” says Glashofer. Unlike men, women don’t tend to have a receding hairline, instead their part may widen and they may have noticeable thinning of hair.
What to do: Like men, women may benefit from minoxidil (Rogaine) to help grow hair, or at least, maintain the hair you have, Glashofer says. Rogaine is available over-the-counter and is approved for women with this type of hair loss.
Just as pregnancy hormone changes can cause hair loss, so can switching or going off birth-control pills. This can also cause telogen effluvium, and it may be more likely if you have a family history of hair loss. The change in the hormonal balance that occurs at menopause may also have the same result. “The androgen (male hormone) receptors on the scalp becoming activated,” explains Dr. Mark Hammonds, a dermatologist with Scott & White Clinic in Round Rock, Texas. “The hair follicles will miniaturize and then you start to lose more hair.”
What to do: If a new Rx is a problem, switch back or talk to your doctor about other birth control types. Stopping oral contraceptives can also sometimes cause hair loss, but this is temporary, says Hammonds. Don’t make your problem worse with hair-damaging beauty regimens.