Baldness and hair restoration are things people relate mostly with men. However, hair loss can be equally distressing for women but society does not readily accept baldness in women as it does in men. According to the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery, 21 million women in the U.S. are affected by hair loss. Today, fortunately, treatments have improved to deal specifically with the loss of hair in women.
Hair grows in cycles throughout our lives but some things can interfere with the process, such as medicines we take, sickness and infection. Women are nearly as likely as men to lose their hair or experience thinning hair, and it may become particularly noticeable in their 50s and 60s but can happen at any age.
The differences between male and female hair loss
Men tend to experience receding hairlines or lose their hair on the crowns of their heads. Women are more likely to notice thinning on the top third or half of their scalp, although it can occur all over the scalp. They may notice the part in the hair gradually widening or see more scalp when tying hair back in a ponytail, for instance.
Your doctor will run some blood tests to try to determine the cause of your hair loss. It could be related to a thyroid condition, stress, an autoimmune disease, anemia, a skin condition like psoriasis, or even pregnancy, to name a few. And consider the things you may be doing to accelerate your hair loss such as tight braids, cornrows, dyes and other chemical treatments, and excessive blow dryer heat.
“Androgenetic alopecia” is the most common cause of hair loss in both men and women. Look around at the women in your family – mother, grandmother, aunts, etc. Do they also have similar hair loss? This may mean there are genetic reasons for the hair loss. Genetic female-pattern hair loss is quite common. When we lose a normal hair follicle, it is usually replaced by an equal-sized follicle. However, when a woman has female-pattern hair loss, the new follicles are thinner and finer. The follicles shrink and may stop growing completely.
In some situations (such as stress or sickness), the hair will grow back. Sometimes the hair loss can be reversed. Here are some options for hair replacement for women.
Hair Transplantation for Women
For decades, doctors have been performing hair transplantation surgery for men by removing a section of scalp with hair from another part of the head and filling in thin or bald areas. These are called hair grafts. However, if the patient is completely bald, transplantation cannot be done.
Hair restoration for women is more complex. Fortunately, the techniques for treating hair loss in women have improved, and hair transplantation for women is done quite differently than hair transplantation for men if the condition is thinning hair rather than baldness. It does help if the patient has areas of thick, and preferably coarse, hair on other parts of the scalp to “donate” to the thinning areas.
The procedure is usually done in the doctor’s office with local anesthesia. The doctor will make tiny slits or holes in the scalp and then place many tiny hair grafts in each of the slits. These grafts may be as small as one strand of hair. Depending on the number of grafts required, the surgery could take 4 to 8 hours.
You will have to wear a dressing over the scalp for a few days and will probably have to take an antibiotic to prevent infection. You can expect to be away from work for several days after surgery. The transplanted hair will eventually fall out but new hair growth should occur. However, hair replacement for women does not offer the same dramatic results that many men have.
Hair transplants can cost between $3,000 and $15,000 depending on the severity of the problem and the number of grafts.
Hair restoration for women with surgical lowering of the hairline
Some women have inherited very high hairlines. Hair restoration for women is more difficult in this situation but there is a surgical procedure in which the surgeon makes an incision just below the hairline, removes excess forehead tissue, and moves the scalp and hairline forward and down. Many patients combine this procedure with an eyebrow lift to improve the facial appearance.
Hair restoration for women using prescription drugs
Prescription drugs are often used successfully to stimulate hair growth. However, only minoxidil (brand name Rogaine) is approved by the U.S. FDA in the case of hair restoration for women. Minoxidil was originally developed to treat blood pressure problems and women can be more sensitive to its effects so “Women’s Rogaine” has a different formulation than the male version. It is said to be safe and effective.
Minoxidil is effective for stopping hair loss but may also significantly increase new hair growth. You will have to properly apply the solution to your scalp every day to maintain the hair re-growth. If you stop, you will begin to lose hair again and will lose any progress you made. Also, some women taking minoxidil may develop facial hair as a side effect.
Another drug, finasteride or Propecia, is used to treat male-pattern baldness but is not approved by the FDA for any use in women. Studies failed to see any benefits in women and it can be dangerous to pregnant women.
Is there anything else you can do?
If you are not a good candidate for a hair restoration treatment or procedure, a skilled hairstylist may help. It is best to avoid cuts longer than shoulder-length and you should consider a hair color that blends well with your scalp’s color. This will lessen the contrast between the hair and scalp and make thinning hair less noticeable. The hairstylist should also be able to color your hair in ways to give it extra volume and thickness.
The most beneficial method of hair restoration for women will depend on the underlying cause of your hair loss. You will also have to consider your financial resources because some of these treatments are expensive. But the options available for hair restoration for women are worth consideration to help regain your self-esteem. If you qualify, surgical hair transplantation appears to offer the best and most permanent results. Success depends on the skills of the surgeon you choose, so choose wisely!