Does Menopause Cause Hair Loss?

3 minute read

By: Sheryl Kraft|Last updated: May 10, 2022
Medically reviewed by: Sharon D. Malone

It’s common and quite normal to lose up to about 100 strands of hair each day. That’s simply your hair following the natural rhythm of growth and loss: Some hairs fall out, while others take root and replace those lost.

But as we age, that peaceful and mutual concession doesn’t always work so seamlessly. Many women will begin noticing their hair thinning, their drains clogging, and their hairbrush filling up faster than ever in their 40s — the age when coincidentally (or not), periods can become erratic, hot flashes may hit, moods swings and a good night’s sleep become but a dream.

The age of perimenopause. 

Does menopause cause hair loss? The short answer is a resounding yes. Here’s how.

How does menopause cause hair loss?

Show us a menopausal woman with Rapunzel-like hair and we’ll tell you that’s it’s a fairy tale — or in the minimum, extensions. Indeed, one study estimates that fewer than 45 percent of women go through life with a full head of hair. 

The mane culprit? Hormones. Just as hormonal imbalance causes symptoms like hot flashes, sleeplessness, mood swings, dry skin, bladder issues and more, you add one more to the list: hair loss, also known as female pattern hair loss (FPHL). 

FPHL generally happens slowly, gradually, and unpredictably, coming in “episodic” waves, with hair loss speeding up then slowing down in cycles that can last for a while. FPHL is progressive, prompting hair thinning mainly on the top and crown of the scalp and usually beginning with a widening through the center hair part before receding near and around your temples.

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Why does menopause cause hair loss?

As per usual in this age, the answer points to estrogen and progesterone, which our bodies churn out reliably in our younger years. Both help foster the growth and stability of the hairs on our heads. However, when perimenopause hits — as with other hormonal upheavals such as pregnancy, thyroid problems and childbirth — fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone can impact our healthy hair as well.

For as levels of estrogen and progesterone fall, hair gets thinner as hair growth slows down. In response to plummeting female hormone levels, male hormones (androgens) increase, causing hair follicles to shrink. The fallout? Thinner, sparser, finer hair. (Speaking of androgens, those hormones can cause hair growth but not where you want it: on your chin, your upper lip and face. But that’s a story for another time.)

What else do we know about hair loss?

More than 50 percent of American women also experience hair loss. The good news? Hair loss in women rarely results in total baldness. Still, it stings.

To state that menopause causes hormonal hair loss is accurate, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. In addition to a menopause symptom, hair loss can be caused by other things, like:

  • Heredity This comes with aging and is known as female-pattern baldness. Think: Thinning hair along the crown of the scalp.

  • Stress Several months following a difficult event, hair may thin, but this is usually temporary.

  • Illness/conditions Medical conditions like alopecia areata, scalp infections like ringworm and the hair-pulling disorder, trichotillomania.

  • Cancer treatments Radiation to the head and chemotherapy can cause hair to fall out, partially or totally. It will grow back, but not always the same as before.

  • Chemical processing Hair dyes, straightening and perms can stress the hair and cause it to fall out in places.

  • Hair styles that put stress on the hair Repeatedly pulling hair back tight into a ponytail can eventually weaken your strands. (This is known as traction alopecia.)

  • Medications and supplements Various drugs used to treat cancer, arthritis, heart problems, depression, high blood pressure and gout can be culprits.

  • Poor nutrition Iron and zinc deficiency (more common in vegans and vegetarians), too little biotin or protein and a diet deficient in essential minerals and vitamins can cause hair to thin or fall out.

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If your crowning glory is now following the law of diminishing returns, here are some simple tips for hanging onto your hair — or, at least, making the most of what you’ve got:

  • Don’t overbrush. The 100 strokes a day to get healthy hair is an old wife’s tale. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, brushing that much can actually damage and weaken your hair and will speed up hair loss. 

  • Shampoo gently. Over scrubbing can break hair. Condition after shampooing, which can smooth hair and make hair more manageable.

  • Use a detangler and a wide-tooth comb to make combing wet hair easier. Wet hair is more fragile.

  • Air dry your hair when possible.

  • Minimize the time spent with heated tools, like blow dryers and curling irons. Use the lowest heat setting possible.

  • If you tie your hair back, use a covered rubber band or fabric scrunchie (and don’t pull too tight).

  • If you’re having more than one hair service (e.g., color and a relaxer), schedule them separately (ideally two weeks apart).

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How to camouflage the loss 

  • Rather than make a straight center part, try zigzagging your part. 

  • A shorter haircut can sometimes make hair loss less obvious; bangs and layers can add texture and volume to thinning hair. 

  • Try a hair-building fiber. These are shampoo-off keratin fibers in a range of colors that come in a jar and are sprinkled onto the scalp to create an illusion of density and color.

  • Clip-on or permanent hair extensions can add volume.

  • Consider hair accessories like bandanas, turbans, headbands with hair attached to them and clip-on ponytails.

  • Hats, hairpieces and wigs are always options, too.

Sources:

  1. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/hair-loss/types 

  2. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/hair-loss/causes/18-causes 

  3. https://www.aad.org/news/untangling-hair-loss-in-women 

  4. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/hair-loss/insider/stop-damage 

  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499948/#:~:text=The%20growth%20of%20the%20hair,%2C%20and%20telogen%20(rest)

  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2684510/ 

  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4387693/ 

  8. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16921-hair-loss-in-women

  9. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hair-loss/symptoms-causes/syc-20372926 

  10. https://www.americanhairloss.org/

  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5315033/ 

  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5419033/ 

  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7432488/

Written by:

Sheryl Kraft

Sheryl Kraft is a seasoned freelance health writer, who writes, and is passionate about, healthy aging, wellness, fitness, nutrition and just about anything related to improving our lifestyle and personal health. Her work has been published widely in print and online outlets, including AARP, Parade, Family Circle, Weight Watchers, Spry, Prevention, WebMD, Everyday Health and many more. Sheryl lives in Fairfield County, CT., with husband Alan and new puppy Annie, and is the mother of two grown sons, Jonathan and Jeremy.

Medically reviewed by:

Sharon D. Malone

Dr. Sharon Malone is among the nation’s leading obstetrician / gynecologists with a focus on the specific health challenges associated with menopause.