What is Going on with My Hair?

3 minute read

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

Facing up to hair loss — (and facial hair!?) — in menopause

Let’s talk hair.

As you know by now, menopause and all its hormonal havoc can impact your hair’s luster — and its location. To understand why, let’s start with a crash course in typical hair growth.

A hair’s life is divided into three stages:

• Anagen: The growth stage, which lasts two-to-seven years.

• Catagen: A transition state that lasts about two weeks.

• Telogen: A resting period of three months-ish that ends with shedding the hair shaft.

Pattern hair loss — say, when your part widens, or bald spots appear — happens when your hair’s anagen phase shortens. Genetics are partly to blame here. However, the drop in estrogen and progesterone that occurs during menopause can also cause a higher level of anagen hormones (like testosterone) to occur, resulting in hair loss where you miss it the most (alopecia) and hair growth on your face (hirsutism), where you want it the least.

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What to do about hair loss

As many as two-thirds of post-menopausal women report hair thinning or bald spots. Most common treatments include:

Minoxidil (a.k.a. Rogaine) 

When directly applied to the scalp, minoxidil has been clinically proven to stimulate hair growth. A 2% over-the-counter solution is now FDA-approved to treat hair loss in women as well as a stronger 5% foam.

Anti-androgens 

When minoxidil alone isn’t successful, a dermatologist may suggest adding the anti-androgen drug spironolactone into the mix to lessen the impact of androgens like testosterone on hair loss. (This is often the case for women with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS.)

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Iron supplements 

Your doctor may test your blood iron level, especially if you’re anemic, vegetarian or experience heavy menstrual bleeding. That said, if your iron levels are normal don’t take supplements in an attempt to save your hair. It can lead to upset stomach or constipation.

What to do about facial hair

When the usual plucking, bleaching and waxing isn’t enough, a common treatment to ask your doctor about is a prescription for oral contraceptives in potential combination with an antiandrogen, such as spironolactone, to block their effects on hair follicles.

Laser hair removal is another time-tested solution. For DIY-types, a 60-something we know just shaves her baby mustache once a week with a regular handheld razor. And word to the wise: it might be time to invest in a magnifying mirror.

Just sayin’.

Haircare 101

We know, we know– you’ve been taking care of your own hair your whole life. But things have changed, and it might be time for a few refresher tips.

Want the secret to good hair at our age? For white women, there’s no need to wash every day. Top hairstylists generally agree that American women wash their hair way too much, which can add to fall out. Washing straight hair allows our hair’s (and our skin’s) natural oils time to distribute and therefore, help with dryness.

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Try cleansing as infrequently as possible — dry shampoo helps immensely — and gently comb out your hair before you wash it to minimize tearing and yanking from roots while detangling while wet. Another tip: change your part every few months.

What to do with all that extra time you now have? Consider a conditioning hair mask, available for every type and budget. On days where you’re not washing your hair, coat dry or damp hair in a mask for a few minutes before you shower, then rinse. It’s that simple. 

For black women and women with curly or kinky hair that is more fragile to begin with, that fragility gets worse with menopause. The more you do to your hair, like straightening, relaxing, blow-drying flat-ironing and coloring, the more damage and breakage that occurs. And a good hot flash or night sweat can wreak havoc on your fresh blowout. Weaves and braids may also put excessive tension on hair, leading to receding hairlines and patchy hair loss. 

What can you do about it? Try natural hair styles. But if natural hair is not for you, or you find that the upkeep on your natural do is more work than keeping it straight, buy a wig. You’ll save a fortune at the hairdresser and won’t have an excuse not to exercise.

When it comes to menopausal hair routines, less is more. So give yourself a break on all that upkeep.

Your hair will thank you.

Written by:

Erin Flaherty

Erin Flaherty is a beauty, health, and wellness writer and editor who has contributed to numerous publications including Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, The Wall Street Journal, and V Magazine. She lives in upstate NY with her husband, Shya, and two dogs, Violet and Billie.

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.