What’s the Deal With Menopause and Hair Loss?
3 minute read
You expected the hot flashes, the night sweats, the moodiness. But what the heck is happening to your hair? If your once-lush locks are suddenly looking sparse, you’re in good company. Hair loss during menopause is extremely common, and yes, your hormonal changes have something to do with it.
There are lots of reasons why you might be experiencing hair thinning, but before we get into the whys of menopause and hair loss, let’s debunk a few myths and review what’s not making your hair thin.
“Coloring your hair leads to hair loss.” False! It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a bottle blonde since your 20s or not, dyeing your hair doesn’t make it fall out (provided you’re using decent-quality products and not over-processing it to the point of excessive breakage). What’s more, depositing some dye onto your strands can actually pump up their volume and make your hair look fuller.
“Your hair is thinning because you don’t brush it enough.” Nada! There’s no magic number of times you need to brush your hair each day to keep it healthy, so don’t worry about getting in 100 strokes.
“Wearing a hat too often causes hair loss.” Nope! Simply keeping your head covered doesn’t increase the risk of hair loss. (But it does shield your face from the sun, which keeps skin cancer and wrinkles at bay.)
The Most Likely Culprit for Menopause and Hair Loss
If you’re a woman of a certain age, hair loss is pretty normal. A small amount of hair loss is actually normal throughout your entire lifespan, but it definitely picks up speed at certain stages, including menopause.
A few things happen around menopause that can lead to you seeing more strands accumulating on your brush and in the shower drain. When you were younger, estrogen kept your skin moist and plump, and it also helped keep your hair full and growing robustly. At menopause, however, estrogen levels take a nosedive, which means the hair on your head tends to get thinner.
Meanwhile, “male” hormones (including testosterone) are largely unaffected, so their relative power increases. That’s why, annoyingly, hair may sprout up in unwanted places like your chin.
Heredity also plays an important role. You likely know many guys who have “male-pattern baldness,” which can start fairly young. In men, this traditional pattern of hair loss is inherited; it usually starts with a receding hairline and often results in full baldness.
Although not as well-known, “female-pattern hair loss,” is also common. It’s similarly inherited (from your mom or dad’s side), but it plays out a bit differently. Women with female pattern hair loss don’t usually have a receding hairline, nor do they end up completely bald (whew!). Instead, you’re more apt to notice that your part is widening.
Some women develop a thinning at the top of their scalp that widens through the center (a.k.a. “Christmas tree pattern”). Others find that the hair around their temples starts receding.
Aging itself is also an issue. As you get older, the hair follicles (which hold each strand of hair in your scalp) start to shrink. The result: finer, slow-growing hair. Hair also detaches more easily from these shrunken follicles.
Investigating Other Possible Causes
If you’re approaching menopause or are post-menopausal and your hair loss fits the above-described pattern, there’s an excellent chance your hair loss can be attributed to hormonal changes plus a genetic predisposition. Still, it’s worth seeing your doctor and perhaps a dermatologist to be sure, because there are many other things that can contribute to thinning tresses or make the problem worse.
For starters, have a chat about what’s in your medicine cabinet. Some medications used to treat common ailments like arthritis, depression, gout, heart disease and high blood pressure may cause hair loss as a side effect. If any of your prescriptions turn out to be problematic, your doctor might be able to tweak the dose or suggest an alternate drug. (Don’t stop any of your current medications without checking with your doctor.)
Your doctor might also want to run some basic blood tests, which can provide information about whether a vitamin deficiency could be to blame. Although the connection between vitamins/minerals and hair health is still a bit murky, there is some evidence to suggest that people who are deficient in vitamin D are more apt to experience hair loss.
You and your doctor should also discuss whether you need to be tested for an autoimmune disorder. Many types of autoimmune diseases — which occur when the body mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissue — can cause hair loss.
There is one autoimmune ailment, called alopecia areata, that specifically impacts the hair follicles and causes hair to fall out in clumps or patches. But many other autoimmune disorders can have an indirect effect on the hair. Hypothyroidism should certainly be investigated, because it often causes thinning hair and bald patches. The thyroid gland controls your metabolism, and if it slows down too much many processes in your body (including hair growth) also slow down.
Hypothyroidism also tends to cause fatigue, weight gain, mood swings, and irregular menstrual cycles — all which can overlap quite a bit with what happens around menopause. A simple blood test to check your levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone should help your doctor sort it out.
Stress, perhaps not surprisingly, may also cause hair loss, by pushing it into a dormant, resting state. And yes, stress and menopause can certainly overlap. If your hair thinning is caused solely by stress, however, it’s unlikely to be permanent. Nevertheless, it is wise for your physical and emotional health to get it in check. (Getting more exercise, practicing mindfulness or talking to a therapist are all worthwhile pursuits anyway, but if it also helps our hair? Check and check.)
If your doctor is having a hard time IDing the root cause of your hair loss, they might take a small sample of skin from your scalp (skin biopsy) so that the tissue can be analyzed in a lab.
Help for Thinning Hair
Identifying the underlying problem is the first step in treating hair loss during menopause. (If it turns out you have a thyroid problem, for instance, taking thyroid replacement hormones should also help promote healthy hair growth. )
Female pattern hair loss isn’t dangerous, so your response to it will come down to how severe the thinning is and how much it bothers you. Doing nothing is always an option, too.
If you’re hoping to prevent your hair from continuing to thin, your best bet is likely minoxidil (Rogaine). This topical treatment is the only FDA-approved option for treating female pattern baldness. Minoxidil doesn’t work for everyone, so if it fails your doctor might suggest drugs like spironolactone (also a high blood pressure drug) or ketoconazole (an antifungal) that have shown some promise for thinning hair. Your doctor might also recommend birth control pills (to regulate hormone levels) or hormone replacement therapy (if you’re simultaneously suffering from other menopause-related symptoms).
Is it time to talk to a healthcare provider about your menopause and hair loss? Alloy can help. Click here to get started.
About the author:
Barbara Brody is a freelance writer who specializes in health and wellness. Her work has appeared in a variety of outlets including WebMD, Health, and Prevention.