For many women, hair is a big part of their identity. Alongside fertility, hair is something we can lose when menopause hits. Some women live on with a head full of hair into old age whilst others start to see it thin from their 50s. But why is this? In this article, trichologist and cosmetic scientist Tony Maleedy shares the tell-tale signs of menopausal hair thinning and what to do to treat it…
Is hair loss a symptom of menopause?
By the age of 50 approximately 25% of women in the UK will have lost some hair, this rises to 60% of women by 70 years of age.
This type of hair loss is caused by the effects of androgens (male hormones which women also have, but at very low levels). As the level of oestrogen falls after menopause, in those women with a genetic predisposition, the male hormones can have a negative effect by restricting the growth of the hair which results in a characteristic thinning on the front and top of the scalp.
In many women it’s a minor problem affecting only a small proportion of their hair, but in others it can become distressing and can affect self confidence.
What will a hairdresser notice with this type of hair loss?
More often than not you’ll notice hair loss first but if you have a regular hairdresser, they may notice if your hair is becoming sparse. Signs are usually hair thinning on the top and front of the scalp, decrease in the proportion of longer hair growing in this region and an increase in shorter hairs.
Does washing my hair more often make things worse?
Many women think that washing their hair will make it fall out more, but this is a myth. The cleaner the hair and scalp, the better. Your hair is a product of the scalp and the health of your scalp will reflect in the quantity and quality of your hair. Preventing a build up of scale (dead skin cells) is important as is not allowing the scalp to become too oily because this sebum contains very small quantities of testosterone (yes, even in women). This can encourage hair loss in some women and washing your hair is the best thing you can do for a healthy head of hair.
Treating menopausal hair thinning
The best advice is to consult a qualified trichologist (www.trichologists.org.uk) or a dermatologist (you may have to go private). They will be able to diagnose the condition and differentiate it from other possible causes, such as those which are stress or diet related.
Some women find that using Minoxidil helps in preventing menopause related hair loss and, in some cases, encourages new hair growth. A trichologist or doctor can advise on this.
Things you can do at home to help:
Be mindful of chemicals
If your hair is coloured it’s important to try to avoid any colour, or other related chemicals, from going onto the scalp which can be difficult. There isn’t a particular chemical which is damaging and menopause-specific but some chemicals can cause anything from a mild scalp inflammation to marked dermatitis. Be mindful and look into what products your salon uses as some are better than others.
Don’t condition your scalp
Some people rub conditioner into their scalp believing their scalp is dry, which it’s almost certainly NOT! It’s not that hair conditioner in itself is harmful but your scalp has a plentiful supply of the best hair conditioner in the world, your own skin oil (sebum). Most conditioners contain oils which help to moisturise the hair. These oils can make the scalp oilier than it would otherwise be and may trap sebum on the scalp rather than allowing it to flow easily down the hair shaft. Sebum contains traces of the male hormone testosterone so it’s a good idea, particularly in menopausal women, not to have a build up of sebum on the scalp as this may exacerbate hair loss. It’s a slim chance, but a chance not worth taking.
Diet and exercise
A healthy lifestyle is also important. Hair thinning is more likely to occur if a woman is ill or run down. Gentle exercise and a good well-balanced diet can help greatly.
Tony Maleedy is a trichologist, cosmetic scientist & founder of Tony Maleedy Hair. A company dedicated to creating high-quality hair treatments.