Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

The number of women suffering from hair loss has doubled in 10 years. Peta Bee gets to the root of the problem The prospect of thinning hair and a receding hairline was once something that only troubled men. But shocking new research shows that young women are also losing their hair. In a study carried out by Regaine, a manufacturer of hair regrowth products, it was reported that 25% of women have thinning locks, and that those aged between 35 and 44 are most at risk. This comes two years after Dr Hugh Rushton, a consultant trichologist at the University of Portsmouth School of Pharmacy, surveyed 800 women and found that nearly one-third of them had suffered from some degree of hair loss.

 According to the support group Hairline, in the past 10 years the proportion of inquiries received from women has rocketed from 25% to 54%. Psychologically, hair loss can be difficult to accept for anyone, but for women it can be particularly traumatic. “Women say that they feel like ‘less of a woman’, and some take it so badly that they consider suicide,” says Hairline’s founder, Elizabeth Steel.

 There are several theories behind the current epidemic of female baldness. It is thought that up to 30% of western women suffer from androgenetic alopecia, which can be genetic but is more often caused by poor diet, hormonal imbalance and stress. “While stress is not a direct cause, it will exacerbate an underlying problem, as prolonged stress can also affect the body’s ability to absorb important nutrients from food,” says the trichologist Andrew Bernie, of the Trichological Clinic in London.

 Simple nutritional problems such as iron deficiency, which affects up to 90% of women in the UK at some time in their lives, causes a drop in serum ferritin levels, which can slow down the rate of hair growth. The fact that more people are avoiding meat probably has a part to play. “Red meat is one of the best sources of iron, which is an important nutrient in hair growth,” says Bernie. A supplement of iron and lysine (an amino acid that is found only in meat and which is vital for healthy hair growth) can help – try Lambert Healthcare’s Florisene (Pounds 14.95 for one month’s supply; 01892 554347).

 There is some evidence, too, that a shift in hormone levels can cause hair follicles to shrink and produce shorter, thinner hairs. The female hormone oestrogen suppresses the production of the male hormones linked to hair thinning, but when a woman is chronically stressed, there is a surge in testosterone, which may trigger hair to fall out. This loss of oestrogen’s protective effect is similar to the changes that take place during the menopause, when women often find that their hair becomes dry and brittle.

 For about 20% of sufferers, hair loss remains a problem. But in most cases, hair growth can return to normal with the improved diet, ultraviolet light therapy, drugs or supplements.
 “There is a frightening number of young women with thinning hair who need to know that help is available,” says Steel. “Hair loss isn’t life-threatening, but it can cause immense suffering.”