Hair Loss and Thinning in Women over 50
As you get older, you’ll see plenty of intriguing ads for new and exciting products to support your changing hair color– some of which we love. But no one prepares you for the reality that your hair may change in various ways other than the color. As well as going gray, you might notice a few extra strands of hair in your brush or even on your pillow. Yes, hair thinning is something that happens to women as well as men. The good news? Hair loss in older women is perfectly normal. Let’s look at why and what you might be able to do about it.
Why Women Over 50 Lose Their Hair
Your hair is remarkable. It’s made up of strands of protein, wound together to create something that’s uniquely you. Each hair can last up to seven years and is usually replaced with new hair when it falls out.
This visual shows the different stages of hair growth.
As you age, the anagen phase (the growth phase) becomes shorter and the rate of hair replacement slows. The strands themselves become thinner and, in some cases, shorter. That’s why some women might find that even though they had luscious, flowing locks in their 20s, they struggle to get beyond shoulder length in their 50s.
Menopause and Hair Thinning
Menopause causes hormonal fluctuations in your body. Two of the hormones that keep your hair growing and stuck on your head are progesterone and estrogen. That’s right – the two hormones that happen to be leaving little by little during menopause. That’s the science behind why your hair could become shorter or feel thinner during or after menopause.
But that’s not all. During both perimenopause and menopause, women experience an increase in androgens, or hormones that are more typically associated with male physiology. These androgens can also alter how your hair grows, leading to hair loss in some areas and increased hair growth in others.
Preventing Hair Loss
Firstly, don’t panic. Your thinner hair might be less of a burden than you think. For many women, once the hair has thinned a little after menopause it can settle back down and become easier to manage. So if you’re post-menopausal and happy with your hair, great! If you want to protect your hair further, there are several ways to keep your locks looking luscious at any age.
Drink Plenty of Water
Your body is somewhere between 50 and 70 percent water, so it should come as no surprise that healthy hair needs regular hydration. Avoid hair loss or brittle hair by drinking around 2.7 liters of water each day. Consuming water often helps keep your body and hair hydrated and happy.
Nutrition is vital to healthy hair, just like it is for your skin and nails. Adhering to a regular intake of protein is important, as is looking after your micronutrient intake. We’re talking vitamins and minerals here, but there’s usually no need to resort to supplements unless there are particular foods you don’t get enough of or can’t eat.
Deal with Stress
Easier said than done, right? Especially if you’re still experiencing the hormonal upheaval of menopause to some degree. But it’s a simple fact that stress can cause hair loss at any age, and that doesn’t change as you pass the 50 milestone. Stress can lead to physical hair issues such as subconscious hair pulling or ripping. The uncontrollable urge to pull your hair is called trichotillomania and is directly caused by stress. Stress can also disrupt your hormones further, leading to even more significant hair growth and replacement cycle changes.
Another common side effect of stress is that you sleep less or that your sleep is lacking compared to normal. Your body needs sleep for proper cellular repair. If you sleep less and less, you may notice that your hair becomes dull and lifeless and may start to fall out. Try to stick to a healthy bedtime routine where possible. You can get a range of apps on your smartphone to help manage and monitor your sleep. You can even use apps to practice meditation and mindfulness to help you through those periods of stress. And remember, if you ever start to feel overwhelmed, reach out. You’re never alone.
One surprising reason hair can get thinner as you get older is because of the desire to keep it looking great. That seems contradictory, right? Well, it turns out that over-styling your hair can promote hair loss. Using harsh chemicals, bleaches, and dyes damages the hair strands and can even damage the follicles over time, preventing hair growth and replacement. Heat treatments physically damage your hair and can make it much more brittle and prone to breakage. As mentioned above, over-brushing or combing can lead to extra breakage. Be kind to your hair – we promise you, it looks great just how it is!
Treatments for Hair Loss or Hair Thinning
Most women who experience changes in their hair will find it becomes thinner or shorter rather than shedding completely. For those who do experience genuine hair loss or increased shedding, there are many potential treatments out there right now.
Supplements. A few supplements boasting increased collagen or crucial vitamins and minerals are a popular choice. Others claim to adjust your hormones to prevent hair loss, and others increase your protein intake or offer additional amino acids. It’s worth noting that the FDA doesn’t verify every single claim on these miracle hair supplements, so read the ingredients with care.
Laser therapy. Laser therapy may sound extreme, but there are haircare tools employing this technology you can use right in your own home. You can even get a comb that uses specific light wavelengths to stimulate hair growth. Research on the effectiveness of laser therapy for hair loss is inconclusive, but it remains popular with many women and is marked as “safe and effective” in some studies.
Prescription drugs. Of course, if hair loss becomes severe or causes distress, there are prescription drugs that can help. Both finasteride and spironolactone may be available from your healthcare provider. They work by limiting the hormones associated with hair loss, and both drugs are suitable for post-menopausal women. A more popular medication is Minoxidil which is the main active ingredient in branded products like Regaine. Minoxidil is FDA approved to treat female pattern hair loss, and is usually applied as a foam every day.
You might not even realize it, but you lose around 100 hairs every day. According to board-certified OBGYN Donna Ivery, MD, “We expect gray hair but NO hair is out of bounds. Determining how your hormone levels are changing in relation to each other tells a more complete story about your hair loss or thinning. Don’t be afraid. The treatments and remedies above can be very successful in restoring your crown!”
Of course, if you do feel concerned about hair loss, speak to your healthcare provider or specialist. But rest easy that hair loss in older women is a natural sign of aging, and just like going gray, it is something you can tackle or celebrate in your own unique way.