Hair loss affects more than 40 percent of American women; problem may be more than an appearance issue, says dermatologist
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Many men with thinning hair shave their heads or just accept thinning hair as part of middle age.
For women, the social stigma surrounding hair thinning and hair loss can make the experience emotionally devastating.
Forty percent of Americans with hair loss are women, according to the American Hair Loss Association. For most of them, it’s overall thinning, not the horseshoe-shaped pattern of baldness common to men with male pattern baldness.
But they don’t have to resign themselves to thinning.
“Female pattern hair loss is often one of the hardest things to deal with,” said Melissa Mele-Delgado, an American Nurses Credentialing Center-certified nurse practitioner.
Mele-Delgado has a doctorate of nursing practice degree and practices adult health at Neiman Dermatology in Williamsville.
“It can be genetic, autoimmune or thyroid-related,” Mele-Delgado added. “The first part is to know if it’s organic problem or if it isn’t. If it’s organic, we find out what in the body is causing it and try to fix that underlying problem.”
Causes could include physical stress, eating disorders, thyroid or hormonal disorders and childbirth. Discussing these possible factors could help find ways to decrease shedding.
Some types of medication may also cause thinning. Asking about alternatives could help slow shedding and restore what was lost.
Androgenetic alopecia, commonly called female pattern hair loss, involves thinning on the top of the head. Women may notice their part seems wider than it used to. Usually, this happens gradually; however, an abrupt case can indicate a hormonal change.
Mele-Delgado recommends minoxidil, available over the counter.
“It maintains what is there,” she said. “In a small number of cases, there’s an increase with treatment like that. Propecia is specific to males, but some are dabbling in using it female populations. We don’t have a lot of literature so we’re not going there yet.”
As another option, hair transplantation involves taking a strip of hairs from the back of the head, where the hair is thicker, and implanting them in the places where the hair is thin, Mele-Delgado explained.
Another option to help those with female pattern hair loss is light-based technology, delivered with a comb or cap to stimulate re-growth. Blood platelet injections have also shown good success, as a patient’s own blood cells are injected into the scalp skin to stimulate growth.
Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease, causes patchy hair loss on the head. Alopecia totalis bares the entire head and alopecia universalis causes all of the body’s hair to fall out. Some people see patchy re-growth and even times of remission with substantial re-growth. Mele-Delgado said that the patchy hair loss of alopecia is often treated with steroid injections into the places missing hair.
Joanie Kumiega, licensed cosmetologist, member of the American Hair Loss Counsel and owner of A Natural Image Hair Studio in Buffalo, encourages patients to see a doctor to explore a medical possibility for their hair loss.
She said that her office provides several types of hair loss solutions. They start with a scalp “facial” which she said, “is invigorating for the scalp. With continued use, you can definitely see hair re-growth.”
The office also suggests taking biotin supplements to promote strength to the hair, although it won’t re-grow hair where the follicle has died.
“A lot of people think a wig is the only option,” Kumiega said. “There are different options and many are much smaller and much more natural to non-surgically replace that hair.”
Her office provides hairpieces made of synthetic or human hair, ranging from partial to full coverage, with temporary, semi-permanent and permanent bonding.
Permanent models are bonded to existing hair, similar to how hair extensions are applied. Prosthetic adhesives ensure they cannot come off. Semi-permanent pieces are removed every three to six weeks for servicing and temporary ones may be removed by clients.
A Natural Image offers private rooms for clients.
“Every person has a story and they’re all beautiful human beings who deserve to be happy,” Kumiega said.