Myths On Women's Hair Loss

This week's New England Journal of Medicine reviews the issue of hair loss, including some misconceptions about hair loss in women. CBS This Morning Health Contributor Dr. Bernadine Healy reports.

One misconception many women have about hair loss is that it's inherited only from their mother. However, a tendency towards baldness can be inherited from either the mother or the father. A better indicator might be how many bald relatives you have.

Here are some other myths about baldness:

  • Myth: Only 15-20 percent of women lose hair.

    Truth: About 50 percent lose hair -- just as with men -- but it may be less noticeable in women.

  • Myth: Women lose hair in their 50's and older.

    Truth: Hair loss for women begins when they are in their teens, twenties and thirties, just like men.

  • Myth: Women shouldn't color or tease their hair or wash their hair often if they are losing hair.

    Truth: It makes no difference and can make the hair look fuller.

One reason that hair loss is less noticeable in women is that thinning of the hair is more diffuse and women rarely lose all their hair.

While a lot of women's hair loss is genetic, women can lose hair for other reasons. Women often lose hair during pregnancy, it can be caused by a thyroid problem, lack of iron or stress. There is also hair loss caused by an autoimmune problem that occurs mostly in people younger than 30, even teenagers.

Depending on the cause of baldness, treatments to counter hair loss may be limited for women. Women can use Rogaine, but the need to apply it to the scalp twice day is a big drawback, and its effectiveness is limited. Propecia, the new pill for men, doesn't work very well in women and may cause fetal abnormalities so women of childbearing age shouldn't use it anyway.

But you don't have to use pills - women who lose their hair because of chemotherapy have shown what great things can be done with hair pieces and even scarves.

Hair is especially vulnerable to breaking when it's wet. Dry it and comb it gently, and even when it's dry, don't brush it too often. Wear a looser hairstyle -- pulling hair tightly back into a ponytail or braids can cause hair loss.

While hair loss is easier for women to camouflage, one study found that women tend to be twice as upset about their hair loss than men. That may be because society puts more emphasis on a good appearance for women than for men. But in everyone, hair loss has a real psychological effect and may predispose people to more depression and anxiety than in the general population.

Reported By Dr. Bernadine Healy