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Female pattern hair loss

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Female pattern hair loss refers to thinning of hair across your scalp, which can get worse over decades as you age.
  • Most of the time hormone levels are normal, but occasionally it can be caused by high levels of androgens (male hormones).
  • There are medicines that can slow down hair loss, but it can take several months to see results.
  • Some people find it helpful to use hair products to hide thinning areas.
  • Female pattern hair loss can be very distressing and can lead to difficulties with self-esteem, but help is available.

What is female pattern hair loss?

Female pattern hair loss is a term used to describe hair loss and thinning in females. It is also known as androgenetic alopecia. It is the most common cause of hair loss in females.

Female pattern hair loss can develop at any age. It is more common after menopause. Almost half of all females show signs of hair loss by the age of 50.

What are the symptoms of female pattern hair loss?

The hair loss and thinning follow a different pattern to male pattern hair loss. Your hair usually thins across your scalp, starting at the parting. You might notice more hairs falling out. The skin of your scalp will look normal.

It usually progresses over decades and can come in bursts.

A receding hairline or a bald patch on the top of your head is rare in females. This can happen if you have high levels of androgens (male hormones) in your body.

Illustration of the four stages of female pattern hair loss
Unlike with male pattern hair loss, which starts with a receding hairline, hair loss in females occurs across the top of the head.

What causes female pattern hair loss?

Genetics usually plays a part in the development of female pattern hair loss. You can inherit these genes from one or both of your parents.

The hair loss is caused by the effects of androgens on your hair follicles. Your hair follicles start to produce thin, colourless hair instead of thick, coloured hair. Most of the time your hormone levels will be normal.

Occasionally, it can be caused by high levels of androgens — for example, if you have polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Female pattern hair loss is different from alopecia areata, which is an autoimmune condition resulting in hair loss from the scalp and other parts of the body.

How will I be diagnosed with female pattern hair loss?

Talk to your doctor if your hair is thinning. Your doctor will examine your hair and scalp  and might refer you to a dermatologist (a doctor who specialises in skin health). Your doctor can usually diagnose female pattern hair loss without any tests.

If you have acne, irregular periods or a lot of body hair, your doctor might recommend a test to check your hormones.

If it’s not clear what’s causing your hair loss, your doctor might also recommend removing a tiny piece of skin from your scalp to test for other hair loss conditions.

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How can I manage female pattern hair loss?

If female pattern hair loss is bothering you, you might choose to try treating it. There is no cure. The main aim of treatment is to slow down or stop hair loss. Treatment might also stimulate hair growth, but this works better for some people than others.

Your doctor might prescribe minoxidil lotion for your scalp or anti-androgen tablets such as spironolactone or cyproterone acetate. It’s important to discuss the potential side effects of these treatments with your doctor, and to tell your doctor if you are breastfeeding or may be pregnant.

It can take 6 to 12 months to know if treatment is working. The medicines will only help for as long as you keep taking them.

Other things that may help include:

  • changing your hairstyle or parting to make hair loss less noticeable
  • using synthetic sprays or powders to disguise thinning hair
  • wearing a scarf, hat or wig
  • hair transplants

There is not enough evidence to show that laser treatments, plasma injections, ‘hair tonics’ and nutritional supplements will help.

Can female pattern hair loss cause any other problems?

For some people, hair loss can be incredibly distressing and can affect their self-esteem. It can sometimes lead to:

  • depression
  • relationship problems
  • work problems
  • poor sleep
  • avoidance of social activities

If your hair loss is upsetting for you, it might help to talk to your doctor or to see a psychologist for counselling.

Beyond Blue can help if you feel anxious or depressed because of hair loss. Call 1300 22 4636 anytime.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2022

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