In a society where people are quick to judge a book by its cover, it’s no wonder that women are constantly in the mirror and critiquing every part of their body. One of the most prized features of a woman is her hair. In Greek Mythology hair is a symbol of strength and confidence and today is no exception. I still remember the story of Rapunzel and her thick, long beautiful mane. Not only did it land her a prince, but it also was beautiful and admired by most women I know. To achieve this glorious mane we curl, twirl, flat iron, chop, add extensions, and dye our hair constantly. We’re always searching for perfection and to make our tresses stand out. We blame chemical treatments, over-brushing, bad genetics, and more for our dry and thinning hair, but could our hormones also be to blame?
To start, one should understand that there are three factors to hair damage. These are alteration of the hair fiber, change in the hair cycle, and hair follicle damage (below the surface of the skin). There are also three phases of growth. Anagen is the stage of growth and regeneration. Catagen is the degeneration phase, while Telogen is a period of rest and shedding.
Deeply personal, our hair is a part of who we are and what we represent. This intensifies the importance of understanding root causes and finding solutions that help reverse hair loss. When it comes to hormones, fluctuations that are too great and imbalanced can set off a chain of events that threaten the integrity of our hair. Though many different ailments can lead to hair loss, 5 specific hormonal conditions can set it into motion faster.
1. Thyroid Dysfunction- When T3 or T4 hormone production is disrupted hair falls out and may not be replaced by new growth. Both Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism can result in a generalized thinning at the scalp and even loss of eye brow hair.
2. Pregnancy- During pregnancy a surplus of estradiol and progesterone increase the number of follicles in the growth stage and decreases hair shedding leaving it thick and shiny. However, 2-5 months post-partum, decreasing hormone levels causes all the hair that wasn’t shed during pregnancy to fall out. Suddenly, there are clumps of hair in your brush, tangled hair in your drain, and strands on your bathroom floor.
3. PCOS- Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome are no strangers to all the side effects this condition comes with. One such symptom is hair loss. With an increase in inflammation and insulin, changes take place in the ovaries. Shrinking hair follicles and a decrease in length of the growth cycle leads to thinning hair around the crown (top) of the head. With an increase in the male hormone testosterone, many sufferers gain hair in untypical places such as the face, chest, and back.
4. Perimenopause/Menopause- Women in this stage of fluctuating hormones are no strangers to hair changes. As ovaries slow or cease their production of estrogen, hair strands start to become thin, dry, and brittle. Hair growth may also move to areas on the chin or neck. Luckily, the adrenals still produce some estrogen as a back-up, so we're not likely to go bald. Phew!
5. Stress- With increased stress and anxiety, the stress hormone cortisol directs your body into survival mode. Though this is generally a good thing, diverting nutrients and oxygen away from hair follicles to ‘fight or flight’ daily, is super damaging. If the condition Telogen Effluvium activates, hair will enter its resting state prematurely. Long term stress can also cause Alopecia, in which the immune system attacks hair follicles. There is also an increased secretion of DHT (Dihydrotestosterone) a chemical known to promote hair loss. The more hair that falls out, the more stress...... and the cycle continues.
Luckily, all hope is not lost. Most hair loss is reversible. Some treatments are as easy as sleeping on a silk pillow, increasing fruits and veggies in your diet, or decreasing the amount of hair you tug on daily. Other treatments involve blood or saliva testing to check for proper hormone levels. Hormone Replacement Therapy can be discussed with your doctor if decreasing estrogen is the cause of your hair woes. If hair is damaged, go natural by replenishing hair with a good hair mask, botanicals, or amino acids. B vitamins and Magnesium help to promote keratin and collagen production and increase oxygenation to hair follicles.
Whichever treatment you chose, know that you are beautiful either way!