Common Reasons for Hair Loss in Women

by Allison Bush Editor

Often thought of as a male disease, hair loss in women accounts for about 40 percent of the cases in the U.S. While it’s generally acceptable for men to experience hair loss, that’s not the case for women. Here are common causes of hair loss in women and how each condition could be treated.

Telogen effluvium

Telogen effluvium (TE) is a phenomenon that occurs after a stressful event, such as pregnancy, major surgery, extreme weight loss, cancer treatment, or intense stress. It may also be a side effect of specific medications. Women may notice hair loss three to six months after a stressful event, but they will re-grow hair after the shedding slows.


Millions of women suffer from hypothyroidism and don't even know it. Hypothyroidism is when your body produces too little thyroid hormone, which is the hormone responsible for metabolism, heart rate, and mood. This means the thyroid is underactive. The thyroid hormone is responsible for everything from your basal metabolic rate to the growth of your hair, skin, and nails.

Iron deficiency anemia

Women who have heavy periods or don't eat enough iron-rich foods may be prone to iron deficiency, which is when the blood doesn't have enough red blood cells. The symptoms of iron deficiency include extreme fatigue, weakness, and pale skin. Also common are headaches, difficulty concentrating, cold hands and feet, and hair loss.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS, which can begin as early as age 11, is caused by a hormonal imbalance in which the ovaries produce too many male hormones. Women suffering from this condition may experience facial hair growth, irregular periods, acne, and cysts on the ovaries. While women may experience hair loss on the scalp, hair may grow elsewhere on the body.

Scalp condition

Inflammation of the scalp can make it difficult for hair to grow. Skin conditions that lead to hair loss include seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff), psoriasis, and fungal infections such as ringworm.

A physical exam of the scalp will help determine which condition you have. A fungal culture and possibly a biopsy of the scalp may be used to determine if it's ringworm.

Too much styling

Believe it or not, all of your hours spent straightening, curling and dyeing your hair could be the cause of your hair loss. Heat and chemicals can weaken the hair, causing it to break and fall out. It's usually the combination of treatments (keratin, coloring, and blow-drying) that does the most damage.

With this type of hair loss, you'll notice shorter pieces of hair falling out and not strands of hair with telogen bulbs at the ends.

Birth control

Women who use oral contraceptives might be surprised to learn that hair loss is a common side effect of the pill. The pill’s primary function is to suppress ovulation, which is achieved by using the hormones estrogen and progestin to stop fertility. Since hormones are also the primary trigger for hair loss, the pill brings a risk that you can start losing hair.

Hereditary hair loss

Hair loss that is genetic is known as androgenetic alopecia. With this condition, the majority of women have diffuse thinning on all areas of the scalp. Androgenic alopecia in women is due to the action of androgens, which are male hormones typically present in only small amounts. Androgenic alopecia can be caused by a variety of factors tied to the actions of hormones.

Allison Bush
Meet Our Writer
Allison Bush

Allison Bush is a former HealthCentral editor who covered a wide range of health topics.