Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/10/2021
Worried about hair loss? Female hair loss is far more common than most people realize, with up to 40% of women experiencing some level of hair thinning by age 50, according to data from the Canadian Dermatology Association.
This means that if you’ve noticed a few extra hairs on your brush or pillow, or simply seen your scalp more often under bright lighting, you could have some degree of female hair loss. It is important to note that some shedding is a normal part of the hair growth cycle, however, when you lose more hair than normal you may see bald patches or thinning of your hair.
Female hair loss can occur for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it’s diet-related, with a lack of key vitamins, minerals and nutrients such as protein and iron hurting your hair’s thickness and health. In other cases, hair loss can be caused by stress, whether physical or psychological.
However, most female hair loss is caused by hormones—namely, androgenic hormones.
DHT, a hormone that’s naturally produced in the body as a byproduct of testosterone, can trigger hair loss in women just like it does in men, leading to pattern hair loss and thinning.
Luckily, products like saw palmetto (as well as medications such as minoxidil) may play a role in helping you reverse the effects of hormonal hair loss. Below, we’ve looked at how saw palmetto shampoo works, as well as the effects it can have on your hair’s thickness and overall health.
Believe it or not, your female hair loss could be caused by a byproduct of testosterone. While most of us naturally think of testosterone as a male hormone, it’s also present (albeit in small quantities) in women.
As a woman, testosterone plays an important role in numerous aspects of your life. Low levels of testosterone in women are associated with fatigue, poor sleep and a reduced sex drive. As a female, you also need some testosterone for muscular strength and athleticism.
In short, even as a woman, it’s important to maintain at least a mild to moderate level of male sex hormones such as testosterone.
To put things in perspective, men also have small amounts of female sex hormones such as estrogen in their bodies. In men, estrogen regulates sperm creation, sex drive and a range of other important functions.
Known as androgenic alopecia, hair loss occurs when your body converts testosterone into a byproduct hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
In people with a genetic sensitivity to DHT, this hormone can target hair follicles, causing them to shrink and no longer produce new hairs.
The end result is a hair loss pattern, ranging from a classic receding hairline or crown balding in men to diffuse hair thinning in women.
In short, even if you’re a woman, there’s still a chance that male hormones such as DHT could affect your hair’s thickness and overall health.
Luckily, you aren’t defenseless in this fight. From topical solutions like minoxidil to substances to fight what cause high DHT levels in females, there are options available to treat and potentially reverse your hair loss.
One of these options is saw palmetto. A palm berry extract, saw palmetto is a natural substance that’s scientifically linked to reduced levels of DHT in the body.
As a supplement, saw palmetto has a variety of benefits. It’s used as an at-home treatment for everything from inflammation to low sex drive. However, where saw palmetto really does its job is as an anti-androgenic substance.
Based on current research, scientists believe that saw palmetto blocks the conversion process for DHT, meaning that the circulating testosterone in your body can’t modify itself into DHT as easily.
In short, it’s kind of like a natural shield for the hormonal side of your hair, preventing DHT from being created in the first place. Lower levels of DHT equal lower levels of hair loss, which in turn equal a fuller, thicker and healthier head of hair.
While there’s no research on saw palmetto and DHT in women, studies of men show that saw palmetto actually does work as a hormonal hair loss treatment.
In a 2012 study, 38% of patients treated with saw palmetto for two years saw improvements in their hair growth rate. A more recent Australian study noted that use of saw palmetto correlated with an increase in hair count after 12 and 24 weeks.
It’s worth pointing out that these studies aren’t perfect. First, the studies were performed on an exclusively male audience—an understandable flaw, given that male hair loss is more common than female hair loss.
Second, the Australian study lacked a placebo control group, meaning that it’s unfortunately isn’t possible to compare the results of the patients given saw palmetto to a non-treatment group.
Both of these are frustrating limitations, but they don’t mean that the study data is worthless.
On the whole, studies of saw palmetto as a hair loss treatment show that it may work, albeit with less of an effect than pharmaceutical hair loss treatments such as minoxidil.
While there’s no conclusive evidence that saw palmetto definitely works to stop hair loss in men or women.
By no means is saw palmetto a cure, but it certainly has some effects on hair loss caused by DHT.
Given that there’s no 100% effective hair loss treatment on the market, saw palmetto could be a worthwhile addition to your hair care routine.
Just don’t expect miracle-like results, as no product—whether a natural supplement or a prescription medicine—is likely to give them to you.
Insider tips, early access and more.