Is your hair starting to look a little thin? Whether you’ve noticed a few extra strands of hair on your hairbrush or pillow or clumps of your hair falling out throughout the day, dealing with hair loss can be a stressful process.
Hair loss occurs for several reasons. In both men and women, the usual cause of hair loss is DHT, an androgenic hormone that can miniaturize your hair follicles, causing the hair around your hairline and crown to thin and fall out.
For women, it’s also possible to lose hair due to a lack of nutrients, particularly a deficiency of iron. When your body doesn’t get the iron it needs, it can affect your ability to supply oxygen to the cells responsible for stimulating and maintaining the growth of your hair.
Below, we’ve explained what iron deficiency is, why it happens and how it can affect your hair health. We’ve also shared some simple but effective techniques that you can use to increase your iron intake, improve your health and restore your hair.
Also known as “iron deficiency anemia,” iron deficiency is a condition that occurs when your body doesn’t have enough iron.
It’s a common condition, affecting about 20% of women and 3% of men. Your risk of becoming deficient in iron is highest while you’re pregnant—around 50% of women become iron deficient during pregnancy.
In some cases, your body can also become deficient in iron due to digestive issues that prevent you from properly absorbing and using the iron in food.
Iron deficiency causes several symptoms. The most obvious signs that you’re deficient in iron are extremely low levels of energy, a faster-than-normal heartbeat, shortness of breath, pain in your tongue and unusually pale skin.
When you’re deficient in iron, it’s also possible for your nails to become weaker and more brittle than normal.
Iron deficiency can occur for a variety of reasons. One of the most common is a lack of iron in your diet. Certain diets can cause you to take in less iron than normal, which can lead to some or all of the iron deficiency symptoms listed above.
You can also become deficient in iron if your body doesn’t absorb iron properly from food. Iron is absorbed through your small intestine, meaning that several intestinal conditions can contribute to iron deficiency anemia.
Another common cause of iron is blood loss. Iron is contained inside red blood cells. If you have an unusually heavy period, it’s possible that you could lose enough iron through blood loss that you could temporarily become deficient.
Iron plays an important role in producing hemoglobin, an essential metalloprotein that your body uses to transport oxygen in blood. When your iron levels are low, it becomes harder to transport oxygen to important cells, such as the cells that stimulate the growth of your nails and hair.
This can result in your hair starting to thin and fall out. Hair loss caused by iron deficiency looks exactly the same as hormonal hair loss, meaning you’ll usually notice hair falling out around the middle of your head, the crown and the hairline.
Just like with other forms of hair loss, you’ll usually spot hair loss from iron deficiency by noticing a few extra hairs on your hairbrush, your pillow or in the hair catch of your shower after washing your hair.
With severe iron deficiency hair loss, you might notice more of your scalp when your hair is wet and you’re standing in a brightly lit area.
If you’ve noticed your hair starting to fall out, it’s generally best not to panic about iron deficiency right away. Most hair loss in women is hormonal, with iron deficiency only accounting for a small percentage of female hair loss cases.
If you’re worried that your hair loss might be caused by an iron deficiency, the best thing to do is to talk to your doctor. They’ll be able to check for iron deficiency using a blood test and give you an accurate diagnosis.
Luckily, unlike regular hormonal hair loss, any hair you lose as the result of an iron deficiency is almost always recoverable.
In short, it’s temporary. By fixing your diet or treating the digestive issues that are preventing you from absorbing and using iron, it’s almost always possible to regrow the hair you’ve lost and get your previous hairline back.
To regrow hair from an iron deficiency, your doctor will normally recommend a diet that’s rich in iron. Foods like red meat, poultry, salmon, tuna, shellfish and whole eggs are all great sources of dietary iron.
There are also large amounts of iron in nuts, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, berries, dark and leafy greens, tofu and legumes. Your doctor may also recommend using an iron supplement to get more iron without needing to make any major adjustments to your diet.
If your iron deficiency is the result of a disease or condition that prevents you from digesting food properly, your doctor will likely recommend treating the underlying issue before treating your resulting hair loss.
In the meantime, hair loss treatments like minoxidil, which works by speeding up your hair’s growth cycle, can also prove useful for regrowing and restoring any hair you’ve lost due to an iron deficiency.
Our guide to minoxidil for women covers everything you need to know about using minoxidil to speed up hair regrowth and restore your hairline.
Because hair loss from iron deficiency isn’t hormonal, hair growth products like saw palmetto usually aren’t effective. These substances work by targeting and blocking the hormones that cause hair loss, not by stimulating the growth of new hair.
While you’re recovering from iron deficiency, it’s important to avoid products like curling irons, hair dyes and chemical-heavy hair sprays. These can all weaken your hair, making it harder to restore your hairline.
Finally, it’s important to be patient. Even with medications like minoxidil and a health, iron-rich diet, it can take months to regrow the hair you’ve lost due to iron deficiency.
While it’s far more common in men, hair loss affects women too. From hormones to your diet, a variety of factors can affect your hair, causing everything from temporary thinning to permanent hair loss.
Our guides to minoxidil, saw palmetto and biotin go into detail on how three of the most popular and effective treatments for female hair loss work. You can also learn more about choosing the right hair loss products in our guide to women’s hair loss shampoo ingredients to look for.