Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/6/2021
Have you noticed that your hair part has been looking a bit thinner lately?
If you have, you’re not alone. Although it’s widely regarded as a male-specific problem, hair thinning and loss in women is suspected to affect more than 50 percent of the population.
Unlike men, however, women are more likely to experience hair loss as thinning, rather than baldness.
Hair part thinning is a common symptom of getting older, so let’s talk about how you can identify it, and your options for treating it.
In order to explain the signs of thinning hair, we first need to cover the process of hair growth.
At birth, we possess all of the hair follicles we’ll ever have — about five million across our bodies.
As we grow older, some of those follicles stop producing hair, which leads to hair thinning and loss.
The process of hair growth occurs in a cyclical pattern, with each individual follicle on its own schedule and existing in one of the four stages of hair growth at any given time.
Out of the 100,000 or so hair follicles on our scalps, we lose or “shed” about 50 to 100 a day — a sign that those hairs are progressing through the fourth stage of hair growth, known as the exogen phase.
The four stages of hair growth are:
The anagen phase. This first stage of hair growth lasts anywhere from two to six years. The hair begins growing from a root of protein in the hair follicle, which is fed by blood vessels in the scalp that create more cells to allow the hair to grow. About 90 percent of hair is in this phase at any time, and the growing hair passes through a moisturizing oil gland.
The catagen phase. This one- to two-week phase in which hair ceases to actively grow serves as a transition between the anagen phase and telogen phase. Less than one percent of scalp hair is in this phase at any time.
The telogen phase. This third stage of hair growth lasts three-to-four months, and is a resting phase between the cessation of hair growth and hair shedding (when hair falls out to make room for new hair growth).
The exogen phase. Newly regarded as a stage of hair growth, this is the part of the cycle when the hair strands disconnect and release from the hair follicle, or shed. As mentioned above, this allows the hair growth cycle to start again.
Hair loss is medically known as alopecia, and there are a host of conditions that can lead to the thinning or loss of hair. General causes of hair loss include:
Diet changes or rapid weight loss
Menopause and other hormonal changes
Breakage due to over processing or styling of hair
Hairstyles that pull at the hair root, or traction alopecia
Alopecia areata is one of the autoimmune conditions that affect the skin and can lead to hair loss on the head and other parts of the body. It is usually impermanent.
There are three different categories of hair loss that are experienced by women.
This type of hair loss occurs when more hair follicles than normal hit the telogen phase, where hair begins to fall out.
Telogen effluvium is caused by extreme emotional or physical stress, certain medications or supplements (like high blood pressure medication) and thyroid complications.
Hormonal changes can also lead to this type of hair loss, such as those that happen during pregnancy, birth control use and menopause.
This type of hair loss is driven by medication and affects hair that’s in the growth or anagen phase.
It occurs when medication disrupts the growth of the hair follicle through toxicity, and is commonly seen in individuals who undergo chemotherapy. This type of loss can be permanent if the follicle becomes damaged.
Androgenetic alopecia is the most common type of hair loss in women and is also known as female pattern alopecia, female pattern hair loss (FPHL) or baldness.
FPHL can be caused by genes, aging or menopause, and often hits women in their 40s, 50s and sixties.
As we mentioned above, women experience hair loss and thinning differently, usually without the baldness seen in men.
Some signs that you can look for to tell if you’re experiencing hair thinning include:
Losing more hair than normal. On average, people lose about 50 to 100 hairs per day. Loss of more than 125 hairs per day can be a sign of hair thinning.
You see more scalp skin than you’re accustomed to through your hair, or you notice that your normal hair part is visibly wider.
You notice patches of hair that are thinning or missing, or your ponytail is smaller.
You see that your hair is breaking off.
To treat a thinning hair part, you’ll need to consult with your dermatology provider. They’ll be able to help you discern the type of hair loss you’re experiencing through some combination of a scalp examination, blood tests or a biopsy.
They may also ask questions about how you care for your hair, your family history and your own observations about the thinning out of your hair.
In some cases, hair loss will resolve on its own or with behavior shifts.
For example, hair loss caused by pregnancy will often cease once hormones have stabilized after delivery. Hair loss due to hair styling can be resolved with changes to hair styling habits.
For medical conditions like female pattern hair loss, however, minoxidil, generic for Rogaine®, or a laser therapy like the HairMax Lasercomb® are FDA-approved treatments for reversing this condition.
The hers Minoxidil Foam for Women is a medication that may be effective for treating your hair loss.
If you notice that you have a wide hair part, it’s best to trust your gut. No one knows the hairs on your head better than you, and the sooner you start treating the root cause of your hair thinning or loss, the better your chances are of successfully treating your condition.
There are a number of medical conditions that can lead to alopecia, so it’s best to consult with your dermatology provider to determine the cause and figure out what lifestyle changes you may need to make, or what hair loss treatments may be effective for you.
Hair loss is definitely not the end of the world, and you can find your way back to healthier hair with the right approach.