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What Causes Hair Loss in Older Women?

Vicky Davis, FNP

Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 3/17/2022

It’s normal to change as you age, both mentally, emotionally and physically. While those extra years can be perfect for acquiring wisdom and accomplishing your goals, they also come with noticeable changes to your skin and hair.

While we’re all familiar with the fine lines, wrinkles and other skin-related changes that happen as we get older (many of which can be prevented, by the way), far fewer people are aware that it’s also possible to lose hair as a woman as you enter your 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. 

Most age-related hair loss that affects women occurs due to female pattern hair loss (FPHL) -- the female equivalent of male pattern baldness. But there are also other factors that can cause you to shed hair and lose some of your hair density as you grow older.

Below, we’ve explained why and how female hair loss occurs, as well as how aging can play a role in the process.

We’ve also shared several proven techniques that you can use to treat aging-related hair loss, restore thinning hair and keep your hair looking thick, dense, strong and healthy in any decade of your life.

Female Pattern Hair Loss and Age

If you’ve noticed that your hair has started to appear a little thinner over the past decade, you’re probably not alone. Although we usually associate aging-related hair loss with men, the reality is that women can also lose hair with age. 

Most of the time, the type of hair loss that affects women as part of the aging process is referred to as female androgenetic alopecia, or female pattern hair loss.

This type of hair loss occurs when certain androgens, or male sex hormones, bind to receptors in your scalp. Over time, this can cause your hair follicles to enter into a process referred to as miniaturization, in which the hair growth cycle becomes shorter. 

The specific hormone responsible for this process is called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. As its name may suggest, it’s related to testosterone -- the hormone that’s involved in men’s physical feature (think bone structure and muscles) and sexual health (think sex drive and erections).

In fact, your body produces DHT as a byproduct of testosterone, all via the effects of an enzyme called 5 alpha-reductase.

At first glance, this can seem more than a little confusing. After all, as a woman, why should you need to worry about a hormone related to testosterone causing your hair to fall out?

The reason is that although testosterone is thought of as a male hormone (much like estrogen is thought of as a female hormone), men and women both produce testosterone and estrogen, just in different quantities. 

Men typically have 300 to 1,000 nanograms of testosterone per deciliter of blood (ng/dL), while most women have between 15 and 70 ng/dL.

On the other hand, premenopausal women typically have 30 to 400 picograms of estradiol (one of several forms of estrogen) per milliliter of blood (pg/mL), while men usually have between 10 and 50 pg/mL.

Put simply, while testosterone is associated with male features and estrogen is associated with female features, both hormones can be found in men and women.

Since pattern hair loss is caused by a byproduct of testosterone, men tend to be more prone to the effects of androgenetic alopecia than women. This is why it’s relatively common to see men in their 30s, 40s or 50s with visible signs of hair loss. 

For women, because DHT levels are lower, the visible effects of pattern hair loss usually start to appear later in life, after your scalp and hair follicles have been exposed to the harmful effects of DHT for a longer period of time.

Hormonal disorders that increase DHT levels, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can accelerate this process and cause pattern hair loss to develop earlier in life or to a greater level of severity.

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How Common is Hair Loss in Older Women?

Female pattern hair loss is common. According to data published in the International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, 12 percent of women show signs of pattern hair loss at age 30, while 30 to 40 percent of women are affected by pattern hair loss by their 60s.

Just like some men develop a mild receding hairline while others go completely bald as they get older, the severity of pattern hair loss can vary in women due to genetic factors.

Most of the time, the earlier female hair loss develops, the more severe it’s likely to become with the aging process. Although researchers have yet to find a precise “hair loss gene,” your family history of hair loss may play a role in your own risk of hair thinning throughout your life.

Female Pattern Hair Loss vs. Male Pattern Baldness

Although hereditary hair loss in men and women share a common cause, they produce different patterns of hair loss. 

In men, pattern hair loss usually involves a receding hairline, bald patch at the crown, then total loss of most scalp hair. In women, it usually involves diffuse hair loss near your part line -- the area of your scalp where your hair naturally parts from left to right.

Over time, this loss of hair can intensify near the front of your scalp, resulting in what’s referred to as a triangular “Christmas tree” hair loss pattern.

Women who start to lose hair notice it progressively thinning in these areas of the scalp. Some research suggests that most women who experience hair loss seek expert help in their 60s, as the effects of DHT on hair follicles become more visible.

Other Types of Hair Loss in Women

In addition to androgenetic alopecia, there are numerous other types of hair loss that may affect you throughout life. Some of these are related to the aging process, while others may be caused by medical conditions, injuries to your scalp and certain types of medication.

Other forms of hair loss include:

  • Telogen effluvium. This is a form of hair shedding that occurs when hair follicles enter into the telogen phase of the hair growth cycle prematurely. It causes your hair to stop growing for several months, then results in sudden hair loss.A variety of health issues can cause telogen effluvium, including stress, surgery, severe infections, illnesses that cause fever, nutritional deficiencies, thyroid disease, crash diets that severely restrict protein or calorie intake and ingestion of heavy metals.

  • Postpartum hair loss. It’s common to temporarily lose hair after pregnancy as a result of stress and hormonal changes. In fact, postpartum hormonal changes are a common cause of telogen effluvium.

  • Traction alopecia. This is a form of hair loss that’s caused by long-term tension on your hair follicles. It’s more common in people with skin of color and in people who wear their hair pulled back tightly (for this reason, it’s sometimes called ponytail hair loss).

  • Anagen effluvium. This is a form of hair shedding that’s caused by certain medications, including drugs used in chemotherapy. It usually begins within two weeks of a medical treatment and typically reverses following the end of treatment.

  • Alopecia areata. This is a form of patchy hair loss caused by autoimmune disease. It causes patchy hair loss in certain areas of your scalp and body that develop when your immune system attacks your hair follicles.

  • Tinea capitis. This is a type of fungal infection that affects your scalp. When it’s severe, it may cause inflammation and scarring that damages your hair follicles and causes hair loss.

Many of these forms of hair loss aren’t directly caused by aging. However, some factors related to the aging process, such as an elevated risk of certain medical conditions, may increase your risk of developing one of these forms of hair loss as you get older. 

How to Protect Your Hair and Stop Further Hair Loss

When hair loss happens, it can have a serious impact on your self-esteem. Styling your hair can become more difficult, and you may no longer feel like yourself. Many women with aging-related hair loss experience some degree of mental distress.

The good news is that pattern hair loss is treatable, and the earlier you start treating it, the more likely you are to experience positive results. 

Below, we’ve shared hair loss treatments that you can use to protect and potentially regrow your hair, as well as habits and lifestyle changes that you can use to keep your hair thick, dense and healthy as you age. 

Use Minoxidil

Minoxidil is an FDA-approved medication for treating hair loss. It’s available over the counter as a liquid or foam. Minoxidil works by moving hair follicles into the growth phase of the hair growth cycle and by increasing blood flow to your scalp.

Scientific research shows that minoxidil usually works well as a treatment for female androgenic alopecia. In one study, both 2% and 5% minoxidil solutions produced measurable improvements in hair count for women with pattern hair loss when used for 48 weeks.

We offer minoxidil liquid and minoxidil foam for women, both of which are formulated to prevent hair loss and promote healthy hair growth. 

Minoxidil works well for most women, but it can take up to four months to produce a noticeable improvement in hair growth. Although it’s generally well tolerated, side effects of minoxidil for women can include skin irritation, itching and a temporary increase in hair shedding.

These issues are rarely serious and generally improve on their own over the course of several months of treatment. Minoxidil is not recommended for use while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Consider an Anti-Androgen Medication

Although minoxidil is excellent at stimulating hair growth, it doesn’t have any effect on your DHT levels. This means that if your hair loss is caused by a genetic sensitivity to dihydrotestosterone, using minoxidil alone may not completely stop your hair loss

If you have severe hair loss that doesn’t get better with minoxidil, your healthcare provider may suggest using a type of prescription medication called an anti-androgen.

These medications work by preventing the effects of androgen hormones, such as testosterone and DHT. They’re often used as a treatment for hair loss and other symptoms caused by PCOS or other conditions that result in increased androgen levels.

One antiandrogen that’s typically used to treat female pattern hair loss is spironolactone. While research is limited in scale, some studies have shown that it’s effective at stopping hair loss and restoring hair growth.

Other medications that inhibit the effects of androgens or reduce their levels in the body include cyproterone acetate and finasteride. Due to their effects on hormone levels, these medications should not be used during pregnancy or if you plan to become pregnant in the near future

If you’re prescribed an anti-androgen for hair loss, make sure to closely follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and inform them about any side effects you experience. 

For Severe Thinning, Consider Surgical Hair Restoration

If you have severe, permanent hair loss from androgenetic alopecia or a medical condition, you may want to consider hair transplant surgery.

This type of hair restoration surgical procedure involves moving hair follicles from the back and sides of your scalp (areas that are resistant to the effects of DHT) to areas with visible thinning, such as your part line.

Hair transplants for women can be very effective and allow for the regrowth of hair in areas with significant hair loss. However, they aren’t cheap -- on average, it can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $15,000 or more for a typical procedure. 

Tips for Healthy Hair as You Age

Maintaining healthy hair and limiting the effects of female-pattern baldness is all about living a healthy lifestyle. Try the following tips and techniques to keep your hair looking and feeling its best throughout your life:

  • Eat a balanced diet. Certain dietary issues, such as iron deficiency or a limited protein intake, can affect your hair growth and contribute to shedding. Others can cause weak, fragile hair that breaks easily.Try to eat a balanced, healthy diet. Products like our Multivitamin Gummies make it easy to supply your hair follicles with the nutrients they need for optimal hair growth.

  • Avoid pulling on your hair follicles. Try to avoid braids, tight ponytails, hair extensions and other products or hairstyles that put any continuous, severe pulling pressure on your hair roots.

  • Use a hair loss shampoo. Some shampoos, such as our Triple Threat Shampoo, have active ingredients that can help to control excess shedding and keep your hair feeling as thick and strong as possible.

  • Limit your exposure to stress. Both emotional stress and physical stress can have an impact on your hair. Limit your exposure to stressful situations or people and focus on living a relaxing, low-stress lifestyle.

  • Treat any underlying conditions. Many common conditions, including thyroid disease and autoimmune conditions, may make hair loss worse. If you have any health issues, make sure that they’re being properly treated.

  • Check your medications. Some common medications, such as anticoagulants, lithium, beta blockers and others, can contribute to hair shedding. Ask your healthcare provider if there are steps that you can take to limit these side effects.If you use a medication that’s associated with hair loss, don’t make any changes to your dosage or stop taking it without first talking to your healthcare provider.

  • Be careful with styling tools. Blow dryers, strong-hold products, curling irons and other products can all harm your hair, resulting in broken hairs, clumps of hairs that fall out and other issues. Make sure to apply caution when you use styling tools and hair products.

  • Treat hair loss as soon as you see it. Hair loss usually gets worse gradually, making it important to act quickly. Talk to your healthcare provider about treatment as soon as you notice any thinning or patches of hair loss. 

Our guide to thickening your hair shares techniques that you can use to limit hair loss, promote hair regrowth and protect your hair from common sources of damage. 

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Learn More About Caring for Your Hair

Although hair loss is usually associated with men, it’s normal to deal with some gradual thinning as you get older. Over time, this can lead to noticeable hair loss as you enter your 50s, 60s and 70s.

We offer several evidence-based treatment options for hair loss, including medications such as minoxidil for women. Used effectively, these can help you to prevent aging-related hair loss and maintain a full head of hair at any age.

Want to learn more about caring for your hair? Our guide to female hair loss shares the reasons for hair loss in women, while our list of the best treatments for women’s hair loss goes into more detail about your cosmetic options for dealing with it. 

20 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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