Women and hair loss: coping tips

Losing your crowning glory can be particularly difficult for women. But there are ways to cope.

Types of hair loss

  • Telogen effluvium General shedding and thinning of the hair. It usually occurs a few months after a shock to the system, such as extreme stress, fever, childbirth, sudden weight loss, an operation or as a reaction to medication. The hair loss is usually temporary.
  • Female-pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia) Hair gradually thins, often from the top of the head. It usually gets more noticeable after the menopause and tends to run in families.
  • Alopecia areataAffects mostly teenagers and young adults. Hair loss is patchy and linked to a problem with the immune system. The hair follicles are not permanently damaged, and in many cases hair grows back in a few months.
  • Alopecia totalis Complete loss of hair on the head. Regrowth is unlikely.
  • Alopecia universalisTotal loss of head and body hair. 

Losing your hair as a woman, especially if you're young or at a vulnerable time in your life, can be a catastrophic experience.

Jackie McKillop, Alopecia UK spokesperson and junior nursing sister at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, says society considers hair to be an important part of how you look:

"For women, there is a social stigma attached to going bald," she says. "Hair loss can affect your sensuality and how you perceive yourself. There are usually emotional trials and tribulations when it happens.

"Some women question whether their partner will still love them, while I've known others become socially reclusive and give up enjoyable activities like swimming and going to the gym because they can't bear using the communal changing rooms for fear of their hair loss being discovered."

An estimated 8 million women in the UK have hair loss (medically known as alopecia), and it can lead to loss of self-confidence and heightened self-consciousness.

Hair loss is a well-known side effect of chemotherapy, and around 50% of women lose more hair than usual after they've given birth.

Hair loss treatments

Jackie, who has herself lost all her hair, says it can help to address the physical aspects of hair loss. Try to find out everything you can about hair loss and the treatment options available to you.

A proven treatment for female-pattern baldness is a hair lotion containing minoxidil. After using it, most women see improvements, including a stop to or slowing of the balding, as well as thicker hair. Up to 25% of women experience hair regrowth while using it.

Always contact your GP or dermatologist for advice before starting or finishing any treatments or medication for alopecia.

Find out about the causes of hair loss and what effective hair loss treatments are available.

Ways to cope with hair loss

It's also important to address the psychological impact of hair loss. If you've lost your hair, even temporarily, life will be easier if you can accept what's happened and learn to live with your altered appearance.

"How well you cope with looking at yourself in the mirror depends on your coping strategies, personality, self-esteem and the support around you," says Jackie. "It's really important to try to promote positivity in your life."

Here are some useful self-help tips:

Share stories: It helps to know you're not alone. Watch this video of a woman's personal experience of alopecia, read this real-life story of Michelle Chapman who was diagnosed with alopecia when she was five, then read the comments at the end of this article to see how others cope.

Join a support group: There are a variety of groups around the country where you can meet and socialise with other people with alopecia. Find your nearest Alopecia UK support group.

Go online: If you prefer to go online to talk to others, join Alopecia UK's discussion forum.

Accept it: It's not easy, but try to come to terms with your hair loss. One way to do this is to make a list of all your good qualities and focus your energy on celebrating these attributes.

Talk about it: Discuss your hair loss with your friends, family and loved ones, preferably early on. Let them know how you feel about it and what kind of support you need. If hair loss is affecting your relationship with your partner, going to therapy or couples counselling may help.

Cover up: Look into disguising and covering up your hair loss with things like wigs, hair extensions, scarves and make-up. Persevere until you find a product and style that suits you. "Equally, you may prefer not to cover up at all. Whatever works best for you," says Jackie.

If you have hair loss that you find difficult to cover up (around 50% hair loss or more), you could be eligible for a wig on the NHS. Find out more about NHS wigs.

Be patient: many cases of hair loss in women are temporary. That said, regrowth is unpredictable and can take years. Remember too, that your new hair can be any texture and colour.

Avoid miracle cures: don't be taken in by claims for wonder products. There are no cures for female hair loss.

"There are lots of snakeoil products out there. Usually the greater the claim, the greater the letdown," says Jackie. Her advice is to stick to products recommended in the British Association of Dermatologist clinical guidelines (PDF, 85kb).

You can read more articles on all aspects of hair loss, including the different types of hair loss, its diagnosis and treatment.

Page last reviewed: 30/09/2013

Next review due: 30/09/2015

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Comments

The 11 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

click123 said on 30 April 2013

Hi lettyp,

thank you for your info, I am really depressed about my thin hair, have lost my confidence, I usually lose hair when I am stressed. The windy weather doesn't help at all.
I would be grateful if you could forward me the place for the net thing... it sounds really good.

Thanks

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steph 1982 said on 08 March 2013

Head bangas does the mesh system. Something should be done to make it available on the NHS really as doesn't seem fair people have other expensive procedures done on the NHS...

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Julia909 said on 15 January 2013

Loosing your hair sucks. People who have a full head of hair have no clue what we go through. I started loosing my hair a few years ago and I dreaded wearing a wig. They are hot and uncomfortable. I found this product called the Enchantop and I love it. At least it works for me. You just clip it into the top of you head and the rest of your hair is out. I'm even amazed at how natural it is. When I'm wearing it it looks like I have a full head of hair again. It's much better than wearing a wig and certainly more comfortable and natural looking.

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TaciturnReader said on 22 April 2012

I'm a tad confused by this article.
Under the heading 'hair loss treatments' it says: "A proven treatment for female-pattern baldness is a hair lotion containing minoxidil." But then further down under the heading 'Avoid Miracle |Cures' it says: " There are no cures for female hair loss." !
So what are we supposed to make of these very mixed messages?

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1dirtydancer said on 14 February 2012

Thanks all for your hints, tips, advice and knowledge. I'm a Product designer researching wig technology and I'd love to hear what your experiences are with wigs, hairpieces alike. I'd like to see if there's potential to improve the wig users experience through product development. I know what life is like in a wig as I've had Alopecia for over 20years now and I've been wearing a wig for 13 of those. I've moved around the UK and have realised there's such a disparity across different healthboards with wig allowance and service. This saddens me as a wig shouldn't be just another cover up story. People's lives do change with hair loss, wigs have the potential to help people through this experience. This website does give people an appreciation of what's available, but, I feel there's more to be explored and greater advice given on wig users entitlements, types of wigs and outlining the pro's & Con's of life with or without a wig.
Thank you for taking the time to read this comment. If you'd like to help or find out more about the research into wig technology contact Alopecia Help & Advice Scotland (AHAS) or Alopecia World or Alopecia UK and ask for me Karena. The study title is
"Off the top of your head: what makes a wig work for Alopecian's?"
all the best.

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rrwwss said on 07 February 2012

Hiii lettyp it would be great if you forward me the details of the place that does the net thing. Could you also tell me how often does it need to be changed and how do you style it. Thank you

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Maryrua said on 02 March 2011

Can you forward details of this place?

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alwoere said on 28 February 2011

hello lettyp I would love the details on where you got the hair net thing that would be brill

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Amber01 said on 29 January 2011

Please tell me where I am 28 and suffering from hair loss and had beautiful hair just 4 months ago and it is causing my life to basically stop and put an end to many relationships I had because I dont't want anyone to see me again. I was in hospital for a suicide attempt as well. Please help

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ama7010 said on 19 November 2010

hi lettyp - i have tried so many things - I'm also told that one of the stuff that is good which is a natural oil is "ricin oil" - unfortunately I can't seem to find it - there is also a mixture to massage into the scalp i've been told with rum, yoke and grape-seed oil - but i would be interested to find out more about the implants that you mention. i too could not wear wigs - I'm 38 and i don't feel old enough to start on these - i have used "mane" spray from Charles Fox - but if i get caught in the rain it could be disastruous.

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lettyp said on 12 November 2010

I have serious hair loss since my 20's wigs are no good for me but i have found another solution where i have this special treatment done where a net thing(they have a special name for it) is cut to shape the top of your head then the hair that is still on your head is poked through and connected to real hair that is all connected it looks so real , you can swim in it , do everything in it, you wash it as normal on your head no one knows its false it has changed my life. I am trying to get it funded as it is expensive. So if anyone out there is having troubles with their hair and can not wear wigs please let me know and i will forward to you the place i go to(there are only 2 in the country who do this treatment)

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