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Advice for women dealing with hair loss

Consumer Reports News: August 18, 2010 02:08 PM

  Hair loss one of those things women don’t really talk about, so you might be surprised to learn how common it is: Our national survey found that almost one-third of women experienced hair loss or balding at some point in their lives. Almost a third of women said they first noticed some hair loss when they were 40 years old or younger. On average, women who experienced gradual hair loss first noticed it when they were 47. Women who experienced sudden hair loss, on average, said their most recent episode occurred when they were 48. And about half of women with hair loss reported worrying a lot about losing more hair in the future, compared with only about a quarter of the men.

Our ShopSmart staffers recently asked Hayes B. Gladstone, M.D., director of the Stanford Advanced Skin Care Center in Redwood City, Calif. for his expert advice for women dealing with hair loss.

I never had a problem with thinning hair until I turned 40. Why me and why now? As women enter their 40s, some thinning of the hair is normal, and it becomes increasingly common as women get older. There can be medical reasons, such as anemia or hypothyrodism, but most often it’s simply a matter of aging.

Is Rogaine a good option for women? Rogaine (minoxidil) is a good option. Although only the 2 percent formulation is approved for use by women, they can use the 5 percent, keeping in mind that the stronger formulation is more likely to cause irritation and other side effects. Five percent Rogaine also comes in a foam, which is easier to use. Either version should be used twice daily and, because of possible risks to the fetus or a nursing infant, should not be used by women who are pregnant or lactating. Some anecdotal evidence suggests that postmenopausal women get better results than younger women.

How long do I need to use it? If you’re using minoxidil to compensate for short-term hair loss, you can stop as soon as you see new growth. But if you’re treating age-related hair loss, you’ll have to keep using it indefinitely to maintain results.

Propecia worked for my husband. Would it help me? It might, but because it also carries a risk of birth defects, I would only prescribe Propecia (finasteride) for those women who are past their childbearing years. It can stop hair loss and may produce modest hair regrowth. Because using minoxidil or finasteride alone tends to produce modest results, the two are often prescribed together in hopes of boosting effectiveness.

Are there any supplements that will help thicken my hair? The short answer is no. A balanced diet will optimize hair growth. Vitamins will only help if you are deficient in a specific nutrient such as iron.

Is a hair transplant a smart idea for women? It can be, especially if there is a significant amount of age-related hair loss. Transplants work best when there are patches of bare scalp because we can place grafts close together without damaging live follicles. That’s why I tell balding men to expect about 85 percent of grafts to survive. For women with more diffuse hair loss, it may only be 50 percent.

Take a look at our survey on baldness and find out which treatments our readers say work best (available to subscribers). For more women's health news and tips, sign up for our free Women e-newsletter and   "like" us on Facebook

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