Women: hair & hormones - why your hair changes.

This article I wrote was first published in the ABC Sussex magazine, November 2013. Hope it's helpful!

Hair & hormones

I am so often asked about changes in my client’s hair, that I think it’s a topic worth exploring.  Have you ever wondered why your hair texture is different from when you were a child? Or why it goes through phases of feeling thicker or thinner than usual?

There are many factors that can influence the state of your hair. The sun, using heated appliances, medication (blood thinning drugs and chemotherapy, amongst others), autoimmune disorders, stress levels, recent surgery and illness can all have a marked effect, but the greatest influence on your hair is your hormones.

Hormones affect both the amount and quality of your hair, linking to thyroid, oestrogen and testosterone levels. That’s why sometimes your hair feels like its taking ages to grow, or seems more brittle or dull.

Why does my hair looking so thick when I’m pregnant?

Your hair grows in phases – at any one time about 90% of your hair is growing while 10% is ‘resting’ (not growing) before it drops out. Your increase in oestrogen hormones change the ‘growing’ phase so that it is a lot longer than usual, so you literally have more hair on your head! This affects 40-50% of women.

Oh no! My baby is 3 months old and I’m losing hair in handfuls!

Remember that ‘growing’ phase that was so increased while you were pregnant? It’s getting back to normal! All of that extra hair you gained is slowly lost as your hormones return to normal, over a few months (1 to 5 months after the end of pregnancy). If you are breastfeeding you may only lose your new-acquired thicker hair after your baby switches to the bottle.

I seem to have a lot more body hair than my friends- what’s going on?

The normal amount of body hair for women varies- women commonly only have fine hair, above the lips and on the chin, chest, abdomen, or back. If you have coarse, dark hairs in these areas, you may have ‘hirsutism’, which is seen more often in men. In fact, it is just your body producing more male hormones (testosterone) than your average woman. Most of the time this runs in families and although it can be annoying or embarrassing, it is harmless. However, it could be an indicator that you have PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), or it may be worth mentioning to your doctor.

I’ve just stopped taking the pill and my hair is feeling really thin!

Hormonal birth control can change the texture of your hair. Your body thinks it’s pregnant and your hair gets thick and glossy. When you stop taking the pill your hormones start returning to normal, so you lose that extra growth and quality.

Help! I have found my first white hair! Why am I going grey this young?

Nobody knows why some people age prematurely. Most people of Caucasian origin start getting their first white hairs in their mid-thirties, Asian in their late thirties and African in their mid-forties.  White or grey hair is actually just hair that has no longer has the colour in it – it’s actually clear! Recently scientists claimed that they are close to finding out what actually makes our hair go grey – so watch this space!

Smoking, vitamin B-12 deficiency or problems with your pituitary or thyroid gland can cause premature graying that’s reversible if the cause is correctable. There is a myth that if you pluck one gray hair two more will grow back – this is completely false. Millions of balding men would be plucking out their hair if it was true!

Lucky for you there are lots of options for colouring hair to either cover or blend your white hairs. Book a consultation with your hairdresser to discuss your options.

I feel tired all of the time and my hair is definitely thinner – is it ‘the change’?

It may be, but it could also be hyperthyroidism, or an under-active thyroid.  These signs can be quite subtle and many women simply assume they're a normal part of menopause.

I’ve been on a really strict diet and although my body is looking great, my hair isn’t!

A diet that isn’t well-balanced could mean nutritional deficiencies, especially low iron levels or deficiency of a B-vitamin called biotin. Too little iron can affect your hair follicle, from which your hair grows, so it could get thinner. Crash diets can bring on hair loss, and it's also common in people with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders.

I’m going through the menopause and my hair is getting thinner- will I get bald spots?

Menopause is the greatest cause of hair loss and thinning in women, more than 40% of women are affected to some degree, but it very rarely causes bald patches. It’s the dropping levels of oestrogen and progesterone and sometimes increasing levels of testosterone that affect the hair follicles.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which contains oestrogen, can improve the growth but it doesn’t suit all women.

What should my diet contain, to improve my hair quality and growth?

A good way to increase your oestrogen levels is through a diet packed with nuts and seeds, and berries rich in flavonoids like raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and pomegranates. It's also good to eat protein such as soy products like soymilk, tofu and edamame, fish, meat and eggs.

Basically, nutritional abundance and balance is the best environment to grow great hair!

Which vitamins can I take as supplements?

Vitamin B complex, Biotin (B7), Vitamin C, Vitamin E (do not exceed the RDA), Zinc (do not exceed RDA), Niacin (for cholesterol and blood circulation) L-Lysine (an amino acid). If you have any other health issues or are taking other medications, check with your doctor before taking supplements.

Apart from medication, what can I do at home to help the situation?

Be gentle with your hair! Shampoo using gentle products. Be especially careful with your hair when it is wet- it is more fragile- don’t use a fine tooth comb. Use fewer drying styling products like hairspray.  Get regular trims to avoid split ends from travelling up your hair. Don’t use hair bands that pull on your hair or tug on your hairline. If you need to use blow dryers and other heated hair instruments, try to use the cool setting

Finally, if you have noticed any hair texture changes, it is important make an appointment to see your GP as there are many causes of hair thinning. A simple few blood tests can check levels of iron, oestrogen, testosterone, thyroid, zinc.  Hair thinning due to an under-active thyroid can be corrected with thyroid supplementation. If your doctor tells you its androgenetic alopecia, he may prescribe a topical medication called minoxidil, which you apply directly to your scalp. Minoxidil doesn't work for everyone, but it slows or stops hair loss in about 25% of women with androgenetic alopecia. . Thinning due to nutritional deficiencies can be addressed by appropriate dietary changes.

So don't despair if your hair changes. Besides medical treatment there are many cosmetic treatments, including Nioxin (available from some hair salons) and styling lotions which create a thicker look for your hair. Your hairstylist can also give you styling tips and a haircut which can create the illusion of thicker hair.