Health Story: More Kiwi women are experiencing hair loss in their 20s and 30s, and experts say the contraceptive pill and stress are partly to blame.

Women are showing up in increasing numbers at hair-loss clinics around the country.

At three major centres, female patients now outnumber men.

Trichologists, who deal with problems related to the scalp and hair, say their female patients are getting younger.

They cite several factors as the reasons, including increasingly stressful lifestyles and some types of contraceptive pill, as well as diet and a parallel increase in the auto-immune and ovarian diseases that can cause hair to begin falling out.

Like men, a percentage of women were genetically prone to hair loss as they aged, David Salinger, a certified member of the International Association of Trichologists and vice-president and registered member of the Institute of Trichologists (UK), told the Herald on Sunday.

Now based in Australia, he said the number of women experiencing hair loss had “definitely” increased over the 25 years he had been practising. “There are a lot more younger women getting genetic thinning at the top and front of the scalp, whereas years ago you would see that only in women after menopause.”

He said he now saw “10 younger women to every one post-menopausal woman” and believed some types of contraceptive pill could trigger genetic hair loss at an earlier age.

The worst culprits were the combination contraceptive pills containing progestins, derived from testosterone, such as popular brand Yasmin.

“Male hormones have a bad effect on the hair,” said Salinger.

Iron deficiency was another factor causing women’s hair to thin out at an earlier age, he said, with low iron stores in the body causing undue stress on the hair follicles.

“There are more people now not eating much red meat, and a lot more people who are strict vegetarians.”

He said medical conditions that could cause hair loss in women, such as autoimmune diseases and polycystic ovarian syndrome were also increasing. Rory Plumridge, managing trichologist at Clive Clinics, which operates out of Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, said that for the first time women patients were outnumbering men in seeking help for hair loss.

“Forty years ago, 10 to 15 per cent of clients would be women. Today that figure is 51 per cent.”

He acknowledged today’s clinics specifically targeted women more than in the past, but maintained that alone could not account for the massive increases in female clients, especially younger women.

Stress was the main reason genetic hair loss in women was now kicking in earlier, he believed.

“Women are leading much more busy and stressful lifestyles than 40 years ago. Stress on the hair follicle essentially makes the cell think it is older than it is.”

When the body was under large amounts of stress, it produced more androgens, he said, hormones that were similar to testosterone and which could cause hair to fall out.

Despite the experts’ claims, there is no research yet to prove genetic thinning is occurring in younger women. Jack Green, a dermatologist specialising in hair loss at Melbourne University’s St Vincent’s Hospital, said hair loss in women had “always been a problem”.

Up to 40 per cent of women could expect to experience some form of hair loss as they aged, he said.

“For a smaller proportion of women, it can occur earlier, ” he said.

He said medical researchers disagreed as to whether genetic hair loss was affecting women earlier.

“Personally I think it is a case of more women presenting for treatment.”

ONE WOMAN’S ORDEAL

Aged just 29, Auckland woman Corrina* would panic every morning when she found hair on her pillow. Not the full-length strands we all lose every day – but dozens of short, new hairs that should have still been attached to her head.

“I wondered if I was really ill,” said Corrina, now 34.

“I used to have nightmares about waking up and only having a few strands of hair left.”

Corrina told virtually no one about her fast-thinning hair. She felt ashamed. “Women aren’t supposed to lose their hair. There’s a huge stigma. I didn’t even tell my family,” she says.

Instead she hid behind hats and hair styles that concealed the condition, before fronting up to a hair-loss clinic for help. She’s now using a product called Eucapil, which costs $120 a month and is starting to thicken her locks again. Corrina is certain her hair loss was caused by stress.

“No doctor has been able to find another explanation or underlying condition. At that time my marriage was falling down, there had been a death in the family and I’d changed jobs.

Do you have Hair Loss Problems, read our Hair Loss Help