More than 25% of women over the age of 50 experience significant hair loss. Perimenopause invokes a number of physical and emotional changes to the body, and although hair loss is not physically painful or dangerous, it is of the more distressing menopause symptoms. A healthy head of hair is the way many women validate their appearance and femininity, which means that hair loss during menopause can trigger profound self-confidence issues. The symptom is usually caused by hormonal imbalances, and hair loss in women approaching menopause could well indicate a testosterone deficiency.
What Is Testosterone?
Testosterone is a hormone usually associates with men; while it is termed a “male hormone”, both men and women produce it and need it for healthy functioning. Women produce male hormones in the ovaries known as androgen, and testosterone is the most prominent of these. Like in men, a female's androgen levels are understood to play a role in pubertal development, sexual function, and mood.
Testosterone and Hair Loss
Hair grows at a rate of around half an inch per month for two to six years before resting and eventually falling out, after which a new hair grows in its place. Though the exact links between androgen and hair growth are not known, it is understood that testosterone has a significant role in stimulating the regrowth part of this process.
During perimenopause, women are prone to deficiencies in testosterone. This is due to a decline in hormone production in the body as it prepares for menopause; decreased androgen circulation can cause the hair follicles in the scalp to miniaturize, which means that after natural shedding occurs, there is no regrowth to replace the lost hair. This is known as female pattern hair loss (FPHL). More than 25% of females over 50 experience significant hair loss, and the most common cause of this is FPHL.
Recognizing Hair Loss Caused by Testosterone Deficiency
The type of hair loss associated with FPHL and testosterone deficiencies is recognizable in appearance; patchy baldness or thin, brittle hair will widen out from the center part and be evident mainly on the crown of the scalp, while the front hairline remains intact. Near or total baldness in FPHL is very rare, and the condition is neither itchy nor painful.
Other symptoms of a testosterone deficiency may include hair becoming coarse in other areas of the body (e.g. face, stomach, or arms), irregular periods, acne, decreased breast size, and increased clitoris size.
At this point, there is no known cure for FPHL, though there are medication options available for treating testosterone deficiencies, which could also counteract hair loss over time.
However, there is no denying the emotional repercussions of the condition - one study reported that 52% of women were “extremely upset” by hair loss compared with only 28% of men - so options for dealing with the condition are essential, and generally fall under two categories: concealment or compensation. Cosmetic disguises, such as wigs, scarves, or headpieces, are popularly used to conceal FPHL. Compensation means accentuating other parts of the body (e.g., by wearing flattering outfits, lipstick, or nurturing to enhance the condition of hair that has regrown) to reinstate confidence and positive self-image in spite of hair loss.
If you identify with any testosterone deficiency symptoms, it's worth consulting with your doctor to discuss medication options; but remember, while FPHL is the most common explanation for hair loss in women in their forties and fifties, other causes - like dietary deficiencies, stress, hair care habits, or certain medications - may also trigger or exacerbate the symptom, and there are natural remedies for combating hair loss.
- Dinh, Q.Q. & Sinclair, R. (2007). Female pattern hair loss: Current treatmentconcepts. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 2(2), 189-199. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2684510/
- National Institutes of Health. (2012). Female pattern baldness: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 24, 2014, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001173.htm
- National Institutes of Health. (2012). Testosterone: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 24, 2014, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003707.htm