Wife losing hair

Dear Alice,

My wife has noted that she is recently losing hair at a much greater rate than normal. She feels her hair is significantly thinner (less density of strands) than in the past. What could be the cause of this?

Dear Reader, 

Most people shed a bit of hair here and there. For a frame of reference, the average person can lose about 100 hairs each day. However, it might warrant further investigation if someone feels that they’re experiencing a significant loss of hair exceeding this daily amount. Hair loss may be triggered by a variety of factors, with some potential causes being genetics, hormones, medication, diet, stress, and even your hair styling habits. That said, hair loss, including thinning, can be grouped into two main categories: lifestyle factors and genetic factors. 

Lifestyle factors often encompass the modifiable habits and behaviors that influence an individual’s health and well-being. For example: 

  • Vitamins and minerals play an important role in hair growth. A diet lacking in Vitamin B12 & D, iron, biotin, zinc, and other micronutrients may lead to hair loss over time. 
  • Hormonal imbalances including certain types of birth control may disrupt your natural hair loss. 
  • Your hair styling habits can result in something known as traction alopecia. This type of hair loss is caused by hairstyles that pull and strain the hair (e.g., cornrows, use of tight rollers, etc.). 
  • Long-term, chronic stress has been shown to impact the hair follicle and inhibit hair regrowth. 

Genetic factors that may influence hair loss can include: 

  • Having over or underactive thyroid glands 
  • Being diagnosed with Lupus 
  • Hereditary-pattern baldness 
  • Androgenetic alopecia—a condition occurring when dihydrotestosterone (DHT) binds to hair follicles and shrinks them so they can no longer survive. 

Given the complexity surrounding hair loss, and in an effort to help support your wife through this challenge, it may be helpful to start a conversation with her about any recent changes that may have occurred in her life. This can help to get you both thinking about what the root cause of her hair loss may be. For instance, you might ask her if she’s been particularly stressed recently. Has she recently added or removed any medications from her daily routine—including hormonal birth control?  Has she recently been pregnant, or could she be pregnant now? Has she recently changed the way she styles her hair or the products she uses on it? 

Whether you and your wife are able to pinpoint a certain lifestyle factor as the culprit for her hair loss or not, it may be helpful to involve a medical professional in your search for answers. A medical professional may be able to do additional tests in order to rule out an underlying medical cause. In which case, they may then suggest your wife meet with a nutritionist or mental health professional to rule out some culprits. 

Interestingly, human hair can sometimes serve as a window into physical and mental well-being. In some way, your wife's hair might be telling her something's not quite right. That said, it can be helpful to keep in mind feelings that may come up for your wife both about hair loss in general and as you two navigate the process of uncovering answers. It’s great that you’re taking the first step in reaching out for help on how best to support her during this time. Best of luck to both of you in finding some resolve.  

Last updated Oct 06, 2023
Originally published Dec 01, 1993

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