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Losing your lush locks? Pip Harry finds out how you can reclaim your mane.
It's not just men that suffer bald patches and thinning hair. Many women are affected by hair loss at some point in their lives, and it's almost always a source of great distress, loss of identity and confidence.
"I'd say almost 100 per cent of Australians are affected by hair loss at some stage, says trichologist David Salinger. "This includes the temporary hair loss suffered after giving birth, high fevers, weight loss, operations, medication and so on."
"More men suffer hair loss than women because genetic hair thinning is more prevalent in males. However, 90 per cent of patients seen by trichologists are women. "Hair loss can be a very stressful experience. Often the main fear for the sufferer is that they're going to go bald, which, fortunately, very rarely happens."
Here are some typical hair loss problems and advice from the experts on how to treat them.
Hair problem: Genetic thinning (androgenetic alopecia)
Everyone knows men inherit the bald gene, but what about women? In females, androgenetic alopecia is a hereditary condition which leads to thinning of the hair in the front and top areas of the scalp. About 30 per cent of women suffer from genetic thinning by the age of 60.
Genetic thinning usually occurs around menopause or after a hysterectomy, in response to a hormone imbalance. "The change in the sex hormonal balance gives the male sex hormones (androgens) more influence and brings about the thinning," says Salinger. "Occasionally, genetic thinning can also be triggered by oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or after pregnancy."
When genetic thinning is linked to perimenopause, menopause or a hysterectomy, hormonal therapy can be useful. "This therapy usually involves the taking of oestrogens (female sex hormones) with an anti-androgen which can prevent the androgens from influencing the hair," says Salinger. There are some possible side-effects to hormone therapy which include weight gain, nausea, headaches and decreased libido.
The topical lotion Minoxidil 5 per cent (also known under the brand name Rogaine) can also help stop or slow hair loss and promote growth. But Minoxidil is not recommended for use by pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Hair problem: Temporary diffuse hair loss
There are lots of temporary reasons women lose their hair, says Salinger. "This can include shedding of the hair after childbirth, operations, fevers with a temperature exceeding 39.5℃C, dieting and weight loss, iron deficiency, poor diet or nutritional imbalance, starting or ending a course of medication, certain types of medications [particularly chemotherapy corticosteroids, beta blockers, oral contraceptives, retinoids such as Roaccutane and anticoagulants, such as warfarin and heparin]. We call this diffuse hair loss, and it's the most common reason women consult trichologists," he says.
If you are shedding a bit of hair following a new baby or a bout of illness, don't panic. The good news is that most diffuse hair loss will self-correct in its own time. "No treatment is required," says Salinger. "The hair loss will cease after two or three months (or following the end of medication) and the hair will return to normal after about six months."
However, in some cases, hair loss remains an issue. "It's best to see
a trichologist or doctor for ongoing, abnormal hair loss," says Salinger.
"The hair is very sensitive to any body imbalance due to its fast rate of growth, so hair loss can follow the slightest change."
Many GPs will refer their hair-loss patients to trichologists, who generally have a more in-depth knowledge of hair loss and will be able to spend more time on the problem.
For a list of qualified trichologists, visit www.trichology.edu.au.
Hair problem: Ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis)
Fungal scalp conditions aren't just seen in babies with cradle cap. "Usually tinea capitis is thought to occur mainly in children, but I see more adults than children with it," says Salinger. "It's a contagious fungal infection of the skin, characterised by a circular patch of broken hairs. The scalp is red and often swollen, and itchy. It's caused by various fungi that are caught from kittens, puppies, birds and people. I have even had one case of ringworm caught from a koala!"
Treatment options include antifungal antibiotics taken orally. "Treatment should be given from four to eight weeks, and sometimes longer, to ensure the problem has been cured," says Salinger. "Shampoos containing 2.5 per cent selenium sulphide can be used to reduce the period of spore production."
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