We Talked To Experts About Hair Loss Affecting Women In Their 20s & 30s
A couple of months ago, I nicked a mole on my scalp with a hairbrush. While it wasn’t painful in any way, it was the fact I had even nicked it in the first place which was alarming for me.
Normally, the mole — which is on the top of my scalp — is quite covered by hair, so I usually don’t notice it. But as I reached up and felt it, it didn’t take much digging through my hair to find it. In fact I could almost touch it straight away, with only what felt like a few strands protecting it.
From that moment on I was highly attuned to what my hair was doing. I noticed how much was coming out when I washed it. I noticed more loose strands sticking to my arms or clothing after I brushed it out. There were strands on my pillow when I woke up, or when I retied my hair I’d notice strands on my desk or kitchen bench.
As a woman, losing hair rapidly isn’t expected and it often isn’t talked about.
Instead it becomes a sort of shameful feeling, that you try to bury by stocking up on Bondi Boost products, JS health supplements, or Toppik fibres to try and make your scalp look less prominent when you pull your hair back. Straight away our inclination is to panic and hide what’s happening.
I first experienced a sudden influx of hair shedding back in 2016, after I trialled a new shampoo and conditioner from a hairdresser. I’m not sure if that was the exact catalyst, but eventually, it slowed down enough for me to stop noticing it. However my ponytail never quite regained the same thickness.
I’ve always had relatively long and fine hair, so while it’s never been overly thick I also would have never previously described it as thin — as I do now. My scalp is prominent, I no longer pull my hair back in a ponytail or bun, and it looks lank when it’s just hanging straight.
I haven’t yet been diagnosed with anything that can scientifically explain why my hair is thinning at a rapid rate, but right now I’m working to put the puzzle pieces together through blood tests and seeking help from professionals. Some of my family members have battled before with thyroid or autoimmune issues, I was diagnosed with burnout in 2020 after a prolonged period of stress, and the pill I was on up until a month ago has been blamed previously for causing hair loss in women, so it could be an accumulation of all of these factors.
When my hair shedding started up again around November 2020, after my initial panic and deep-dive Google research, I started talking about it. I asked my friends, I asked women in my workplace, and I started asking Facebook groups I was part of: Has anyone else noticed their hair dramatically thinning out after hitting their mid-late twenties?
The resounding answer was: yes. Some women noticed their hair shedding during the pandemic, potentially as a result of stress. Some friends were booking into dermatologists after noticing what felt like a dramatic change. And other women in my life noted that coming off the pill caused them to shed hair like crazy.
So, what can you do if it’s happening to you?
Kellie Scott is a journalist and creator behind Instagram account @hairlossboss. Kellie experienced hair loss after coming off the contraceptive pill. It eventually led her to a diagnosis of androgenic alopecia, also known as female pattern baldness. We spoke to Kellie about her experience with hair shedding and what she’s learned along the way.
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“I’d often had bouts of thinning hair, but it would always ‘bounce back’. At 27 I noticed my hair was thinning and over the following year or two it progressed further to the point you could see my scalp. I started reaching out to trichologists, dermatologists, and endocrinologists to figure out what was going on. Ultimately it was my own research that led to me to connect the dots between stopping a contraceptive pill I’d been on for 12 years that was an androgen-blocking pill and starting a more “basic” pill. This had been the advice of a GP who said the androgen-blocking type had a higher clotting risk, and was no longer necessary as I would have outgrown my acne – the main reason I went on it in the first place,” Kellie said.
“Some specialists said I just had telogen effluvium (temporary hair loss often caused by stress/surgery/medication/trauma) but androgenic alopecia (also known as female pattern hair loss) made more sense and I eventually had that confirmed by a dermatologist.”
Kellie started her Instagram account @hairlossboss to provide a platform to women going through similar issues – the account now has over 20,000 followers, with Kellie saying she can get anywhere up to 50 DMs a day from women wanting advice about hair loss and hair wearing.
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“While there weren’t many hair loss accounts around when I started wearing alternative hair almost four years ago, the few that did exist were my total lifeline. They helped normalise for me something that made me feel completely alone and embarrassed,” Kellie told us.
Up to 50 percent of women will experience some kind of hair loss in their life, even if temporary – so why the fuck do we feel so ashamed about this?
The women who message me are distraught. They feel like there is no solution to their problem. It’s an extremely emotional experience for many people – especially those who considered their hair part of their identity. They see someone like me just living my life wearing wigs like it’s no big deal and they feel more hopeful.”
Kellie also had this advice to women going through hair loss. “Seek expert advice from a dermatologist – ideally one who deals with hair loss patients regularly – but don’t expect it to be the golden ticket to a solution, or even give you the answers you’re looking for.
Avoid miracle cures – they’re bullshit. Don’t waste your money on hair vitamins your fave influencer is pushing, or make up some weird onion mix to rub into your scalp because your aunt’s cousin’s sister-in-law grew her hair back overnight. For most types of hair loss, there is no cure.
Talk to someone you trust about what you’re going through and connect with other women like you on social media. The hair loss community online is super supportive. They can give you the best advice and save you a world of pain. Opening up about your hair loss and owning it can be really freeing.”
We spoke to three experts about hair thinning in women, the different ways it can affect people, and what women should do if it’s happening to them.
Dr Shreya Andric, Dermatologist, Northern Sydney Dermatology and Laser
Dr Shreya Andric is a dermatologist based in Sydney. Her interests include skin cancer management, paediatric dermatology, general dermatology, and female genital dermatology.
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On what causes female hair loss:
“There are many different causes of hair shedding in people of all ages. These include:
- Telogen effluvium – excessive hair shedding that occurs in response to a “shock to the system”, eg, following pregnancy, following surgery, stressful life events, crash dieting, starting or stopping some medications, or illness. This usually occurs three months following the stressful event and is often self-limited – it should slow down after about 3 months. Reassuringly, this type of hair loss does not cause baldness.
- Female/male pattern hair loss
- Skin conditions including alopecia areata, tinea, lupus, psoriasis
- Systemic disease including thyroid disorders, iron deficiency
“In my practice I have seen more telogen effluvium since COVID as many patients have been through some tough and uncertain times. This psychological stress has triggered their hair loss.”
On the first thing someone should do when they notice hair loss:
“If you notice hair loss then there is no need to suffer in silence. Your GP or dermatologist can assess the pattern of hair loss and investigate for underlying causes and then tell you what you can expect moving forward.”
On the pill and other lifestyle factors that may contribute to hair loss:
“Oestrogen keeps hair in the hair growth phase for an extended period of time. Coming off contraceptive pills that contain oestrogen can therefore result in hair loss. This should improve after three months.
There is also an increased chance of hair loss with iron deficiency, as well with crash dieting or sudden weight loss.”
On the best way to promote healthy hair growth:
“Gentle handling of the hair, avoiding over-vigorous combing/brushing/styling. Treat any underlying scalp disorder or hormonal problem, if any. Have a nutritious diet with plenty of protein, fruit, vegetables and correct any abnormality in thyroid function or levels of iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid.
Seek help if you are worried. Increasing your stress levels about hair loss can result in further hair loss. Hair loss can have a significant impact on mental health so if you feel it is getting you down, it may be worthwhile seeing a psychologist or joining a support group of which there are many.”
Bianca Sheedy, Naturopath at Bondi Health & Wellness:
Bianca Sheedy is a naturopath who has experience with treating women coming off the pill experiencing hormonal hair loss. On a personal note, I started seeing Bianca when I first decided to transition off the pill, due to a colleague recommending the clinic as they helped her with her hormonal hair loss. With greater hair loss being a concern of mine, here’s what Bianca told me:
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On hormonal hair loss in women and other causes:
“Hormonal hair loss can be linked to taking the hormonal birth control, PCOS, elevated androgens, elevated testosterone, insulin resistance, progesterone deficiency, estrogen deficiency, and thyroid disease (just to name a few causes). But wait – there are more causes!
Hair loss can also be due to stress, illness, surgery, iron deficiency, zinc deficiency, protein deficiency and side effects of many medications. It is really important to embrace being an undercover detective to identify the underlying hormonal cause of your hair loss so that you can specifically work on correcting the issue to see long term positive results!”
On women who experience hair shedding when coming off the pill:
“When women stop taking the contraceptive pill, one of the withdrawal effects can trigger temporary hair loss however, this will pass as estrogen and progesterone (the hormones that promote hair regrowth) take charge and then you will start to slowly regain hair again!
My biggest advice for a woman thinking of coming off the pill is to work alongside a naturopath while you are doing this to help balance your hormones during the withdrawal period. A naturopath will create a specialised treatment plan just for you to support you during your hormonal health journey.”
“Make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of iodine within the diet as it is a key hair mineral and deficiency can prevent regenerating hair follicles leading to hair loss. Supplement this with Zinc as it is a key nutrient when it comes to promotes hair tissue growth and repair and blocks androgens.”
And her advice to women going through temporary hair shedding or hair loss:
“Hair loss can be really difficult, frustrating, and distressing as it takes generally a long time to respond to any treatment. Every woman’s recovery time is very different and can range between three months to even over a year! It comes back to the notion that it is not one size fits all with hair loss.
If you are a woman reading this experiencing hair loss, my message from my heart to you is to breathe and stay calm, avoid starting/stopping new treatments as you need to give your body time to adjust so please stick to your individualised treatment (specific to your underlying cause) consistently for a long period of time, be patient, trust your body and be kind to yourself on your hair regrowth journey.”
Virginie Gayssot, Franck Provost Salon Sydney:
If you haven’t experienced a huge amount of loss or shedding but you’re curious as to what you can be doing to maintain healthier hair, we spoke to Virginie Gayssot at Australia’s number one rated salon, Franck Provost.
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On scalp health:
“When in the shower, really take time to massage your head and scalp, which can increase blood flow to the area — this means a better environment for hair growth and aids the penetration of any treatments you use. Scalp massage also increases hair thickness by stretching the cells of hair follicles. This, in turn, stimulates the follicles to produce thicker hair. It’s also thought that a scalp massage may help dilate blood vessels beneath the skin, thereby encouraging hair growth.”
“For everyday use, I like using Kerastase Densifique Range, which helps replenish hair with a strengthening regimen that boosts a thicker-looking appearance for added texture, substance, and resilience to hair breakage.”
What to avoid when dealing with hair breakage or shedding:
“Constantly pulling your hair, pulling it in tight ponytails/buns, hair extensions, and excessive blow-drying and styling will cause strain on your hair follicles and lead to breakage. Leave your hair to naturally dry and if you’re working from home, try to leave it out. If you do like to wear it up, invest in good quality silk hair ties which prevent tugging on strands.”
And it’s also what’s on the inside that counts:
“First of all, hair loss and thinning hair, especially amongst young women is more common than ever and it’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about.”
“While it sounds cliche and boring, eating a healthy diet and ensuring you have enough protein is vital. Secondly ensure you have a good quality hair supplement that contains Biotin, which is part of the Vitamin B family.
And to treat yourself, at home scalp scrubs are amazing but I really recommend going to your hairdresser for a quarterly scalp treatment. They’ll be able to tailor the treatment according to your needs.”
Editor’s note: It’s recommended all women going through hair loss or shedding seek the professional opinion of their doctor or dermatologist to make sure they’re receiving the right advice and ruling out potential other health issues first.