Tracy Pittin was just 17 when she discovered that her thick, brown hair was
gradually falling out. One day a friend cutting her hair remarked that it was
noticeably thinner. Tracy couldn't believe it -- she thought her hair was her
best feature, and to begin to lose it at such an early age was devastating.
Unable to accept what was happening, Tracy avoided professional stylists --
anyone who might draw attention to the loss. As her hair thinned, her
self-esteem declined, too.
"There simply was no information about hair loss or
treatments available to women at that time," Tracy says. "It just
wasn't talked about." With nowhere to go for help or answers, she went into
denial. She told herself the loss was temporary, perhaps related to a crash
diet she had tried. But it wasn't, and her hair only got thinner.
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Although women in Tracy's position often feel alone, they
aren't. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, nearly half of all
adults in the U.S. will experience thinning hair by age 40. And while baldness
is largely considered a male problem, for every five men who experience hair
loss, there are three women who suffer as well. Hair-loss treatments are
typically advertised for men, but effective options exist for women, too. But
to get them, women must move beyond denying their hair loss and seek help.
Getting to the Root of Things
Determining the cause of the problem is the first step, says
Richard S. Greene, MD, co-chairman of Advanced Dermatology Management and
managing partner in Skin and Cancer Associates in Plantation, Fla. Greene
recommends that women see a primary care physician or dermatologist for a
complete workup to rule out any underlying causes, such as malnutrition,
hormonal imbalances, or the autoimmune diseases lupus and scleroderma.
Sometimes pregnancy, a reaction to a medication, or stress may cause hair to
fall out in large clumps; fortunately, this problem usually reverses on its
Oddly enough, the most common type of hair loss in women like
Tracy -- female pattern baldness -- is caused by testosterone, a hormone we
typically associate with men. But women's bodies produce it, too. When
testosterone breaks down, a chemical called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, is
created, says Spenser David Kobren, founder and director of The Bald Truth
Foundation and author of the book The Truth About Women's Hair Loss. In
his book, Kobren explains that in both female and male pattern baldness, DHT
attacks the hair follicle, causing it to shrink in diameter and produce smaller
and thinner hairs until they become baby-fine or stop growing at all, allowing
the scalp to become more visible. This type of hair loss frequently responds to
treatment with medications or, in some cases, surgery.