Hair loss in women can sometimes indicate larger health problems

Written by Cara Murez

Health Day reporter

FRIDAY, March 17, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Hair loss can be devastating for women, but the condition can also signal other health problems.

An expert from the American Academy of Dermatology provides information on the types of hair loss in women with darker skin tones, common conditions associated with hair loss, and treatment options.

“Research shows that women who experience hair loss may also suffer from other conditions, such as diabetes, acne and breast cancer,” said Dr. Valerie Callender, professor of dermatology at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, DC.

“By recognizing the signs of hair loss and seeing your dermatologist as soon as possible, you may be able to limit progression, keep your hair, and detect any other underlying conditions,” an academy press release said.

One condition – central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA) – causes hair loss in the center of the scalp. It is the most common type of hair loss in women with darker skin tones and affects nearly 15% of black women.

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Early detection is important because CCCA can cause scarring by destroying hair follicles. Once the hair follicle is completely scarred, regrowth becomes difficult and hair loss can be permanent.

A dermatologist can diagnose this condition and develop a treatment plan that may include antibiotics, topical steroid medications, or corticosteroid injections that offer pain relief and relief from itching. It can also prevent scarring from getting worse.

Callender said breast cancer, high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure are common among black women with CCCA. A dermatologist can inform women that hair loss may be a symptom of another disease.

Female pattern hair loss is also common and affects millions of women of all skin tones.

With this hereditary disease, the hair thins mainly on the upper part of the scalp. It usually starts with the widening of the middle part of the hair. Many women with female pattern hair loss also have acne due to increased hormone levels, Callender said. Menopause and high blood pressure are also common as female hair loss progresses.

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A possible treatment for this is minoxidil, which can reduce hair loss, stimulate hair growth and strengthen existing hair. You can buy products with this content at the drugstore, but your dermatologist may be able to prescribe a higher dose for you.

Hairstyles that pull the hair tight can cause traction alopecia, which is common in women with darker skin tones due to hair styling.

“One of the first things I ask my patients who have a history of braiding is if it hurts when they braid their hair,” Callender said. “It shouldn’t hurt to have your hair done, so if it hurts, it’s an indication that they’re developing traction alopecia.”

One can still maintain their sense of style, but do it more casually or avoid frequent use of pulling styles.

The ingredients in hair care products are also important, Callender said. While women with darker skin tones, especially women of African descent, have coarse, dry and fragile hair, some anti-dandruff and other scalp shampoos can further dry the hair, leading to breakage. Shampoos and hair care products should contain ingredients that hydrate the hair, such as vitamins A and E, jojoba oil, and shea butter.

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“When treatments are not effective in preventing hair loss, a permanent solution is to consider a hair transplant, which results in a natural effect,” said Callender. “Hair transplantation is most effective in patients with traction alopecia and female pattern hair loss. Although patients with CCCA are not always ideal candidates for hair transplants due to scarring, it is possible for them to be successful. A licensed dermatologist can decide if a hair transplant is the right solution for you.”

Callender is scheduled to present on hair loss at the American Academy of Dermatology meeting in New Orleans, March 17-21.

More information

THE Journal of the American Medical Association writes more about the common causes of hair loss.

SOURCE: American Academy of Dermatology, press release, March 17, 2023