Menopause almost always affects the hair on your scalp. Symptoms of menopause can also include dullness, dryness and thinning of your skin, hot flashes, mood changes, decreased sexual desire and increased facial hair.
Fifty is the average age for menopause, but changes to your hair can begin long before, and is one reason why hair thinning during menopause is difficult to counteract. Nobody over 40 has the same volume of hair they had in their twenties, but menopause is an accelerating cause. The pattern of menopausal hair thinning is similar to the early stages of male pattern hair loss.
Most commonly, you may notice a reduction in the thickness (volume) of each strand. This is not immediate, but gradual. There may also be recession at your frontal hairline and temples, or you might have increased hair fall.
Hormonal fluctuations during menopause are often the most distressing. From a psychological viewpoint, it is very common for a woman to scrutinise herself in the mirror more closely, and particular attention might be paid to hair.
Hair has deep psychological and sexual meaning. Both menopause and loss of hair are often associated with loss of femininity and sexuality. These thoughts and changes can all feed into each other, and it becomes a vicious and demoralising cycle. Rest assured, though, it is very rare for a woman to go bald. And things can be done to get the best out of your hair during this stressful time.
OESTROGENS AND YOUR HAIR DURING MENOPAUSE
The basis for changes during menopause is a decrease in oestrogen. Oestrogens effect your menstrual cycle, sexual arousal, appetite, mood swings and skin, and also the growth cycle of your hair. During menopause, you may find your hair won’t grow as long.
This is because oestrogens keep your hair in the growing phase, and the longer the growing phase, the longer your hair can grow. Reduced oestrogen levels cause your hair’s growth cycle to shorten and your hair sheds before it reaches the length that it used to be able to.
ANDROGENS (MALE HORMONES) AND YOUR HAIR DURING MENOPAUSE
Androgens are male hormones, which are found in women as well as men, but to a lesser degree. Menopause causes androgen levels to increase, which can in turn trigger thinning of the hair on your scalp and can also cause extra facial and body hair. Androgens do not necessarily decrease your number of scalp hairs, but reduce their diameter and length. The result is a loss of volume or ‘body’. Your hair may not be falling out more, or failing to grow back - but the replacement hairs are weaker and finer.
HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY (HRT)
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) restores post-menopausal oestrogen levels to average pre-menopausal levels. This reduces your risk of osteoporosis and alleviates menopausal symptoms, including hair thinning and/or loss. However, it is very important that you weigh the risks with the benefits. Studies have shown that HRT increases your chance of breast cancer, heart problems, mood swings, uterine cancer and endometriosis.
The percentages of those affected are small, but they exist. Choosing between varieties of HRT can be confusing and complicated. Few doctors or gynecologists understand the effect that each HRT treatment has on your hair, or they do not consider it at all. Some HRTs can be bad for your hair, while others can be very beneficial.
Women can also respond differently to the same HRTs. Always consult with your doctor before choosing a HRT. If you are concerned or upset by changes to your hair, make your doctor aware before or during your treatment. This can influence which therapy they think is best for you.
First and foremost, your health is most important. You can also speak to a trichologist, who will be able to work with your doctor in finding the best all-round HRT treatment.