It’s a fallacy that just men experience the progressive hair loss condition androgenetic alopecia. Although it is true that men are more likely to experience this problem at an early age, with 40% of men seeing the signs of hair loss by 35 and 65% by the age of 60, women usually see the problem – known as female pattern baldness – start to occur later on, in their 50s and 60s.
What is the difference in androgenetic alopecia in women and men?
Androgenetic alopecia is commonly known as male pattern baldness in men and female pattern hair loss in women because the hair loss tends to follow a pattern. However, they typically follow very different patterns.
- Male pattern baldness; in 1975 Dr O’tar Norwood developed a classification system for hair loss in men and identified two major patterns. The first sees recession of the hairline, particularly at the temples, leaving a peak at the front. Hair loss can also start on the crown or vertex and eventually these two areas of hair loss can meet, leaving one large bald area. A less common variation is where the frontal hairline moves backwards with limited hair loss on the vertex.
- Female pattern baldness; this type of hair loss tends to be diffuse, in terms of affecting the whole scalp, and the frontal hairline typically does not recede. Often this means that women might not notice they are losing hair in the early stages. The classification system developed to assess female hair loss is known as the Ludwig system and is separated into mild, moderate and extensive.
Both types are caused by the same problem – a genetic sensitivity to the male hormone known as dihydrotesterone that attacks the hair follicles, causing them to produce progressively finer, thinner and lighter hairs until the follicles eventually stop producing hairs completely.
Are hair loss drugs suitable for female pattern baldness?
There are two hair loss medications that have FDA approval for treatment of androgenetic alopecia in men. Currently, Propecia, also known as finasteride, is not approved for women because of the damage it can cause to male foetuses, but studies are being performed into whether it is safe if combined with high dosages of oral contraceptives. Rogaine, or minoxidil, on the other hand, is suitable for women and is often thought to be more effective for women than men. It is recommended that women only use the 2% minoxidil concentration rather than 5%.