Female pattern baldness, also called androgenetic alopecia, is hair loss that affects women. It’s similar to male pattern baldness, except that women can lose their hair in a different pattern than men.

Hair loss in women is normal, especially as you age. Up to two-thirds of women experience hair loss after menopause. Less than half of women will make it past age 65 with a full head of hair.

Female pattern baldness is hereditary. It’s more common after menopause, so hormones are likely responsible. If you notice that you’re losing hair, see your doctor or a dermatologist. They will be able to determine if you’re experiencing female pattern baldness or another type of hair loss.

The sooner you get treated, the faster you’ll be able to stop the loss — and possibly even regrow hair.

In female pattern baldness, the hair’s growing phase slows down. It also takes longer for new hair to begin growing. Hair follicles shrink, leading the hair that does grow to be thinner and finer. This can result in hair that easily breaks.

It’s normal for women to lose 50 to 100 hairs each day, but those with female pattern baldness can lose many more.

In men, hair loss starts in the front of the head and recedes to the back until they go bald. Women lose hair from all over their head, starting at their part line. Hair at the temples may also recede.

Woman are less likely to go completely bald, but you may have a lot of thinning throughout your hair.

Doctors divide female pattern baldness into three types:

  • Type I is a small amount of thinning that starts around your part.
  • Type II involves widening of the part, and increased thinning around it.
  • Type III is thinning throughout, with a see-through area at the top of your scalp.

Hair loss is passed down from parents to their children, and many different genes are involved. You can inherit these genes from either parent. You’re more likely to have female pattern baldness if your mother, father, or other close relatives have experienced hair loss.

Female pattern baldness is generally caused by an underlying endocrine condition or a hormone secreting tumor.

If you have other symptoms, such as an irregular period, severe acne, or an increase unwanted hair, consult your doctor. You may be experiencing a different type of hair loss.

Women are less likely to develop female pattern baldness before midlife. Like men, women are more likely to start losing hair once they get into their 40s, 50s, and beyond.

High levels of male sex hormones, called androgens, contribute to hair loss in men. It’s generally felt that androgens are also at play in female pattern hair loss.

Smoking may also increase your risk for developing female pattern hair loss.

Check out: Can birth control cause hair loss? »

If you’ve noticed thinning hair on your scalp, see your doctor or a dermatologist. Your doctor will examine your scalp to see the pattern of hair loss. Testing generally isn’t needed to diagnose female pattern baldness.

If they suspect another type of hair loss, they may also perform a blood test to check your levels of thyroid hormone, androgens, iron, or other substances that can affect hair growth.

If you have female pattern baldness, you may be able to camouflage the hair loss at first by adopting a new hairstyle. Eventually, you might have too much thinning at the top of your scalp to hide.

Early diagnosis is encouraged, as it can enable you to get on a treatment plan and potentially minimize future hair loss. Your treatment plan will likely consist of one or more medications approved to treat hair loss.

Minoxidil

Minoxidil (Rogaine) is the only drug approved by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat female pattern baldness. It’s available in 2% or 5% formulas. If possible, opt for the 5% formula.

To use, apply minoxidil to your scalp every day. Though it won’t fully restore all the hair you’ve lost, minoxidil can grow back a significant amount of hair and give your hair an overall thicker appearance.

You probably won’t start to see results for 6 to 12 months. You’ll need to keep using minoxidil to maintain the effect, or it will stop working. If it stops working, your hair may return to its previous appearance.

The following side effects are possible:

  • redness
  • dryness
  • itching
  • hair growth on areas where you didn’t want it, such as your cheeks

Finasteride and dutasteride

Finasteride (Propecia) and dutasteride (Avodart) are FDA-approved to treat hair loss in men. They’re not approved for women, but some doctors do recommend them for female pattern baldness.

Studies are mixed as to whether these drugs work in women, but some research has shown that they do help regrow hair in female pattern baldness.

Side effects can include headaches, hot flashes, and a decreased sex drive, especially during the first year of use. Women shouldn’t get pregnant while on this drug, because it can increase the risk for birth defects.

Spironolactone

Spironolactone (Aldactone) is a diuretic, which means it removes excess fluid from the body. It also blocks androgen production, and it may help regrow hair in women.

This drug can cause a number of side effects, including:

  • electrolyte imbalances
  • fatigue
  • spotting between periods
  • irregular menstruation
  • tender breasts

You may need to have regular blood pressure and electrolyte tests while you take this drug. If you’re pregnant or plan to become pregnant, you shouldn’t use this medication. Spironolactone may cause birth defects.

Other options

If low iron is contributing to your hair loss, your doctor might prescribe an iron supplement. At this time, there isn’t any evidence that taking iron will regrow your hair. Other supplements, such as biotin and folic acid, are also promoted to thicken hair.

One study did show that women developed thicker hair after taking omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, and antioxidants. However, it’s best to check with your doctor before taking any supplements to re-grow hair.

Laser combs and helmets are FDA-approved to treat hair loss. They use light energy to stimulate hair regrowth. More research needs to be done to determine if this is truly effective.

Platelet-rich plasma therapy may also be beneficial. This involves drawing your blood, spinning it down, then injecting your own platelets back into your scalp to stimulate hair growth. Though promising, more studies need to be done.

You may be able to conceal hair loss by wearing a wig or using a spray hair product.

A hair transplant is a more permanent solution. During this procedure, your doctor removes a thin strip of hair from one part of your scalp and implants it in an area where you’re missing hair. The graft regrows like your natural hair.

Learn more: Menopause hair loss prevention »

Female pattern baldness isn’t reversible. Proper treatment can stop the hair loss and potentially help regrow some of the hair you’ve already lost. Treatments can take up to 12 months to start working. You’ll need to stay on them long-term to keep from losing your hair again.

Keep reading: 9 tricks for healthier, fuller-looking hair »

You can’t prevent female pattern baldness, but you can protect your hair from breakage and loss:

Hair care tips

  • Eat a healthy diet. Get enough iron from foods like dark green leafy vegetables, beans, and fortified cereals.
  • Avoid treatments that can break or damage your hair, such as straightening irons, bleach, and perms.
  • Ask your doctor if any of the medicines you take can promote hair loss. If so, see if you can switch to another drug.
  • Don’t smoke. It damages hair follicles and can speed up hair loss.
  • Wear a hat when you go outside. Too much sun exposure can damage your hair.