There is no question that many woman define their image by their hair. We all want beautiful hair. That’s why we tend to panic at the sight of a few hairs in the drain or on our brushes. These fears are not unfounded. Each year, more and more of us are forced to come to grips with the possibility of serious hair loss.

The American Academy of Dermatology has research showing that it is a growing problem, with as many as 30 million women in the US reporting hair loss at earlier ages and increasing numbers. In my career as a stylist, I have seen women as young as 15 experience hair loss problems. It isn’t a common problem, but it does exist. Understanding how hair grows will help to understand the causes of hair loss.

A woman’s hair grows at an average of one half inch per month. Each hair has a growth phase of anywhere between 2 and 6 years, then it has a ‘rest’ period, when it falls out and the follicle begins producing a new strand. In some people though, who are genetically prone to hair loss, there are other causes of hair falling out. A couple of causes are testosterone and DHT hormones. Both of these are in larger amounts in men than women.

Over time, a build up of DHT can occur in the follicle of those people genetically prone to excess DHT, causing the follicle to start shrinking, and eventually making some of the follicles die. The end result is hair loss, and a condition that is known as androgenic alopecia. For a long time, doctors thought this was the main cause of both men and women losing their hair. Today they know this is not the case in women. In fact, they don’t even call it ‘androgenic alopecia’ anymore. We now call it female pattern hair loss, which is a much broader term, and covers more possible causes, including higher levels of testosterone in some cases, but not all.

Female pattern hair loss is still largely a mystery, but doctors now believe it’s due to hormones and enzymes that vary in areas around the scalp, and that’s why women lose hair from all over the scalp, not in concentrated areas the way men do. Male baldness is linked to genetics and age. In women, it can happen at anytime, and may mean an underlying issue, such as imbalanced hormones, crash dieting, surgery, a traumatic emotional event, or, on a happier note, following the birth of a child . Thyroid, anemia, chronic illness, and use of some medications can also be the cause. The Number 1 rule is to get a proper diagnosis via blood tests before treating the problem. If it’s a medical problem, it needs to be corrected first.