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Eight Overlooked Hair Loss Causes

Written by Irina Webb
Health-related claims have been reviewed by Myrto Ashe, MD, MPH, IFMCP

I could not understand what was taking so long for the water in the bathtub to drain.  It was then that I noticed the drain completely covered with hair – my hair!  It scared me, and I felt I had to do something right away so as not to lose it all.  As a result of several episodes of excessive hair loss over the years, I have compiled this list of overlooked hair loss causes.  The great news is that my hair has stopped falling out.  So, I am excited to offer you practical solutions for female hair thinning that are beneficial for your overall health. 

I should remind you straight off that I am not a medical doctor, and this post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition.  Instead, this article is the result of a great deal of research I did when I was suffering from hair loss and wanted answers pronto!  You may want to use this article as a way of guiding your conversations with your doctor.  I know how important this topic is for you; I have been there.  Fortunately, I have been able to get my condition under control, and so the good news is that you can, too.  I hope this article about hair loss causes will help, but always talk to your doctor.

Eight Overlooked Hair Loss Causes. A photo of a woman without a female hair thinning problem

The female hair thinning problem caused me to look into topical treatments.  

Panic-stricken, I first started looking into serums, masks, and treatments I could apply topically.  It turned out I would have to do them several times a week without guaranteed results.  Well, I surely had no time for a hit-or-miss solution.  Neither did I believe in shampoos and conditioners as a cure because the contact with the scalp was too short.  In fact, read both my post and the comments about Monat Revive Shampoo to learn what has reportedly happened to people who bought a shampoo that claimed to reduce hair thinning and boost hair growth.   

As I said, I felt that I had to do something right away to prevent my hair from falling out.  So, instead of using a scientific approach with observation of variables and measuring results, I tried several things at once.  And it worked!!   

Moreover, my functional medicine physician Myrto Ashe, M.D., assured me that my approach was consistent with functional medicine.  Usually, the doctor and patient try several approaches at once.  What matters is not which approach works, but the fact that the condition improves.  Therefore, I am not always sure what exactly worked for me at a particular time.  What I am sure about is that figuring out the root causes works better than spending money on expensive potions. 

The most overlooked hair loss causes

To begin with, I am not an expert on hair loss.  However, my research indicates that there are numerous causes of female hair thinning.  The most common and overlooked ones seem to be:

  • Stress
  • Hair dyes
  • Thyroid disorder
  • Lack or excess of certain vitamins and minerals in the body

There is one more cause that proved to be the answer in my case.  As soon as I fixed it, my hair stopped falling out.  Read on to find out what it was!

Can stress cause hair loss? Yes!

It is a fact that stress can be one of the major causes of thinning hair in women.  To clarify, excessive stress might push a significant number of hair follicles into a resting phase.  Within several months, the affected hairs may fall out suddenly when you are simply combing or washing your hair (source). 

Unfortunately, physical and emotional stress is a normal part of our daily lives.  However, the good news is, according to the Mayo Clinic, stress and hair loss are not permanent.  If you get your stress under control, your female hair thinning stops and the hair normally grows back (source).

Do you have a good way to manage stress?  I have tried to do meditation, but I could not get into it.  What helped me was taking control of my health through various channels.  Knowledge empowers me.  When I know how toxic substances can affect me, where I can be exposed to them, and where to buy safe products, I can act on it and not be a victim.  By the way, this supplement may help support your body’s healthy response to stress. 

How stress turned out to be one of the hair loss causes in my life

In my case, I had a stress overdose when I participated in the Fasting Mimicking Diet.  For 5 days, I followed a very limited-calorie vegan diet.  I repeated this once a month for a total of 3 months. The diet allows only certain quantities of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and is designed to create stress in your body.  Consequently, the sick and cancerous cells weaken, stem cells are activated.  As a result, the organs that shrank during the diet regrow with healthy cells after each 5-day cycle.  This is the theory behind the stress-mimicking diet.

Presumably, the stress from dieting caused the female hair thinning in my body.  However, my husband and I have witnessed so many benefits from the diet that we both like it a lot.  For example, it results in better glucose regulation meaning that although hungry, I can still be in a good mood.  Also, it gives me more energy and better vitality overall, not to mention fat loss in the abdominal area.  Therefore, if my hair thinning due to stress resulted from this diet, it was a small price to pay.

Can hair dye cause hair loss? Yes!

To begin, let me tell you how using a permanent hair color can contribute to hair thinning.  Here are two ways hair dyes and hair loss are related.

First, allergens in permanent hair colors, such as PPD, may cause allergic contact dermatitis of the scalp.  In turn, dermatitis can result in hair loss.  For instance, this medical journal describes a case where a 41-year-old woman lost almost 90% of her hair due to her allergy to PPD.  Moreover, this study found that ammonia-free permanent hair colors have higher risks of inducing dermatitis and subsequent hair loss than the ones that contain ammonia.  It is already easy to see how hair dyes can be one of the hair loss causes, isn’t it?

Second, female hair thinning can be a result of weakened hair that can break easily.  Technically, it is hair breakage, not hair loss, but often it is hard to tell the difference.  In a permanent hair color, hydrogen peroxide and ammonia or ethanolamine open the hair shaft cuticles to deposit the color inside the hair shaft.  This process not only causes hair to lose protein but also makes it porous, and, ultimately, prone to breakage (source).  In fact, hair colors that use ethanolamine instead of ammonia are found to damage the hair more.

Why permanent hair color is not one of the hair loss causes in my life

The reason permanent hair color has been of no concern to me is that I do not use it.  I have learned to embrace my gray hair and actually think that it is pretty that way.  My husband thinks so, too!

As you know, in my posts, I warn about possible health risks, including female hair thinning, associated with hair colors.  (Thus, in the comments to my Madison Reed Hair Color post people share that they feel that the hair color caused their hair to fall out.  Personally, I do not know what actually caused that problem and have no opinion on the topic.)  However, I certainly understand why women want to use a permanent hair color.  Therefore, I am trying to help you decrease hair damage and the risks of allergy, and of possible long-term health effects if you choose to use a permanent hair color. 

It is for this purpose that I have created an unprecedented Permanent Hair Color Rating List e-book.  You can learn which hair color brands use less damaging ingredients from it, as well.

Is hair loss from thyroid real? Yes!

Unfortunately, there is a variety of thyroid disorders, and women are more susceptible to them.  The American Thyroid Association (ATA) states that one in eight women develops a thyroid disorder at some point in life.  That is why thyroid disorders can contribute to hair loss causes.  

For instance, hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone), especially if it is caused by an autoimmune condition, can cause female hair thinning (source).  Alternatively, insufficient thyroid hormones (known as hypothyroidism) and hair loss seem to go hand in hand (source). 

If you are losing too much hair and have other symptoms of thyroid disorders, have your physician check your thyroid.  Also, make sure your doctor tests for the actual thyroid levels and antibodies, not just TSH.  Sometimes, thyroid issues can be very subtle and rare, like a thyroid hormone receptor problem.

Which thyroid disorder was one of the hair loss causes in my life 

In 2010, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, and I cannot deny that it contributed to my hair thinning.  Four years later, I started working with Dr. Ashe, a functional medicine practitioner, who helped me reverse the thyroid condition.  Much to the disbelief of conventional doctors, my thyroid produces normal amounts of thyroid hormones now.  I periodically have my thyroid checked to see if it continues working well.

So, hair loss due to thyroid is quite common.  If you want to prevent female hair thinning, it is a good idea to see a knowledgeable endocrinologist.

Can vitamin D deficiency cause hair loss? Yes!

First of all, vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble secosteroids and is critical for our health.  Thus, lower levels of vitamin D are associated with the development of autoimmune diseases.  If you already have an autoimmune condition, lack of vitamin D may increase its severity. 

Additionally, vitamin D deficiency can lead to poor calcium absorption.  Chronically low vitamin D can even cause death resulting from cardiovascular disease.  On the other hand, there is evidence that higher levels of vitamin D can prevent cancers (source).

Watch out for the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, which include fatigue, bad mood, and depression.  Furthermore, they may include insomnia, back pain, joint pains, muscle weakness, headache, and hair loss (source).  So yes, vitamin D deficiency can be one of the hair loss causes.

The best way to monitor vitamin D is to have a lab test done called Vitamin D, 25-Hydroxy.  That way you can tailor the amount of vitamin D to take for your body.  This is the vitamin D I take.  Of course, you should get tested to see how much you need to take.  Any physician can order the test.  Make sure you take it with fatty foods or drink for better absorption.  In sum, the right level of vitamin D in the body may help prevent female hair thinning.

Can iron deficiency cause hair loss? Yes!

While kids are tested for iron deficiency routinely, as adults we may not suspect that we might have iron deficiency.  Surprisingly, according to the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 11% of women of childbearing age were iron deficient.  At the same time, only 9% of toddlers had iron deficiency.  So, women are more prone to iron deficiency than toddlers (source).

And anemia and hair loss go together.  Considering it one of hair loss causes, some dermatologists suggest screening patients who experience hair thinning for iron levels (source).

The good news is that when iron deficiency is addressed, people often re-grow their hair.  For instance, Cleveland Clinic dermatologists found that restoring iron levels leads to hair regrowth (source).  Thus, dermatologists say yes to the question, “Can low iron cause hair loss?”

Your dermatologist or any other doctor can easily measure the levels of iron by ordering ferritin, serum iron, and total iron-binding capacity blood tests.  Ask your doctor for the tests, especially if you have other symptoms associated with iron deficiency.  They may include fatigue, cold feet and hands, brittle nails, and restless leg syndrome.

How I addressed my iron deficiency hair loss problem

There is a possibility that my female hair thinning was caused by iron deficiency.  While my ferritin level was within the “normal” range (between 15 and 150), it was on the lower side (34).  My doctor believes that the optimum range is between 40 and 70.  So, what did I do?

First, I made it a point to eat more iron-rich food.  Second, I decided to use my cast iron pans more often.  

The thing is that cast iron cookware leaches iron into food, especially if you cook acidic food.  (At first, my husband did not want to use cast iron.  He thought it was too old-fashioned and hard to clean.  However, soon he changed his mind, and we use ours almost every day.)  Read my post about Cast Iron Pots and Pans and look for safe cast iron pans in my shop

Is biotin deficiency one of the hair loss causes?  Yes!

To start with, biotin, aka vitamin B-7, is a vitamin of group B.  Biotin deficiency symptoms include non-specific symptoms such as dry skin, dry hair, fatigue, hair loss, dry eyes, and depression.  Most Western medicine doctors do not normally look into biotin deficiency in female hair thinning (source).  However, Swiss doctors found biotin deficiency in 38% of women complaining about hair loss.

Therefore, I had my biotin level measured as part of the NutrEval test.  This test is instrumental in identifying many vitamin and mineral deficiencies.   Among other things, it identified that I had a high need to supplement biotin.  After a lot of research, I started taking this Biotin daily.  Please consult your doctor before you decide to take biotin.

Is excess of vitamin A one of the hair loss causes? Yes!

Though vital for general health and hair health, vitamin A in excess can cause hair thinning (source and source).  Both times I took NutrEval test, it recommended that I supplement my diet with 3,000 units.  Do you know how much I was taking?  7,500 units!  Of course, I immediately reduced the amount of vitamin A intake.

Can hard water cause hair loss?  I believe so.

To begin with, let us define hard water. 

Mainly, they call water “hard” when it has high amounts of calcium and magnesium.  While these are beneficial minerals to ingest, they are not good for water pipes and hair and skin.  First, they form mineral deposits in pipes and make washing dishes and laundry challenging.  Second, in combination with unfiltered water that has chlorine or chloramine, hard water contributes to dry hair and skin.  In turn, dry hair may be a precursor for the female hair thinning problem. 

However, there is not much research done in this area.  For example, this study by Indian dermatologists revealed that hard water may damage hair.  Alternatively, this Indian study concluded that the hardness of water does not interfere with the hair’s strength and elasticity.  However, both studies were done on strands of hair, not people washing their hair with hard water. 

Even a search on the Deepdyve.com, a paid online portal of scientific journals, did not render any relevant results.  So, I conclude that science has not studied whether the causal relationship between hard water and hair loss exists.   Nevertheless, anecdotally there is a belief that hard water is one of the hair loss causes.  Here is a YouTube video you can watch.  Many hairdressers warn their clients about the harms of hard water, too. 

How soft water stopped my female hair thinning problem

So, they measure water hardness in grains per gallon.   When the water has 7-10 grains per gallon, they consider it hard.  Anything over 10 makes the water very hard.  Imagine now that when our water municipality switched reservoirs, our water measured 16.11 grains per gallon!  No sooner had I washed my hair with this water than I saw chunks of hair leaving my head.  It was devastating. 

My hair loss started the moment our water got hard and stopped right after we installed a water softener and a whole-house water filtration system.  Learn about how to choose the best water filter system for your home.  By the way, the whole-house water filter does not eliminate the need for a kitchen filter. 

Also, please know that I can help you figure out what kind of water treatment systems you need for your situation.  If you want to stop worrying and have a more relaxed life, learn about my consulting services here.

What can you do right away to stop female hair thinning?

While it takes time to restore your thyroid, vitamin, and mineral imbalances and to install a water treatment system, there is something you can do right away!  Thus, you can be more careful with your hair not to aggravate the internal hair loss causes in your body.

Leave your hair alone

First, to avoid traumatizing your hair, minimize combing, brushing, dyeing, perming, straightening, blow-drying, and styling.  Also, stop washing your hair every day.  I know that your hair does not look good when it is dirty, but you can gradually transition to washing it twice a week.  This is my latest achievement.  At first, I started washing every other day and then switched to once in three days.  Your hair will adapt.

If you must blow dry your hair, use cool air – not hot!  Air drying is the best.  I first wrap my head in a soft t-shirt to get water out and then let it air-dry.

Wash your hair with lukewarm water

Hot water has a higher pH and, therefore, is prone to open the cuticles of the hair.  Some recommend rinsing with cold water to make your hair shiny.  The reason for that is that when your hair cuticles close, the hair looks smooth and shiny.  But why do we need to open them in the first place?  Constant opening and closing of hair cuticles creates further damage.

Wash your hair gently

When you wash your hair, do not rub it vigorously, do not flip it back and forth, and do not tangle it.  Leave the hair in one place and apply your shampoo and conditioner gently.  It is probably best to use a shampoo without soap because soap is alkaline.  By the way, I have created the Shampoo Rating List e-book that can help you choose the optimum shampoo for your hair type, budget, and risk tolerance.  

Lastly, do not comb your hair when it is wet because tangles can damage your hair.

Conclusion about hair loss causes

To sum up, the most overlooked causes of female hair thinning can be both external and internal.  For example, the external causes are stress, hair dyes, and hard water.  Alternatively, the internal ones are thyroid disorder, lack of iron, biotin, and vitamin D, and excess of vitamin A.

If you are experiencing hair thinning, I recommend looking into the root causes.  Don’t waste your money on expensive shampoos, conditioners, and serums claiming to reduce hair thinning.  In fact, Monat shampoo, which claims to treat hair loss, has really bad reviews on the BBB website.  Read my Monat Revive Shampoo review and find the link to the BBB website there.  Also, learn how DevaCurl shampoo became controversial after many of its users claimed hair loss. 

Good luck!  And please let me know what you think and what questions you have.  Know that I am available for private consultations.  People who have had consultations with me have found them very helpful.  You can read their testimonials here.

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12 thoughts on “Eight Overlooked Hair Loss Causes”

  1. Avatar

    Great information Irina! thank you!… the best way to take vitamins is complex, not isolate, and we find this way in the foods. IRON: liver, oysters,mussels, clams,cashew, almond, beef, lamb, garbanzo, pumpkin seeds, white beans, lentis, sesame seeds, honey,spinach, etc. BIOTIN:Mushrooms turkey, avocado, egg, sunflowers, berries, almond, walnuts, banana,pork , beef, kidney beans, liver, seafood, eggs,carrots, sunflowers, green peas,lentis, tomatoes, raspberries, etc.
    STRESS: omegas 3,6,9 :Hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, spinach, broccoli, edamame, red pepper, cod fish, shrimp, oysters, pork, beef, seafood, eggs, onion, col, avocado, etc. For make serotonin: Eggs, cheese, pineapple, banana, nuts, turkey,seafood,vegetables, spinach, mushrooms, lentis, chick peas, navy beans, kidney beans, popcorn,grain, seeds, foods with vitamin B, with fatty acids, with L-Theanine( green tea, etc), rich in magnesium(hemp seeds, spinach, raspberry tea,etc), chamomile tea, exercise, sun.
    Also best way to have vitamin D is taken SUN!
    If your immune system is strong, you will not have any problem: hemp seeds,Green tea, echinacea tea , garlic, ginger, apple cider vinegar,etc… the most important for all, CAYENNE. 🙂

  2. Avatar

    What about postpartum alopecia and telogen effluvium? These happen after a baby or shock to your system like surgery or stressor. They can even happen 6 months after the event!

    1. Irina Webb

      Yes, I remember how much hair I lost postpartum but I also grew lots of hair during the pregnancy. It was the thickest ever so postpartum hair loss was in a way returning back to “normal.” Thank you, Dr. Elle Brown, for your comment. ~Irina

      1. Avatar

        Hi! I experienced a lot of hair loss when I came off the pill. Even though I hated to do it, I cut back on shampooing, cut the length that had thinned out and cut back on treatments (highlights). I finally started having less fall out and once I became pregnant I thought for sure I would regrow my hair in no time. I can tell my hair is thicker but it’s mostly all on top. Once the length reaches ab half way down it starts to thin out and look scraggly. What can I do? Obviously these pregnancy hormones aren’t having the same effect this time around.

  3. Avatar

    Hi Irina,

    I am writing this in case it can help anyone out there needlessly suffering. I experienced a lot of hair loss this year at the age of 49 for about a 4 month period and finally believe I figured out why as it has now stopped. Firstly, I should tell you I am an ALL organic gal (LOL)… for example, I do NOT color my hair at all because of the damaging & dangerous chemicals (as you well know :-). I also only use 100% organic, non-toxic hair products (or make my own shampoo with 1 egg & fresh aloe vera gel mixed together which has also helped offset the issue), so I knew it was not anything like that or over-styling since I also let my long, blonde hair dry naturally 95% of the time.
    After 4 months and many hours of research, I am now back to normal with NO excess hair loss anymore. I am almost certain it came down to the fact that I had over the last year literally created my own hypothyroidism issue as I had begun getting too much iodine in my system via green powder nutrients (which I now know can cause hypothyroidism). At first that may sound crazy, but even though they were some of the BEST organic, 100% whole-food sources of greens (like kelp, wheatgrass, spirulina, & chlorella) from VERY reputable companies, I realized I was just plain taking too much every day. (Note: I’ll still continue taking them as they’re still very important, quality nutrients, but I will just take about 1/2 the amount I was taking.) I realized that I needed to offset all that extra iodine in my diet and begin balancing it by taking in more Selenium-rich foods too.

    So what FINALLY worked for me (after trying some topical things like castor oil, rosemary essential oil, etc. which are all great for the hair but did not ultimately work), was:

    #1. I immediately backed off to about half the amount of the green powders I had been taking; and
    #2. So as to help support my thyroid in handling this temporary imbalance strain AND to also help balance my hormones better (which are beginning to show some initial signs of peri-menopause since I am approaching 50 years old), I started taking (only for just a couple weeks before my next period) a small amount (1/4 teaspoon) of a safe, organic 100% whole food sourcing of progesterone cream (called “Feminine Balance Therapy” by Organic Excellence). Even though I’ve only done it for that short 2-week time frame, all of my excess hair-loss has just stopped almost immediately… thank God! 🙂

    So I think the combination of those 2 changes really were the result of my finally positive results.

    Hope this helps anyone out there in cyberland!

  4. Avatar

    Thank you for this article…a very timely topic for me, as I have been experiencing ongoing hair loss for quite some time now. Pretty sure mine is due to way too much stress over a long period of time, as well as hypothyroidism. But I’m interested in ruling out any vitamin/mineral imbalancing. One I didn’t see you mention is a selenium toxicity. When I was first researching causes of hair loss, I came across selenium…the major symptom of a toxic level is hair loss. And my RBC selenium level is high!

    Also, I had a question regarding your NutrEval test… since the test doesn’t know if a person is supplementing already or not, wouldn’t you assume that any amount it suggests you should take would be intended to be over what you are already taking? So when it said you should add 3000 units of vitamin A, wouldn’t that be 3000 more than you were already getting?

    1. Irina Webb

      Hi, Lisa: thank you for your good question! Before taking Nutreval I discontinued taking supplements so I could get my baseline results. I am actually going to repeat the test next week and this time I am going to stay on the supplements so I can see how well I am absorbing them. Does it make sense? ~Irina

  5. Avatar

    Hello! I’m interested in the brand and type of shampoo and co do too we you use? I want to find something as natural and healthy for my hair and scalp as possible. Thank you!

  6. Avatar

    Hi Irina, just read your article about Mobat products. Thank you! Just just saved me from wasting money!
    Can you please recommend any product for growing thicker hair? Since you don’t believe in shampoos making our hair thicker, then maybe some other products? Also I want to add I checked my thyroid, its fine, and take biotin and a few others vitamins
    Regards
    Magdalena

    1. Avatar

      The Nioxin hair line has been useful in growing hair. I believe it helps make the skin at the scalp a little thinner so it makes it easier for hair to grow through

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