Doreen Morgan had always noticed she had a high hairline. But after going through an early menopause and with her hair beginning to thin as it does for many menopausal women, she noticed that something drastic was happening: her once striking profile now boasted a receding hairline.

“As I got older and started to take a bit more care about how I look it became more obvious,” she says. To disguise it, she grew a fringe, and began wearing hats. “It always made me self-conscious and anxious, and I wouldn’t want a photograph taken as if there was a gap [in my fringe] and it would show my hairline.”

Morgan, 57, felt restricted in her choice of hairstyles and would spend hours styling her hair, straightening her curls and trying out gels and waxes and to keep her hair in place. “Sometimes it would spring back and look even worse,” she says.

Morgan is not alone, although at times she may have felt like she was. While most people are aware that men can suffer hair loss and balding from a young age, most women don’t realise that the same will eventually happen to them. By the age of 60, 80 per cent of women are shedding their hair. This can manifest as thinning, a receding hairline or even bald patches.

As women’s hairstyles are often longer, in the early stage they may find it easier to disguise than men do, and until recently it’s been dismissed as an inevitable part of ageing. But now, a new generation of treatments and therapies are specifically targeting female balding and thinning. Cosmetic surgeons and medical start ups are investing in new technologies – some of which are also incredibly costly.

Many women find that hormonal changes at perimenopause and menopause cause their hair to thin (Photo: Aleksandr Zubkov/Getty)
Many women find that hormonal changes at perimenopause and menopause cause their hair to thin (Photo: Aleksandr Zubkov/Getty)

It’s set to be a boom market for women in midlife, with a huge potential customer base: a recent poll of viewers of the ITV show Loose Women found that over 90 per cent were already worried about hair loss.

Dr Adam Staten, an NHS GP and clinical director of One Day Tests, says even he was surprised by the statistics around female hair loss. “It’s definitely an issue we see fairly frequently in my NHS practice and it can be a very significant psychological burden,” he says. “I think a lot of women just accept it as a part of ageing and don’t necessarily think that there might be something that they can do, but sometimes there is potentially a quick fix.”

When women lose their hair, diagnosing the causes is the first step. These can include vitamin deficiencies such as lack of iron or vitamin D, undiagnosed diabetes, the hormonal changes that occur during perimenopause and menopause or underactive thyroid. In those cases, simply treating the previously silent underlying issue – whether that’s with hormone replacement therapy or supplements – can remedy the problem without any other intervention.

Such is the interest from women in understanding hair loss that, from 1 March, 2023, Staten’s company is offering a rapid blood test, costing £315, to quickly diagnose any underlying issue or to pinpoint whether the loss is simply down to genetics.

Once any underlying issues are treated, many new cosmetic interventions are possible.

In 2021, Morgan chose to have a hair transplant to deal with her receding hairline – a form of surgery that has been available for decades, but with radically improved success rates recently thanks to new techniques which involve transplanting single follicles rather than sections of scalp tissue.

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She also opted for a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection, a new treatment extracting a patient’s plasma from their own blood, which contains stem cells and other growth factors, and injecting it where tissues need regenerating. The combination of treatments was a success, although the six-month recovery period required patience.

“They shaved my hair off and took follicles and preserved them, then cut back and reinserted the hair and then started the recovery process. It was very tricky because I left work two weeks prior to that with people saying ‘there’s nothing wrong with your hair’, and then I had got this big exposed area and it looked red raw – people must have wondered what the hell had happened – and I had to let it heal like that.”

Six months later her hair had regrown and she was able to sport a short style for the first time. She is now much happier with her appearance. “I don’t mess about with my hair as much, I don’t look in the mirror as much and I don’t wear hats. I think that’s a great stepping stone.”

Such treatments don’t come cheap. A follicle hair transplant is likely to cost around £6,000 (costs range from £2,000 to £30,000 depending on the size of the area to be treated). PRP costs £400-500 per injection, and women are likely to need three or four.

Dr Matee Rajput is one of the doctors using new transplant techniques. He says they have improved healing time and made the surgery a much more attractive option for women. “Everything is on a micro scale and therefore you can put more hair in the same place,” he explains. “You’ve got less scarring and more regrowth.”

Dr Furkan Raja, a cosmetic doctor who also carries out hair transplants and PRP injections, says these new techniques have improved success rates for hair loss treatments. In particular, he says, PRP injections “significantly improve the quality of the hair”, meaning women are more comfortable spending money on the technique.

Hair loss is a natural part of ageing in women as well as men, and treatment for female hair loss are a boom area (Photo: RUNSTUDIO/Getty)
Hair loss is a natural part of ageing in women as well as men, and treatment for female hair loss are a boom area (Photo: RUNSTUDIO/Getty)

The next development in treatment, set to become available within the next two years, is stem cell implantation, using healthy hair follicles to regenerate dying follicles in areas where the hair is starting to thin. It’s a preventative measure, rather than a surgical intervention, but rollout has been delayed by pauses in university research due to departments shutting down during the pandemic.

Research is also ongoing into medications known as JAK inhibitors, which currently treat autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, looking at whether they can block the activity of immune cells which contribute to hair loss.

Meanwhile, CRISPR technology, which is leading to huge leaps forward in cancer treatment, could also have applications for cosmetic purposes. This gene-editing technology could allow doctors to “edit the genes that regulate hair growth, potentially allowing for new hair follicles to grow”, according to Yannis Giantizides, managing director of the Harley Street Hair Transplant Clinic.

These treatments may be some way off, but they are already guiding current offerings for women. Dr Bessam Farjo, who owns the Farjo Hair Institute based in Manchester, is already offering a “follicle banking” service for people in the earliest stages of loss to preserve their healthy follicles now.

“Everything is now geared to preservation and maintenance, so we like to catch these issues early on and catch the issue and preserve the hair rather than wait for it to fall out,” Farjo explains. “The future treatments are cell-based treatments, meaning we’ll be able to take different parts of cells and replicate and multiply them in the lab and then reintroduce them or inject them into someone’s scalp.

“But in our research we find that the younger hairs respond much better to these kinds of lab culturing methods than older hair. They’re able preserve their younger hairs, so that when a treatment becomes available we can access these hairs.”

The follicle banking service preserves hair at the cost of £2,500 a year for a 20-25 year period and Farjo already has female clients. However, most won’t need to wait that long to move forward with replenishing their hair: Farjo predicts his clinic will be able to offer full stem cell regeneration treatment within 12 months.

Natalie, 45, from Hastings, finally chose to have a transplant last year after decades of trying over-the-counter treatment]s, tablets and hormone therapy.

“Hair loss really impacted my life, both personally and professionally,” she explains. “I started to panic and worry what it’d be like when I got even older and was constantly distressed about it to my husband. I was especially worried about whether I’d have to wear a wig for the rest of my life. This was a very emotional experience for me, and I felt like I was running out of options.”

Her transplant was successful, but within the next few years women will have less invasive options available to prevent their hair loss before it happens.

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