Hair loss is not a new concern, but the category has witnessed growth, with online searches for hair loss rising by 8% in the last year. Hair loss is currently a $7 billion market, and according to hair loss provider Kerastem, alopecia patients are split almost evenly among both genders (55% female, 45% male). Despite this factual evidence, the market had always catered towards men. A 2020 Fortune Business Insights report identifies the female sector of the market as a substantial component in the North American industry’s growth. Given the fact that 80% of women experience significant hair loss by the age of 60, 95% of which is a result of hormonal changes like perimenopause, pregnancy, or menopause, it has been a surprisingly nascent realm of the industry.
One reason is that certain procedures, be they pharmaceuticals or hair transplants, are either not available or unsuitable for female hair loss sufferers. Another is the higher social pressures on female appearance, as well as the visual markers of long, luscious hair as a trait of femininity. While male hair loss sufferers undoubtedly struggle too, it is the hushed nature of female hair loss, versus male hair loss being embraced by certain men who can easily shave off all their hair and wear a bald look with pride, which has made it a difficult market to cater to. “For women in particular, the issue feels loaded, shrouded in shame. It could be because we attach so much meaning to hair; it’s an indicator of status, style, profession. Good hair is both a security blanket and a confidence boost. So, is it any wonder that it falling out can leave many falling apart?,” asks journalist Abha Shah. As hormonal health among women continues to be discussed more openly alongside the rise of feminine wellness brands, it is also shining a light on one of the possible culprits of hair loss. Increased stress as a result of the pandemic, and COVID-induced hair loss, has seen a rise in afflicted individuals overall.
“All communication about hair loss was directed towards men. Female hair thinning was a completely underserved category, and it was misunderstood with regards to how it affects a woman when she’s losing her hair and how you communicate to and with women about this issue,” states Lars Skjøth, founder of Danish hair clinic Harklinikken. Four-fifths of his client base are women. “80% of our customers are women. It naturally started to skew in that direction, which proves how much of a need there is,” explains Nutrafol CEO and co-founder Giorgos Tsetis. “It's absolutely devastating to see how many women are suffering in silence, there’s not a lot of solutions available to them. When we launched hair loss ads for women six years ago, we were asked to take them down because it was taboo.” Today, the nutraceutical company counts the postmenopausal segment as its biggest growth category, and also launched a postpartum formula this month.
Nutrafol’s approach is to employ science-backed, tried-and-tested solutions that incorporate a whole-body approach (and natural ingredients) to treat the problem. The company identified a plethora of potential culprits: hormones (DHT, or dihydrotestosterone sensitivity), nutrient deficiencies, stress, environmental causes, and metabolic issues such as inflammation and thyroid. Autoimmune disorders like alopecia areata, or more temporary hair loss disorders such as telogen effluvium, can also be responsible. Needless to say, a topical-only solution may be akin to treating a bullet wound with a Band-Aid, although they can still provide benefits. Biotin has long been touted as a savior for hair troubles; however, supplements are only one aspect of the equation. While scalp health also plays an important part, topical absorption can be incredibly difficult, and with certain vitamin supplements, if there are underlying nutritional deficiencies, absorption may be impeded.
At the heart of Nutrafol’s products is a patented Synergen Complex containing marine collagen, ashwagandha, saw palmetto, curcumin, tocotrienol complex, resveratrol, and kelp. Their scientific findings are peer-reviewed, and formulas as well as ingredients are tested in clinical, placebo-controlled, double-blind trials. The company also recently obtained the #1 dermatologist recommended seal of approval.
Nutrafol presents an innovative surge within hair loss solutions, which, until recently, had limited options. One of the most well-known products is Loniten, also sold under the name Rogaine, which was launched in 1988. Its generic form, minoxidil, was first launched in 1986. Both are still widely used in topical products today, which work by dilating the blood vessels to increase nutrient and oxygen delivery to hair follicles. Platelet-rich plasma injections are another, albeit painful and costly, option, whereby plasma is separated from the blood and then reinjected back into the scalp. Hair transplants offer another solution, with the market predicted to have an astonishing increase from $6 billion in 2020 to $27.9 billion in just seven years’ time, but given the different balding patterns in men and women, they are less likely to deliver desired results in female counterparts. Prescription drugs like spironolactone and finasteride are FDA approved and prescribed off label, but also come with side effects such as decreased libido.
On the consumer product front, a surge in product launches is looking to cater to female clients, be it through clinically proven results or natural options. Pureauty Naturals released a biotin hair serum that has been marketed as an alternative to minoxidil. Virtue recently launched two keratin-based treatments, Nightly Intensive Hair Growth Treatment and Nightly Intensive Rejuvenation Treatment. “We wanted to focus not just on creating a more fertile environment for growing hair, but also on nourishing and strengthening hair fibers. Our Alpha Keratin 60ku technology is clinically proven to thicken, strengthen, and nourish each individual hair strand, so whether new or existing, your hair has a better chance to survive and thrive,” comments founder and CEO Melisse Shaban. In independent clinical testing, strand thickness increased by 22% and hair breakage reduced by 26%.
MONPURE is a vegan scalp and hair health brand whose products borrow skincare actives such as retinol and lactic acid, alongside botanicals, to promote scalp and follicle health. “We created MONPURE to bridge the gap between skincare and haircare. Our research shows that we have been treating hair issues with products that contain harsh toxic chemicals, and generally focus on the hair instead of the scalp. We want to transform how we care for our hair to a more holistic way,” explains founder Natanel Bigger. The company recently launched a #It'sNotJustHair campaign to address COVID-related hair loss in the social media sphere.
Telehealth company Hims & Hers enlisted the endorsement of Jennifer Lopez to open up the conversation around female hair loss in a bid to normalize the issue—and with normalization can come more effective issues. While consumers may have previously hidden, the more they can discuss what products help (and didn’t help) them in their struggle, the more it will open up the industry to amplifying its offerings and create a supportive network in the process. “We have entire industries built around fear tactics, taking advantage of these very vulnerable situations. We have approached it very differently: our main tagline is keep growing. It’s actually a slower response but people are sticking with us,” Tsetis remarks, emphasizing that continued investment in science, and efficacy proof, will be key to continuing to lead the hair wellness category as the consumer appetite around science increases. But it all needs to begin with lessening the shame for consumers and giving them hope with proven solutions. As Tsetis puts it: “The moment when people start speaking about this, the ripple effect of that is astronomical.”
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