I started losing my hair when I was in high school.
At first, I barely noticed, but every morning an increasing number of strands would be left on my pillow. In the shower, my drain was getting clogged every time I washed my hair and my once thick ponytail (I’m talking the size of a quarter) was whittling down to the size of a blueberry.
For a while, I was in denial. I was anxious about it, but I tried to reassure myself.. How could I be losing my hair? I wasn’t a 60-year-old man who played golf, I was a teenage girl who loved my Babyliss hair crimper and butterfly clips. Like with so many pivotal things in my life, it was my mom who finally said what I was too afraid to. “Honey, I think something is going on with your hair.” The words hung in the room until I started crying.
Little did I know this was the beginning of a lifelong journey for me.
My mom attacked the problem with the vigor and organization of an investigative journalist. We went to doctors upon doctors. We went to Chinese Herb Specialists and even flew to the Cleaveland Clinic. Meanwhile, my hair continued to dwindle. Tests didn’t show any hormone imbalances or hidden triggers. It felt hopeless.
Finally, I went to a Trichologist (yes, a scalp doctor is a real thing), who asked about my family history. Did my Dad have hair? Nope. (Sorry, Dad). Did his Dad have hair in adult life? Nope. (Sorry, Grandpa!). I was confused. Wasn’t hereditary hair loss a male thing? Wasn’t that the one thing in life that women had better than men? Wrong.
My Trichologist, Dr. Philip Kingsley, explained in my case that my hair loss was probably a combination of stress and genetics. My best friend had recently moved to another country, and I was under a lot of stress at school. He advised that I up my vitamins to manage stress and possibly even use a topical solution, like Rogaine for a while to get things under control. I balked. As a self-involved, (and self-conscious) teenage girl, Rogaine was probably the farthest thing from my personal brand I could have imagined. But after a few weeks of mulling it over, I thought, why not. What do I have to lose? (Apart from more hair.)
It’s been over 10 years since I started shedding and I’m happy to report I have it under control. I still shed especially in times of high stress, but I’ve found a system that works for me. What I am shocked about, though, is the lack of media coverage or even talk amongst friends about female hair loss.
I recently spoke to Dr. Francesca Fusco, the Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. I wanted to clarify the causes behind female hair loss and why there is such a stigma around it. I asked her why there was such a taboo around it, why people don’t openly discuss it as they do for men.
“There is a degree of embarrassment: some women are concerned that it will be considered a sign of getting old or it’s a sign of aging. A kind of “hair shame”. The first thing I assure patients is that it can happen at ANY age.” Dr. Fusco told me.
I also asked Dr. Fusco to confirm what some of the common causes are, explaining that for me personally it seemed to be a combination of stress and genetics. I was relieved to validate that these were amongst the most common.
“The five most common causes are shedding due to hormonal changes, shedding due to nutritional deficiency/protein loss/severe dieting; secondary to medication, genetic determined androgenetic alopecia, and postpartum shedding.”
I found what works for me, but as with most things in life, every woman is different. Dr. Fusco said she individualizes treatments and there are a lot of different levers to pull.
“I individualize treatment to patients. A treatment plan could include Vitamins, (I love Isdin Lambdapil), spironolactone, topical compounds I individualize with a compound pharmacy, LowLevel Light Therapy, PRP and stress management.”
The important takeaways from my story and from Dr. Fusco are that hair loss is a common thing happening to lots of women and there is no need to be embarrassed.
Right or wrong, hair is a very personal thing for women. We are taught from a young age that long, thick glossy hair is desirable and a sign of health and sexiness. We’re bombarded by shampoo ads featuring women with Rapunzel-Esque tresses. It can be scary to think that something beyond your control is happening to something as sensitive as your hair.
Is using Rogaine for women sexy? Not really. Did it take me 500 tries to get my daily Vitamin mix right? Yes. But I got there in the end. I now know how stress can directly affect me, and I know that I need to be careful considering my genetics. But knowledge is power, and I have lots of levers to pull in case of a sudden shed.
For a long time, I didn’t talk about my hair loss problem but now I will truly talk about it to anyone who will listen. (Apologies to the woman on the subway this morning…) The more we know and share, the better we can all be. Here’s to thick ponytails and crimping our hair till our hearts are content…