Hair Loss Stories
Hair loss for women is rarely discussed and as a result many women suffer in silence.
Hair loss for women can have a devastating effect on a woman’s self-esteem and sense
of self-worth as long luscious locks have often been equated with ‘femininity’.
Hormones, genes, medication, drugs and nutrition can all play a vital role in hair
loss. Here, we explore the lives of various women who have been affected by hair
loss, how they coped and the messages they want to convey to others.
‘O’ – Oral Contraceptives
In 2009, ‘O’ stopped taking her birth control pill which was a high androgen index
pill. A few months later, when A was in the shower, she noticed she was shedding
more and more hair. One morning she woke up to find clumps of hair all over her
pillow – handfuls of it. Even after googling what had happened, ‘O’ was still confused.
Were her iron levels too low? Was she pregnant? Were her oestrogen levels below
average? ‘O’ was devastated and so she sought medical advice immediately. She wasn’t
any happier after seeing her doctor. ‘O’ was told she had ‘androgenic alopecia’,
also known as female patterned baldness. Now diagnosed, ‘O’ started taking Propecia
and Minoxidil but neither did any good. ‘O’ had no idea what to do next. As a result
‘O’ went to visit a respected dermatologist who told ‘O’ that she could consider
taking a low androgen index birth control pill such as Orthtricyclen. To ‘O’s’ delight,
she began to lose less and less hair every day. However, three years on, ‘O’ still
feels trapped by her condition. Too scared to stop taking Orthtricyclen in case
she starts losing all her hair again, ‘O’ now feels that she will have to take the
drug for the rest of her life. For ‘O’, this was not the future she was hoping for.
Birth control pills can cause hair loss - Telogen Effluvium, or hair
shedding. Low Androgen Index birth control pills may limit your chance of experiencing
hair loss such as Desogen, Ortho-Cept, Ortho-Cyclen, Ortho Tri-Cyclen and Micronor
‘G’ – Genetics
G had always loved her hair although she used to say to her friends “I wish my hair wasn’t so thick”! Now, 37, G thinks very differently. G now spends a lot of her life ‘de-hairing’ her surroundings – her bed, her shower plug, her sink, her clothes and her carpet. When G started losing her hair she thought she must have a deadly disease, a thyroid problem or a hormone imbalance. B spent thousands of dollars investigating until one doctor told her it was genetic hair loss – androgenic alopecia. This truth hit home much harder than she had ever imagined. ‘G’ always thought of her hair as an extension of herself, it was part of her identity. ‘G’ had separated from her husband the year before and so her already fragile self-esteem broke apart. B no longer had any sense of self-worth. She didn’t know what to do, who to talk to, where to look. Feeling ugly and ashamed, ‘G’ became somewhat of a recluse, staying indoors as much as possible and wearing a head scarf or hat at all times. ‘G’s hair was the last thing she thought about before going to sleep and the first thing that popped up in her mind when she woke up. ‘G’ hated being in public due to her fear of her ‘thinning’ hair being noticed and also because she hated seeing other women with hair cascading down their backs like hers used to do. It made her angry. It made her feel, ‘why me’? As ‘G’ had isolated herself from all her close friends, who were too ‘beautiful’ to be around, she decided to join the Women’s Hair Loss Project, an online support network where women who suffered from hair loss met to trade information about treatment options, coping mechanisms, hair pieces and hair extensions. It also gave women a chance to talk and to reach out to others who would actually listen and sympathise with them.
‘G’ still looks over old photos of when she was younger, with her full head of hair. ‘B’ now does whatever she can to hide what’s happening, keeping her hair short and getting her hair layered in order to look thicker. However, although ‘G’s’ hair loss affects her life, she has realised that her life shouldn’t be all about hair loss. ‘G’ now focuses on other things in life – time with her friends and family and doing what she loves, even when it’s in public. She has finally realised that you can’t spend your life hiding away.
- Androgenetic alopecia is the most common form of hair loss in women and is hereditary
- It is extremely important to find a qualified physician to determine the underlying cause of your hair loss.
‘C’ - Chemotherapy
‘C’s’ hair was her crown and glory, it helped defined a sense of self, she felt it was part of her self- identity. People loved ‘C’s’ hair so much that she used to model for hair dressers and soon became known as ‘the girl with the great hair’. When ‘C’ found out she had cancer, her whole life changed. When ‘C’ first found out that she needed chemotherapy (a treatment for cancer which often causes hair loss) ‘C’ was resistant. She felt that she would be losing part of her ‘self’. Breast cancer survivor Donna Lindsay noted that this reaction is common among women as many women find the idea of losing their hair emotionally draining. Unlike most women who shave their hair off at the start of treatment, ‘C’ decided to keep her locks as a small percentage of patients don’t lose their hair during treatment and ‘C’ didn’t want to act pre-emptively. However, 17 days into treatment, ‘C’s’ hair started falling out at a rapid pace, clump by clump. ‘C’ did try the 'cold-cap' system (when a cold-cap is placed on a patient’s head prior to and during chemotherapy) to reduce hair loss, but found the restriction of blood and chemotherapy drugs to the hair follicles too painful for her to endure. ‘C’ became severely depressed. She would stand in her mirror, her eyes swelling with tears as she looked into her sink full of hair. She felt incomplete. She felt ugly. She felt weak. For ‘C’, her hair had always given her a sense of empowerment, a feeling that she could do anything in life. Now she felt that all she ever had was falling by the wayside. ‘C’ felt that she could no longer be seen in public. She began ordering everything from home and if she had to go outside she wore a wig that in her mind looked like straw.
After days of crying and feeling sorry for herself, ‘C’ realised that she could no longer go on like this. She had to face reality, that this was the new ‘C’. She knew she had to become more than ‘the girl with the great hair’. So ‘C’ started to fill her life with purpose. ‘C’ began focusing on her health more than ever and those who she loved – her family and friends. ‘S’ went in search for beauty around her and started to fill her life with beautiful things- new friendships, photos, paintings and books. With a cabinet full of wigs to help her through the dark days, ‘C’ took this new purpose and ‘identity’ in her stride. She was now more than ‘the girl with the great hair’. She was ‘the girl with the new lease of life’. Although she became used to her short hair (which had changed in colour and texture), 6 months down the road, ‘C’ treated herself to a head full of hair extensions. For ‘C’ it was a watershed event. She felt that she was back on the road to normality.
- Chemotherapy may cause hair loss all over your body as Chemotherapy drugs attack rapidly growing cancer cells and other cells in your body including those in your hair roots.
- Hair usually begins falling out one to three weeks after you start treatment. It could fall out very quickly in clumps or gradually
- When your hair grows back, it may have a different texture or colour
‘B’ – Bulimia
‘B’ had struggled with Bulimia since she was a little girl. Was it a result of emotional insecurity? Societal and familial pressure? She still didn’t really know. What she did know was that her once long, thick and shiny hair changed significantly with the onset of this disease. In a short amount of time, ‘B’s’ healthy hair became a thin frizzy mess which fell out easily. She didn’t understand. How are my eating habits affecting my hair? As ‘B’s’ eating habits had become so dangerous, ‘B’s mother’ got a professional trichologist to talk to ‘B’ about her hair loss as ‘B’s’ hair had always meant the world to her. The trichologist explained that when someone is bulimic, the Anagen/growth phase of the hair cycle is cut short as a result of starvation and gastric abnormalities. Hair is made of a keratin and when someone’s body becomes deficient in protein and certain vitamins, hair growth is affected as the body prioritizes vital organs over hair. The average scalp has 84000 - 145000 hair follicles however, when someone is bulimic, the rate of hair loss is higher than the replenishing rate as high acidity and poor circulation means that hair finds it harder to thrive and the blood flow to the scalp is reduced, starving the hair of essential nutrients. ‘B’ couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She had never realised that her lifestyle habits could affect her hair. She just thought that she would start losing her hair when she was old. Age was the only factor she ever knew about. So ‘B’ asked her trichologist what she could do about it. Her hair was the only thing she ever liked about herself and now that her hair was falling out, ‘B’ felt that her life was spiralling out of control, faster than she could ever imagine. Her trichologist said that the only thing she could do was to start eating healthily again and exercising as her hair follicles needed those essential nutrients. ‘B’ was reminded that although she could take pre-natal supplements to thicken her hair up again, she would continue to have thinning hair and bald spots until she started eating properly and exercising as Telogen Effluvium is not an easy thing to conquer when you are destroying your body.
- People with bulimia eliminate vitamins and nutrients from their body when they purge the food they are eating.
- Bulimia also causes the body to become extremely acidic and when you couple low blood circulation with gastric abnormalities, the body fails to stimulate new hair growth
- The only way to cure Telogen Effluvium in this case is to return to normal eating habits and to take additional medications if your physician deems it necessary
These are just some of the hair loss stories that are reported by women daily. About 13 in 100 women start balding before menopause and so you should never feel alone. ‘Age’ is only one of the many variables that cause hair loss along with stress, medications/drugs, hormones, nutrition and genetics. As you can see from the stories above, many modern day medications can cause hair loss as they interrupt the growth phase of the hair cycle. 40% of women are affected by Androgenetic Alopecia and even with supplements, this can be a hard condition to overcome. Nutrition and stress can also affect hair loss, two variables people often dismiss. However, by maintaining a healthy lifestyle balance, Telogen Effluvium, can be overcome. Lastly, hormones are one of the main factors contributing to hair loss in women, especially during menopause as women’s oestrogen levels start to decline. As a hormone imbalance occurs between a woman’s oestrogen and testosterone levels, women can experience the thinning of hair or the growth of unwanted hair on their face. So next time you think you’re losing your hair and you’re all alone, think again. Many women go through the same thing every day and are there to support you through the process. Modern society hosts a wide range of medications, hair loss treatments and aesthetic alternatives to real hair such as hair extensions and so ‘hair loss’ should longer be ‘the end of the world’. Think of it as a new beginning.
"Why me?" A young woman's story:
I step onto the train, I am in the local supermarket, I am out on the streets, I am at university, everybody is looking at me, and everybody knows. They know that under the cute little wool hat I am wearing, my hair is falling out.
Just 2 years ago it was a complete different story. I would have laughed so hard if I was told that in the near future I would start suffering from hair loss. I would have told them they were mad. 2 years ago I was a high school student with absolutely no signs of hair loss. My hair was long and healthy, just about half way down my back – it was the thing I liked most about my looks. I loved letting my hair down and wearing a little backless dress, being the centre of attention. I was looking forward to all the wonderful things future would bring me.
But being the life of the party started to take its toll. I don’t remember exactly when it was, I can’t pinpoint the exact day it started taking place. When you are young, slim, pretty, and popular, when you just enter university, hair care is not exactly your first priority every morning. But some day I noticed that my shower drain had been clogging way too easily. I would always have to pick hair off the floor, my car seat, my pillow, my clothes. I would find strands of hair all over my towels, even in my food! The split ends were getting worse, my hair snapped off if I tried to brush too hard. As I combed conditioner into my hair, strands after strands kept falling out, my fingers were filling up with good chunks of hair. I kept rinsing hair with water hoping it would stop, but the more I ran my fingers through my hair, the more hairs came out. Then the next day it happened again. Days, weeks, then months, I couldn’t ignore it anymore; the loss of my hair was definitely not at a normal rate. I started to freak out and occasionally experienced full blown panic attacks – feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I started to feel sick with worry. It was something I had never experienced before.
I could hardly look at myself in the mirror anymore. I was always distracted by my reflection – angling to see how obvious it was and how much shiny scalp was starting to be visible through my rapidly thinning hair.
Why me out of everybody?
This is so unfair.
I thought it was PMS. I thought it was the stress caused by university life. I thought it was my unhealthy diet. I thought the shredding was temporary, that the thinning of my hair would go away, soon.
None of that proved to be true.
Was it a combo of the diets, stress and late nights?
What was it?
It just did not add up at all. My finger nails, my toe nails were all growing out normally. I didn’t have any major health problems. There was no trauma in my family. Yes my lifestyle was not exactly healthy but what social 20-year-old on earth actually has a healthy lifestyle?
I could physically feel my hair falling out. Was it an illusion? Why is this happening to me?
I’ve never been thrilled with my appearance, but my hair was the one thing I was frequently complimented on. It was an integral part of my identity. I was so sure anybody outside could literally see my hair falling out just from taking one look at me. My hair was the last thing I’d think about before I went to sleep. And it was the first thing on my mind when I woke up. Some days I even counted the numbers of hair that fell out. When my hair began to shed, my already fragile self-esteem broke apart. I was afraid that I’d be less of a woman because of hair loss, and I felt dismayed and overwhelmed at the image of myself in the future.
I looked for help in the virtual world – it would surprise you that an unimaginable amount of results came up when simple terms such as “hair loss” or “hair thinning” were typed into the little Google search bar. Sometimes I felt better by logging into hair loss forums where there were strangers, men and women across the country and around the world who, like me, were struggling to conceal and cope with their hair loss and handle the deep emotional ramifications of the situation. Sometimes I devoted good chunks of time scouring the internet for success stories, for a magical cure-all, for a home-brew natural ingredient. Some other times it felt that nothing could save me, nothing could make it better.
Finally I made the first step towards doing something about the situation. I decided to start trying some remedies. I tried different shampoos. I tried over-the-counter magic pills. I tried a combination! Nothing seemed to work for me. I felt like a basket case and hopeless with this lost cause.
Then I considered going to see a hair loss specialist. She told me how common hair loss was for people, even people of my age and that there would definitely be a light at the end of the tunnel. The hair loss specialist talked to me about how everyone’s hair would have to go through phases, she listed out the possible reasons why I was slowly but noticeably losing my beloved locks. At one point, she said to me emphatically: “It always seems worse than you think”. It made me feel a whole lot better and it made me feel that she understood how I was feeling. I had gone months without being able to talk to anyone about my hair loss concerns and here this specialist was, making sense of it all and finally making me feel that I was no longer a crazy. I then asked the question I had wanted to ask for so long. Is there a cure for my hair loss situation?
We spoke through the various treatment options and did some tests to understand why I was losing my hair and how best to overcome it. As she said, each individual hair loss case is different and even the reasons for hair loss vary greatly and so the treatment must reflect those reasons. She also told me advised me to get my stress levels under control; “Stress contributes to hair loss, and hair loss brings on stressful bouts of self-hatred, and so it goes on, a vicious cycle.”
Finally I felt relief, knowing that I was not alone on this journey and that there was a professionally trained person who could help me.