Alopecia is a word that strikes fear into my heart.
You see, I have a family pattern of thinning hair. And it’s not on the men’s side.
It’s on my mother’s.
As everyone knows, if you want to know what you’ll look like in 20 or 30 years, look at your mom.
Women aren’t supposed to have thinning hair. Bald patches are a male problem, and what to do with all that thick lush hair is a female problem.
Let me put it this way:
No one should ever see a woman’s scalp.
Unless she’s shaved her head for a movie, like Demi Moore in “G.I. Jane.”
Losing your hair is devastating. Hair is such a vital part of what makes you you.
Even when survival is on the line, hair matters. According to the Mayo Clinic, “both men and women report hair loss as one of the side effects they fear most after being diagnosed with cancer.”
But female hair loss is more normal than you’d think. Women make up 40% of all hair loss sufferers, which means they’re almost as likely as men to wonder what in the world happened to all their hair.
And where there’s a problem, there’s money to be made.
As a kid, I snickered at ads for Rogaine for men. But there’s now Rogaine for women, and the brand is still going strong, thanks to the stamp of approval by dermatologists.
Is it just me, or is female hair loss a “thing” now?
Search for the term in Google, and you’ll get 26.5 million potential answers, along with suggested questions like “how to stop hair falling out.” There’s even an American Hair Loss Association dedicated to the cause.
Beauty companies have seen the possibilities, and they’re all over it. You can buy special shampoos that nourish hair follicles, volumizing products to bulk up what little hair you do have, and sprays or powders that coat the scalp with color. (Tinted dry shampoo has my vote.)
Even Disney cares about thin hair, believe it or not.
Disney heroines always have the most amazing tresses. But when it comes to making doll versions of those famous princesses, toy manufacturers can’t afford to replicate hair in such quantities. So they do something sneaky:
They paint the dolls’ scalps the same color as their hair.
An Ariel doll made by Mattel has a bright red scalp to go with her vivid red tresses. I discovered this when braiding Ariel’s hair for my daughter one day. I was flabbergasted. Ariel? Balding? Who knew?
So don’t feel guilty about disguising your thinning hair. You’re in good company!
But there’s a more important question you should be asking:
Why is your hair even falling out in the first place?
Hair, like nails, can reveal health issues. My hairdresser used to tell me that she knew exactly what was going on in her clients’ lives the moment she ran her fingers through their hair.
Dramatic weight loss, high stress, traumatic life events, illness, and a poor diet can all wreak havoc on your hair.
I’ll never forget running my hands through my wet hair while showering … and staring at the masses of hair caught between my fingers. I’d been going through a rough time at work, and the stress was just about killing me. At the time, I didn’t associate my job with the clumps of hair clogging the shower drain. I just thought I was falling apart.
I stopped shampooing my hair as frequently, because I couldn’t bear seeing my hair fall out. (Vigorously shampooing your hair makes you lose about 250 strands, as opposed to normal hair loss of 50 to 100 strands a day.)
But by the end of the year, I could see my scalp through my hair. My eyebrows were nearly gone. And my hair never grew back, even when I changed jobs.
Hair loss isn’t something you should go through alone. Talk to your doctor. Thinning hair can point to an underlying medical issue, such as thyroid problems, an autoimmune condition, polycystic ovary syndrome, lupus or anemia.
There’s another reason to let your doctor know if your hair is thinning. It might be because of something you were prescribed.
A number of prescription medications can result in hair loss, including birth control pills, acne medications containing vitamin A, beta blockers, blood thinners, statins, steroids, and antidepressants.
Once you’ve ruled out any underlying medication conditions, prescription medications, poor health, poor diet, high stress, and the natural thinning that comes with age, it’s time to ring Mom.
Do you have a family history of thinning hair?
Hereditary alopecia affects 30 million women in America, and it doesn’t always wait until a woman’s postmenopausal years to strike. Women with the condition notice that their hair keeps getting finer and thinner, until it’s hardly there at all.
Natural remedies abound. Most involve rubbing some concoction or another on your scalp, from rosemary essential oil to egg whites to magnesium oil.
Others suggest a more conventional route of reducing stress, enjoying regular scalp massages, and eating a diet high in hair-healthy nutrients such as protein, Omega 3s, and zinc.
As a last resort, a dermatologist might be able to help. The active element in Rogaine, minoxidil, is still the most popular treatment for thinning hair, but it’s a huge commitment. You’ve got to use it indefinitely; otherwise, all the regrowth will simply fall out again.
Years ago, when I was contemplating what my future would look like if my hair loss continued at this rate, a 10-year-old girl made a suggestion. “Why don’t you get dreadlocks? That way your hair will stay in your dreads even after it’s fallen out.”
And you know…
I actually considered it.
I mean, what were my options? Hair extensions?
Fortunately, I talked to a hairdresser first, who nixed the idea. “Enjoy your hair now,” she told me. “Do everything you want to do with it while you still can, and when the time comes to look at other options, hopefully science will have advanced by then.”
I nodded, looked at my reflection in the mirror, and thought: