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Losing Your Head Over Losing Your Hair

Aug27

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Photo by gierszewski
Dear Amalah:
I have a problem. (I guess you expect that when someone writes in for something called the Advice Smackdown, eh?)
My hair is falling out. And I have no idea what to do about it!
Just a little background: when I was in high school, I had beautiful, thick hair that never had any flyaways and was always smooth and shiny. I, of course, could not have cared less about this. I wore my hair in a ponytail for pretty much everything, rarely blow dried it, and the only time a curler touched my hair was by my stylist for prom. (Oh yeah, rock those ringlets)
Then I went to college. I was still lazy, but I probably blow dried my hair twice a week or so. And my hair started to fall out. I don’t know if it was the stress, change in water quality, or what, but the floor of my room looked like a yeti started to molt. It eventually slowed down to a normal pace of shedding, and I was left with much thinner hair, but still manageable. (Not that I really did that much to manage it. My normal routine was to air dry it while I went to class. On the weekends, sometimes I straightened it.)
After college, things pretty much remained the same for 2 years, up until about a month ago. In late July I moved across the country for a job. And I am losing all of my hair, again. Except this time, unlike college, I do not have extra thickness to spare. What was, at best, limp yet somewhat substantial has become just plain THIN. I can easily see my scalp along my hairline, and when I get out of the shower with my hair slicked back, I look a little like a guy with a massive comb-over (except without the manly receding hairline). Because I work in a professional environment, I generally blow dry my hair, but rarely do I use any other styling tools.
As you may have gathered from my story, I am a really low maintenance gal. I use basic $3 shampoo and conditioner, and no styling products. I generally shower every day, except on the weekends. I have shoulder length hair, which I usually wear in a sort of layered bob, but I am trying to grow it out for a friend’s wedding in January. My hair is very soft, and it does not hold a curl if its life depended on it. Yet the flyaways…ugh. What I did not have in high school has now come with abundance.
Please, out of the goodness of your heart, help me! I can’t lose any more hair!!!!
Throwing myself on your mercy,
Laura

Oh my goodness, darling, you don’t need a shampoo recommendation, you need to see a doctor. Like, now.
It COULD be stress. It very likely COULD BE, since your hair loss has somewhat coincided with big life changes, but most female hair loss (especially at your age, and with the loss of volume and thickness you’re describing) is genetic requires medication to halt and reverse the effects. And indeed, stress can exacerbate genetic hair loss, making it happen more quickly, in noticeable spurts.
If it’s not genetic (and I’m not talking about your mother — if there’s ANY baldness in your family, men included, there’s always the crappy chance that you inherited the trait as well), there could be other medical reasons behind it. Lupus, thyroid disorders, even allergies. This isn’t just rough on your vanity — it could be a signal that something else is wrong. (Oral contraceptives are also a common trigger.)
So where do you start? If you don’t have a really good general practitioner who will take you seriously and refer you to an appropriate specialist, it’s best to find someone who specializes in hair loss. This could be a dermatologists, an endocrinologist or a trichologist. Visit www.americanhairloss.org for more information about female hair loss, the possible causes and treatments, and to find a doctor or clinic in your area.
While your health insurance will likely pay for any medical testing — lupus, hyperthyroidism, etc. — the bad news is that you’re may be on your own for a lot of the treatments. Rogaine, hormone-regulating prescriptions, histamine blockers — there are a lot of options that either target female hair loss specifically or drugs intended for some other purpose that just somehow happen to help, for whatever reason.
My husband, by the way, has been using Rogaine faithfully since his early twenties, when the dread Storch Pattern Baldness first appeared and I realized I was suddenly seeing a LOT of his scalp. It’s expensive, yes, but it works. (He uses Target’s generic version, and I know they make one for women as well.) (Though some doctors just recommend regular Rogaine for women, with the provision that you DO NOT GET PREGNANT or THINK ABOUT GETTING PREGNANT while using it, since it can cause serious birth defects). He regrew what he lost and still has a maddeningly full head of hair, provided he uses the Rogaine super-faithfully. When he stops or runs out, it shows.
So. I am hoping, of course, for your sake, that the cause of your hair loss is something very simple and treatable. Switching birth control methods, starting Rogaine or other medicated scalp treatment and (yes) a better shampoo and conditioner to protect and plump up the hair you have. Kerastase makes an anti-hair-loss dietary supplement. (I have no idea if it works or is just a fancy-sounding sugar-pill multivitamin.) But you owe it to yourself to not ignore the chance that your body is trying to tell you something here. Get to a specialist, get your thyroid checked, get to the bottom of why this is happening. I think you’re much more likely to see success and regrowth if you know what you’re dealing with (or what you’re NOT dealing with), rather than buying tonics and magic shampoos and snake oil serums.


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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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8 Responses to “Losing Your Head Over Losing Your Hair”

  1. Mel Aug 27 at 9:43 am Reply Reply

    Amalah is right on, as always. PCOS can also be a contributer to/cause of hair loss (and a number of other annoying problems – hello acne/weight gain/facial hair/infertility!). It affects about 10% of women. Good luck to you Laura! A doctor should be able to help!

  2. jodifur Aug 27 at 9:43 am Reply Reply

    I went through this. And it turns out I have Alopecia, which is great, since I also have lupus and RA. But my Dr but me on biotin which has done wonders. But see a dermatologist. Seriously.
    Here is a link do Biotin.
    http://www.gnc.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2986023

  3. Nicole Aug 27 at 9:46 am Reply Reply

    Losing massive amounts of hair was the first sign that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. I high recommend that you see an endocrinologist…who specializes in all things hormonal and odd to help sort all of this out.

  4. PJ Aug 27 at 10:52 am Reply Reply

    As Amy says, hypothyroidism (low-acting thyroid, yeah, I’ve got it too) could be the culprit. After I was diagnosed and started taking medication for it, my metabolism kicked into gear again, and my hair (also thin and fine) started looking much better and the daily loss in the shower is much less. I hope that’s all it is for you, too, as it’s easily treated.

  5. Laura Aug 27 at 3:54 pm Reply Reply

    Ladies-
    Thank you so much for your insight and advice! This has been nagging at me for some time, so I’m glad I finally just ASKED someone about it instead of burying my head in the sand. (Or a hat. Whatever.) It’s odd to feel so freaking scared, yet so supported at the same time. You know, by people I have never met.
    You will ALL be glad to know I found a new PCP out here and was lucky enough to get an appointment for this afternoon! So help is on the way!
    Thanks to all,
    Laura

  6. elizabeth Aug 27 at 8:40 pm Reply Reply

    Laura, Your situation sounded just like mine. I was 24 when the family pointed out I was losing my hair. I did the testing and everything was normal – just going bald. And does that suck since there are few resources for how to handle feeling like your going bald, as a woman, in your early 20′s. I can say that after 4 years of using Rogaine (the generic, for men stuff), I have my hair back. I saw results within 3 months and eventually found that if I used it at least 3 times a week, I had moderate regrowth and no more loss. Use it 6-7 times a week (as I have for this summer) and even my stylist said that it feels thicker. So don’t dispair, hang in there. Best advice I can give you while it regrows – buy a good root-boost product and learn to tease and spray what you do have to add volume and cover the patch.

  7. Shannon Aug 27 at 10:38 pm Reply Reply

    Please keep us posted on what you find out! I hope it is easily treatable and you are back to having lovely hair in no time (and fix whatever health stuff is underlying this too)!

  8. Maren Aug 28 at 9:47 am Reply Reply

    I lost most of my hair at 22 and 25 due to a skin disorder. The difference was at 22 I didn’t go to the doctor (no insurance) and it was almost all gone. At 25, I did (a dermatologist, not the physician’s assistant, not a family practice) and he figured it out. At 27 it happened again and I had an even better dermatologist who caught it before my hair was noticably thinner. Dermatologists 1 & 2 said I could use the Rogaine for men (generic, of course) since I was not in the pregnancy state of mind then. It worked wonders. I also made funky headbands a part of my style before the hair loss got really bad the 2nd and 3rd times, so no one really thought I was doing it to cover up the thinness.

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