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Losing Your Head Over Losing Your Hair

By Amalah

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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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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 Ama...

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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