Learning from experience: hair loss

cousin_it

Man, I seem to be really hair obsessed lately. I do have other extremely mature and important obsessions. Like dipping a regular pencil eyeliner into Mac Fluidline and using it to line the waterline. And the cat on a Roomba genre of cat video. But few people seem to talk about hair loss outside Advanced Hair ads and spam emails, and that’s a real shame because it’s a problem that affects a lot of women, and it can be frightening and demoralising and very difficult to deal with. I know, I’ve been there, and here is what I have learned.

1. Go get professional help.
Hair loss is a big health red flag. It can be caused by a number of things – stress, hormonal changes, some medications, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, heredity. Either way, if you think your hair is thinning, or that more is coming out in the shower or on your comb than you’re used to, or if you’re having to give the hair elastic a few more turns each time you do a ponytail, go to your GP straight away. They can do some blood work and investigate what might be causing it.

2. Talk to your family.
Female hair loss can be congenital. In my case it’s my dad’s side of the family. My aunt and grandmother both began losing hair density when they were in their late 20s, early 30s, and while I am not in my late 20s I’m not taking any chances. Ask them if they ever noticed any hair loss, at what age, what they think may have triggered it. This will help you figure out the appropriate way to treat the problem.

3. If it’s stress, go see a shrink
I am a huge, huge advocate of seeking counselling. It’s made an enormous difference in my life and I’m not ashamed to say it. If you’re so stressed your hair is falling out, you don’t need a yoga class (though that certainly will help), you need to sit down with someone trained and sympathetic and talk about what’s going on in your life and what you can do to make it easier on yourself. If you’re in Australia you can claim back the cost of your therapist visits through Medicare, so be sure to talk to your GP about that.

4. Go easy on your hair
You can pull a lot of hair out just by being a bit mean and unfeeling towards your hair. Wearing your hair in a tight ponytail all the time, for example, can cause traction alopecia, where all the tension makes your hair just give up and say ‘uncle.’ Use a wide tooth comb to detangle your hair before brushing, starting at the ends and working your way up, and please tell me you’re not brushing your hair when it’s wet. That’s just asking for trouble. You may want to rethink your hair styling ways, too. Perhaps it’s time to ease up on the GHD and start air drying.

5. You might need to bring out the big guns.
Minoxidil, AKA Rogaine, is the only medication proven to treat hereditary hair loss. It doesn’t treat all causes of hair loss, so be sure you’ve ruled out other possibilities before you start on it. While you can get it over the counter at pharmacies, it does interact with other medications and can have side effects, so be sure to have a chat to your pharmacist before you begin.  One of the major side effects for women is hair growth in unwanted places. I’m in my second month of a four month trial right now (it takes four months before you start to see results), and I am getting a little extra fuzz on my cheeks, but my body hair is blonde so I don’t really notice it. If you’re prone to facial hair, you might want to start on the 2.5% concentration, rather than the 5%.

The patent on Minoxidil expired in 1998, so you can buy generic versions for much, much less than the Rogaine branded one. It can be hard to find the cheap generics in pharmacies, though, so I buy mine online. Minoxidil is a bit of a commitment.  You need to apply it directly to the scalp twice a day. It can make your hair look a little oily, but I’ve found my application technique has become much better since starting, so that’s not such a problem. It is hands down the least sexy thing in my bathroom, and going through airport security and having strapping, handsome security gents go through my arthritis meds and Minoxidil is downright humiliating, but if it ends up working for me it’ll be worth it.

So yes. That is what I have learned about hair loss. If this can help just one other scared, demoralised woman out there I wil be very happy.

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