Beyond a Bad Hair Day: My Struggles with Hair Loss

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Recently, near the end of a nice, long chatty dinner with a friend she reached over and readjusted a piece of my hair. “There,” she said. “That’s been driving me crazy all night.”

My hair has been driving her crazy all night? Oh sister, that’s nothing compared to what’s it’s been doing to me for years. Forget the bad hair day, I’ve been struggling with thinning hair for nearly a decade. What my friend saw as a cute little piece of my bangs looking west when she thought it should be facing east was the result of my latest comb-over experiment—another attempt to camouflage the fact that I’ve lost more than half of my hair.

Like most women with hair-loss issues (there are nearly as many of us as there are men with the problem), I don’t have bald patches that appear suddenly (alopecia areata) or a receding hairline. I do have a general thinning on the top of my head, particularly around my part. Which is why I relocate my part on a regular basis—resulting in bangs that are sometimes directionally confused. I also pile my hair on the top of my head a lot, hoping that my messy topknot will flop over in a semi-charming manner, providing more scalp coverage.

My camo efforts typically go straight into the epic fail department, right next to my attempts to figure out what I did to the hair gods to make them punish me like this.

Should I blame my genes? Hair loss can run in families and can be handed down via either gender. Trouble is, I can’t find anybody who is or was balding or with thinning hair on either side of my family—mom, dad, grandparents; nobody! My Aunt Norma is 99 and she still has a full head of hair!

 Is stress the culprit? I haven’t been divorced (which has been linked with stress-related hair loss), nor have I had chemotherapy to treat cancer, which is well known to cause hair loss. I have the usual life stressors that everybody else has, which makes me grumpy because I don’t see most of them having to do elaborate comb overs to hide their hair loss (but then I think about people who have hair loss because of chemo and I feel stupid for even complaining).

Could it be my thyroid? “Please, let my thyroid be underactive!” This is what I say to most every doctor I’ve ever seen, since I think it would be a lovely explanation for my hair loss, weight gain, and the fact that the twin caterpillars I once had sitting above my eyes (my eyebrows) have disappeared. But, alas, my thyroid test results have never come back in a range that inspired any doctor to take corrective action. A thyroid disorder can do a number on the health of your hair, but, apparently, not on mine.

Is it my age? I am 50+ and postmenopausal. And those two things definitely hike a woman’s odds of thinning hair (even in the eyebrow area and elsewhere on the body), in part because of hormone fluctuations.

Given my age and postmenopausal state, the absence of any thyroid issues (I am going to go to my grave insisting that I have an undiagnosed thyroid disorder), and in spite of the fact that I can find no bald spots in my family tree, my dermatologist has decided I may have the female version of male pattern baldness called androgenetic alopecia. Apparently this hereditary brand of hair torture strikes more than 30 million American women my age (all of whom must be much better than I am at hiding it).

What options am I considering? My derm said if my condition worsens I could try to regrow my hair like men do with drugs like Rogaine and a few others now available (no thank you; any growth that occurs stops once you stop applying the drug). I could consider a hair transplant where hair is moved from one part of my head to a part that’s less hairy, but it’s not incredibly successful with women (with men, they’re experimenting with transplanting leg hair to the head; um, eww?).

For now, I’m taking a daily biotin, a B vitamin that’s thought to strengthen hair follicles. I occasionally slather my hair with a highly fragrant product that claims to plump up hair shafts; this does seem to provide a temporary thickening (although the most noticeable side effect is that my dogs seem to want to eat my pungent head). I may even try topical melatonin; in one study men and women showed less hair loss after three months of nightly applications.

In the meantime, I’m getting very creative with my hair styling—and counting on my friends to help me out (or hand me a hat) when my creativity goes awry.

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