Hair loss for women is difficult. After wrinkles and age spots set in, weight is lost or gained, and osteoporosis steals our posture, the final morsel of femininity is our hair. But for some of us, even that is taken, and sometimes much sooner than expected.
You might think the warning signs are obvious, because if you’re losing your hair, well, you’re losing your hair. Sounds pretty straight forward, right? When I began losing hair in my mid-forties I thought it was normal to lose a little more hair as I got older, so I ignored it. But as the “unloading” of my hairbrush went from weekly to a couple of times per week, and then to a daily task, I realized something was wrong. There was more hair than usual on my clothes and furniture–pretty much anywhere I went, my hair was left behind. What sent me into a panic was when my hairbrush had not only the usual ball of hair twisted among the bristles, but also trails of long, straight strands cascading over the sides. By this time two or three years had passed.
Some of our hair follicles (the shafts in our skin from which our hair grows) temporarily die in the normal cycle of hair loss and regrowth. However, with abnormal hair loss, the follicle can permanently die. So if you notice unusual hair loss, time is of the essence.
The most common cause is female pattern baldness, which is hereditary. Male pattern baldness presents as a receding hairline and/or bald spots; female pattern baldness is a general thinning of the hair, typically at the crown (top) of the head.
Before you blame genetics, be sure to rule out other causes like medical conditions, medications, supplements, hormonal changes, radiation treatment, stress, and certain hairstyles and treatments. This is straight from MayoClinic.org. Because your thinning hair could indicate a serious medical issue, it is important that you see your doctor first. When your doctor has determined all is well, then you can explore other causes.
Hair loss in women is a delicate topic, and often well-intentioned loved ones will tell you that your hair looks great, no matter what, or it may be that they truly don’t notice. It’s like talking about weight. Very few people will say “oh yes I noticed” when you lament having gained weight. So if you feel that your hair loss is abnormal, go with your instinct.
The same applies to your doctor. Both my general practitioner and oncologist said my hair looked healthy and brushed it off. While that may have been true, I knew what it had looked like a year or two prior, and it was definitely thinning. As we often have to with medical issues, we need to be our own advocate and persist. I ultimately insisted on lab work and determined my hair loss was not caused by a medical condition.
WHEN IT’S NOT MEDICAL
After my doctor cleared me, I went to a hair restoration clinic. I was skeptical and I was mortified. I had visions of the 1990s spray-on hair commercials. Is that what it had come to?
Well it wasn’t like that at all. Whew! The initial consultation was complimentary, but I still expected a hard-sell tactic for whatever magic they were offering. Nope, wasn’t like that either. The technician talked with me, looked at my scalp via ultrasound, and laid out all my options. I was shocked at how many there were to start with–if none worked there were more options (I haven’t gone that far yet).
TREATMENTS (popular first steps)
My first three options, in order of least invasive/least costly to more invasive/more costly were:
Minoxidil (Rogaine) – approximately 40% of people who try Minoxidil have success.
Pros: Over-the-counter and widely available, low cost, non-invasive.
Cons: Commitment. I mean Commitment with a capital C. You must apply it twice per day, every day for as long as you want to have hair (meaning, the rest of your life). After my evening application, my hair looks dirty, so there is no skipping shampoo days. When or if you stop, you will lose your hair to the point you would be if you had never used it. Your newly grown hair does not stay when you stop using the product.
Low-Level Laser (Light) Therapy (LLLT) – red or near-infrared laser light promotes tissue repair and regeneration and low-intensity light called low-level laser therapy (LLLT) stimulates cellular activity. Lasers were discovered in the 1960s, and they have been used to treat medical conditions such as wound healing, nerve regeneration, joint pain relief, stroke recovery, and the prevention and treatment of mucositis (a painful condition that is usually a side effect of chemotherapy).
With LLLT, you can stop the progression of hair loss and achieve the appearance of thicker, fuller, and healthier looking hair. The low level lasers do not have the thermal-component to cut, burn, or vaporize. Thank goodness! The LLLT treatments deliver light energy directly to the scalp, which can increase the blood supply to the scalp by 54% after only one treatment, stimulate hair follicles, and increase hair strength and elasticity.
There are LLLT devices on the market for home use in treating hair loss. One Amazon search and you’ll have more options than hair. Sorry, bad joke! But truly, there is the laser comb, the laser band, and the laser cap, ranging in price from approximately $200 to $3,000. You choose which fits your lifestyle and your budget.
And the last of my initial options was Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) treatment. Any time I hear the word plasma I get a bit squeamish–I don’t do well with needles. However, if my hair loss continues, you bet I’ll give this a try. Your blood is drawn just like the phlebotomist does for your annual physical. Your blood is put in a centrifuge and spun and the PRP is extracted. The PRP is then injected into your scalp. Here is an excerpt from Jernigans.com:
“PRP contains special cells called Platelets, that can cause growth of the hair follicles by theoretically stimulating the stem cells located in the Dermal Papilla as well as other structures of the hair follicle. These special Platelet cells promote healing, accelerate the rate and degree of tissue healing and regeneration, response of the body to injury, and formation of new cellular growth. The primary purpose of using PRP in hair restoration is to stimulate inactive or newly implanted hair follicles into an active growth phase.”
Early studies show that many patients have success with PRP, however, larger clinical studies are pending.
I opted to try minoxidil (Rogaine) and initially had wonderful results. I grew new hair, and my hair in general grew longer than it ever has before. As noted above, it is a commitment. Twice a day, every day. I have to bring it with me when I travel–I’ve even applied it in an airport bathroom because of the timing of my flight!
I’m in my third year of minoxidil, and I’m beginning to again see thinning of my hair. It seems that my new growth is not keeping up with my hair loss these days. This can be a side effect of the drug Tamoxifen, which I take to stay in remission after breast cancer lumpectomy and radiation. So the minoxidil is likely still working, but it can’t keep up with what the Tamoxifen is doing.
Y’all, I cannot be bald. I cannot be even close to bald. Period. My next step is to try an LLLT device. I’ve been reading reviews and will again check with the hair replacement center for guidance. I will keep you posted, and most importantly, hopefully I’ll be growing (and keeping) some hair!