It Happened To Me: Stress Made My Hair Fall Out

(Suggested punny titles included: ‘Don’t Go Tearing Your Hair Out ‘, ‘Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow’ and ‘A Hair-Raising Tale: Mull-it Over’)
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February 22, 2013
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It Happened To Me, Philip Kingsley, hair loss, trichology, Alopecia

Occasionally I have been known to berate my mum for the negative physical traits she passed on to me; the fairest of fair skin that never tans, the disproportionally large and unwieldy boobs that restricted my ability to excel at PE at school (that and my extreme lack of hand/eye coordination), but the one that perturbs me most is the inheritance of fine hair.

I suppose I’m lucky that I do have a fair bit of natural wave, and on a good day with a few root-enhancing products, my locks can look positively medium of body, if not exactly Zooey Deschanel (yes okay, she’s a bit annoying in New Girl but what I wouldn’t give for those glossy tresses and bouncesome bangs).

My mum and I joke that we’ll end up like the little old ladies you see on the bus with a few wisps of hair covering their shiny scalps, but behind the laughter there is a real fear. A fear that became reality last year when what hair I had started to fall out at an alarming rate.

I’d find strands over my pillow, on my towels and even in my food. Things reached a head (excuse the pun) a few weeks later when the guy I was seeing asked if my cat was moulting. I don’t have a cat. It was then I knew I needed to seek advice.

A quick trip to the surprisingly sympathetic doc resulted in blood and iron tests (hair loss can be a symptom of low iron levels and thyroid problems). Both came back negative, but the hair kept on falling.

My next port of call for ‘expert advice’ was the internet. Searches for ‘hair loss’ and ‘hair thinning’ brought up an overwhelming array of magic cures and products, as well as varying levels of useful advice. What I did discover is that there is actually a science of hair and the scalp - trichology. I soon procured the number of a lovely trichologist called Sophie Dale, a former top colourist with Vidal Sassoon.

After meeting Sophie and pouring out my woes, she reassured me that the problem was quite common. In fact, research shows that up to 13 per cent of women have some degree of hair loss before the menopause, and afterwards it becomes far more common – nearly three quarters of women over the age of 65 are affected in some way.

Male hair loss, and its remedies, are generally accepted and widely discussed – take Wayne Rooney’s new 'do for example. However, hair loss for women is also a common problem and one which remains a relative taboo. In a world where bum implants are openly discussed, why are we ashamed of admitting that our hair is falling out?

For many women, rightly or wrongly, our hair is still inextricably linked with our femininity and self-esteem. Tinted moisturiser and a good bra can hide a multitude of sins but there is little you can do to hide such visible changes on your head.

Sophie explained that there were different types of hair loss ranging from the more severe Alopecia areata - patches or complete baldness, to Telogen effluvium – general shedding from all over the head, and most likely what I was experiencing. As well low iron and thyroid problems, weight loss, giving birth, hormonal imbalances, diet and stress can all cause hair to fall.

At first this didn’t add up – sure I’d started a new job and bought a house, arguably two of the most stressful things you can do, but this was a few months ago. “Aha” replied Sophie, and went on to tell me that hair loss can often occur a few months after a stressful period, as the after effects take a while to manifest themselves in physical form.

Once I tentatively started discussing my hair loss with friends it confirmed the issue was not uncommon, and was almost always linked to a particularly stressful or emotional point in their life. For my good friend Faye, the break-up of her marriage triggered her experience.

“Following my divorce, after I’d lost my home, my mind and custody of my cat, my hair also decided it’d had enough of me too. I was diagnosed with alopecia areata and spent the next few months staring into a mirror, examining the bald bits and crying uncontrollably. So, yes, I handled it really well. It did eventually grow back, but it wasn’t the most pleasant experience of my early thirties.”

So are there practical steps you can take to help your hair and what products should you buy to nurture it? I’d been using Johnson’s Baby Shampoo under the mistaken impression it would be gentle but Sophie instead recommended the hair product range by top tricologist Philip Kingsley (now helpfully stocked in your local M&S).

The top man himself also offers some top tips. Philip Kinsley’s main piece of advice is to seek expert advice at a Trichological Clinic as soon as you notice any sign of hair loss. “There is always a reason for thinning hair and when you determine the reason(s) it is possible to treat them and improve the thinning”.

He also warns against wasting your hard-earned cash on magic ‘hair-restoring’ pills as there is no over-the-counter hair-loss remedy. Finally the good news is that hair colouring, straightening and blow drying are all still allowed: “Correct blow drying does not damage the hair. Just use a protective styling aid before starting to blow dry and stop when your hair is dry; it is the blow dryer on already dried hair that does the damage.”

For me, as the hair kept falling so did my tears. A friend reminded me of the time I’d had a minor op to remove an inoffensive lump from the crown of my head, which left a sizable bald patch. Two days later, it was a best mate’s 30th and non-attendance was not an option. Through the wails of despair, and emboldened by a strong gin, I dragged a red beret out of the back of my wardrobe.

Teamed with my trusty MAC Russian Red lippy, the Faye Dunaway look managed to attract the attention of more young men than I care to remember that night! Being forced to try something different through a horrible situation actually resulted in a positive outcome, for that night at least...

The best piece of advice Sophie gave me was to try not to worry about it – to just get on with things as getting more stressed just made it worse. Easier said than done, I remember muttering. However, work settled down, my beautiful home took shape, Christmas parties took hold and at the beginning of this year I suddenly realised I hadn’t choked on a hair ball for weeks – my barnet was virtually back to normal.

Hair loss is stressful, upsetting and downright inconvenient. While a permanent hat isn’t the long-term answer, I learned that accepting it, trying to relax and heck, even some wardrobe improvisation, can help to relieve the anxiety it causes. I’ve even bought my mum an emergency red beret…

Thinning Hair Awareness week runs from 18 to 24 February trichologists.org.uk. For more information and advice on different conditions and treatments visit nhs.uk.