The Thought of Losing My Hair Is Making Me Want to Pull My Hair Out

I talked to a dermatologist about the different types of hair loss women go through and what the hell we can do about it.
Publish date:
November 1, 2016
hair loss, stress, Alopecia

Do you feel like maybe there's more than your fair share of hair that runs down the shower drain? Do you catch yourself wondering, Is that normal? Did I maybe wash too hard? Maybe if I don't touch my hair for a couple weeks it'll keep all intact and nothing will go anywhere. Can I shave my head? What if my head is lumpy? And then your thoughts spiral like the hair going down the drain.

There was a time where I thought my hair was leaving me. It was like a reluctant on-again/off-again, we're-together-and-then-we're-not Drake and Rihanna relationship. It was not a Beyoncé circa "Irreplacebable" kind of thing where I was confident enough to watch the hair slowly slip down the bathtub drain and wag my finger singing, "I could have another one of you in a minute" — no. The way I was losing my hair or perceived myself to be losing my hair was like, "Holy moly, is my jawline strong enough to compensate for a lumpy shape head, if that is what this comes to?!"

It turns out many women go through stages of hair loss, stress about hair loss, and consultations with doctors regarding hair loss. It happens. We all know about it, worry about it, but do not talk enough about it. Ironically, I chatted with my friend Ellie about this very thing the other day, and she told me it's a worry she has in the back of her head (no pun intended). We spoke about how, as women, we have been told power and feminine strength and virility is shown through hair.

As we talked, it became clear that we understood this concept of the ideal woman with long, lush hair was, ingrained in us, sure — but it also wasn't horrible. It's OK to want that hair. It allows for different styling and braids and updos and curls or no curls and haircuts or blowouts, it allows for not only different options but also play and transformation.

Many women go through this — and the grieving and changes that come with it — so I wanted to speak with a doctor and understand the health and science surrounding the reasons behind it.

Dr. Sejal Shah, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, told me that hair loss in women is usually a mix of genetics and hormones, but there are all different types of hair loss with all different causes.

The most common type of hair loss in women is androgenetic alopecia (AGA). Unlike men, women don't typically go completely bald, but instead experience gradual thinning. Androgenetic alopecia (AGA) can have complicated interactions between genes and hormones. It's not just your mother's father that dictates hair patterns, like I was told as a kid. Genetically, you can inherit hair loss genes from either side of the family.

Treatment options for androgenetic alopecia include minoxidil products (like Women's Rogaine), laser therapy, hair transplants, and medications targeting hormonal mechanisms.

The runner-up in the contest for the most common hair-loss type among women is telogen effluvium which is hair loss experienced due to physical or emotional stress.

Hi, that's me.

With telogen effluvium, this could be triggered by childbirth, major surgery, crash diets, thyroid disease, or medications. Usually, around three months after the triggering event, the hair begins to recover. Instead of medical treatments, it typically resolves itself with time and stress reduction.

Traction alopecia is hair loss cause by localized trauma to hair follicles. This is usually a result of tight, pulling hairstyles that stress the follicle and cause hair loss. The pattern of thinning can vary depending on how you are styling you hair. If treated early, the hair can regrow; the hairstyle that caused it should largely be avoided if possible, to avoid permanent loss.

Dr. Shah recommends not being harsh with hair treatments or styling as much as possible, to relieve that controllable cause. Furthermore, she told me all women lose some hair. If you think your hair is thinning, you're not alone. It can be distressing for many women, because of societal pressures, but it happens so many women, and there are treatments.

  • Have you experienced hair loss like I have?
  • Is it something you're worried about?
  • Have you ever tried a treatment for hair loss?