Hair, or the lack thereof

6 years ago

Not wanting to be seen by anyone I knew, I ducked into a store quite a distance from our house, heading straight for the product I sought. I had been eyeing it for years, but until this moment, couldn't rouse the courage to actually buy it. Tucking the box under my arm so the name wasn't obvious, I grabbed a few more items to further hide it and headed to check-out, trying to act nonchalant about my purchase...

Tom was cutting my hair. He would touch a section with scissors and then pull back, comb another section, let it fall.

I sensed his frustration. "What is it?"

"Your hair just keeps getting thinner and thinner! But don't worry," he added, seeing the forlorn look on my face, "I'll love you and think you're beautiful even if you're completely bald."

Sigh. My grandmother wore her hair short, in soft curls maintained with regular perms and a nightly hair-rolling ritual. When she combed the curls out, spreading them across her scalp, it helped disguise the fact that she was slowly but surely going bald.

The illusion of thickness. That's what it's all about when you're dealt thin, and thinner-by-the-minute, hair. I always had baby fine hair, but didn't realize I'd inherited Grandmother's thinning-hair gene until ten years ago or so. I wish I'd inherited her ample bosom, or at least her gardening and sewing skills, along with it.

As my hair continued to thin - and to require shorter and shorter cuts - I began researching the problem, refusing to just give in and start wearing my hair in Grandmother's curls. I tried an internal solution... eating healthier (lots of Omega 3), exercising (increased circulation to the scalp) and adding supplements like Flaxseed Oil, Vitamin E and Biotin that were rumored to help.

I ultimately dropped 15 pounds I had given up on losing, but didn't notice a change in my hair at all.

I voiced my concerns to my doctor. At my request, he checked my thyroid function (twice!) but everything was normal. He just blamed menopause - I was in the beginning phases of peri-menopause at the time.

I'm sure menopause is a big factor, but the thing is, I remember way back when I was pregnant and taking prenatal vitamins that I never got the noticeable hair and nail growth most women experience. I suspected there was something blocking the absorption of whatever made them grow, but had no idea how to find out what it was.

Hitting that dead end, I focused instead on the illusion of thickness. I refused to perm my hair or roll it up each night on tiny rollers like Grandmother, but through my research discovered other tricks, like...

1) Getting highlights in three slightly different tones for the illusion of depth

2) A "modified bob" cut with just the right amount of layers. Too many and it lies flat. Too few and, well, it lies flat.

3) An angled side part, so at least you don't have to see how wide it's getting and how much scalp is showing.

4) Tucking it behind your ears (unless you're skilled with a round brush and a can of hairspray, which I'm not.)

5) Volumizers and products made specifically for thin hair

I found a hairstylist who understood thin hair, but he didn't come cheap. Feeling guilty over the expense, I "broke up" with him and played the field for a year or so with other talented hairdressers, but could never find another one who just knew what to do with my hair. So I've returned to Michael. I'll cut corners with cheap makeup and thrift store clothing... perhaps sell one of my children... but I'm going to stick with him as long as possible.

Just kidding about the children, of course.

Ah, vanity. Some people fight aging with Botox injections, breast implants or tummy tucks. I can ignore my wrinkles, can live with my small breasts and my "mommy" roll - the pain and expense of surgery just aren't worth it for me. But I'd prefer not to see my scalp when I look in the mirror.

My friend Ann called a few weeks ago to tell me about a shop in Galveston that has beautiful wigs. She knows I expect to get one eventually. Ann has luscious thick hair. I know it annoys her when I voice envy, but she tolerates it, reminding me how thick hair presents its own problems, like taking forever to dry. I believe she'd share hers with me if she could.

But a wig is a last resort. Just thinking of wearing one makes my head feel hot and itchy. I don't want to give in without grabbing every last straw and that's why I visited an internist yesterday. She discovered my gynecologist didn't run a full thyroid test, so she ordered one plus some other blood tests. Turns out, they're all normal.

I'm grateful to be healthy, of course, but it means whatever is causing my hair to thin will remain a mystery. It could simply be genetics; it could be working thirteen years in a hard hat; it could be three pregnancies, medications I've taken, or just menopause. It could be all of them or none of them, as far as anyone knows, it seems.

I guess next time I visit Ann in Galveston, I'll run over to that wig shop and have a look. Maybe try some on. I wonder if they have any that are highlighted in three tones of blonde, cut in a modified bob and styled behind the ears? No long flowing manes for me - when and if the time comes, I don't think I want anyone to know and that would be a dead giveaway.

Well, maybe one long blonde one, just for fun. Because blabbermouth that I am, I'll tell everyone I'm wearing a wig anyway.

In the meantime, I'm following one of the internist's suggestions... Not wanting to be seen by anyone I knew, I ducked into a store quite a distance from our house, heading straight for the product I sought. I had been eyeing it for years, but until this moment, couldn't rouse the courage to actually buy it.

Did you guess? I'm trying Rogaine.

Oh, I hate to even say it. It feels like I'm in one of those before and after commercials with the men smiling into a mirror, admiring themselves. It sounds so desperate and last resort-ish.

But between yesterday and today I decided, why the heck should I be ashamed or try to hide it? I am desperate. I am down to last resorts. And obviously there are other desperate women trying to figure out what to do about their own thinning hair so I might as well share my experience and perhaps help someone else. I only wish I'd started it sooner. I know I'll never have hair like Ann's (I never did!) but this should at least stop the thinning and perhaps even help a little grow back.

Wish me luck and I'll keep you posted! (If you have thinning hair, share your success and failure stories with me. I'm still open to suggestions!)

Barbara Shallue writes about her life at, shares photos and information about photography at and is contributing editor of

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