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Help your child cope with hair loss

Kori Ellis is an editor and writer based in San Antonio, TX, where she lives with her husband and four children. At SheKnows, she writes about parenting, fashion, beauty and other lifestyle topics. Additionally, Kori has been published i...

The emotional impact of hair loss in children

When we think of hair loss sufferers, kids aren't the first people that come to mind. Yet there are millions of children worldwide suffering from hair loss for one reason or another. As you can imagine, it can be very difficult for these kids to cope.
Child with hair loss

Types and causes of hair loss

Kids can lose their hair for a number of reasons. Though you might associate children's hair loss with chemotherapy, radiation and cancer treatments, this isn't the only type of hair loss we see in children.

Children's alopecia areata is a patchy, sudden form of hair loss. Though it's thought to be caused by the body's immune system attacking the hair follicles, the exact cause is not known. Fortunately 80 percent of kids with this type of hair loss grow new hair within a year.

A fungal infection of the scalp called tinea capitis (ringworm of the scalp) isn't uncommon in children and is quite contagious. It causes scaling, itching and hair loss. If you suspect your child has tinea capitis, see a doctor as soon as possible to begin treatment.

Traction alopecia is a type of hair loss that is due to physical or chemical trauma. It's usually associated with hairstyles that are too tight (braids, ponytails and so on). Trichotillomania is the compulsion to pull or twist one's own hair out. Both kids and adults can suffer from trichotillomania, and it often begins in adolescence. Telogen effluvium is another form of hair loss. It can be caused by trauma such as extreme fever, severe emotional stress, surgery under general anesthesia and some prescription medications.

Hair loss treatments for children

If your child is experiencing hair loss and you don't know the cause, start with your pediatrician and work from there. Generally your pediatrician will refer you to a dermatologist who can analyze the scalp and hair growth patterns to help determine the cause and a course of treatment. Different types of hair loss are treated in a variety of ways. Tinea capitis can be treated by oral and topical antifungal medications. Cortisone injections into the hair follicles may help stimulate hair growth in kids suffering from alopecia areata. Psychological evaluation is usually necessary for kids dealing with trichotillomania. With telogen effluvium, hair growth usually returns six months to a year after the stressful event.

The emotional impact of hair loss

Hair loss, no matter the cause or treatment plan, can be devastating to a child's emotional health and self-esteem. Children who are battling hair loss due to alopecia areata, trichotillomania, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or other causes can have an extremely difficult time adjusting to life without hair. In addition to a loss of self-confidence, these children often are ridiculed or bullied due to their baldness or thinning hair.

While your child is undergoing treatment, one of the best ways to help her deal with the emotional impact of the hair loss is by wearing a wig. Kids just want their hair back and a wig can do that temporarily until their real hair grows in.

"Children are very sensitive about their look, especially when they are going to school; they try to be more discreet about their wig wearing. The hair has to be good quality, as natural as possible, as if it were their own hair," says Vicka Khanis, head stylist for Follea, Inc., the leading designer and manufacturer of natural European wigs and extensions.

Many parents are concerned that wigs won't be able to withstand a child's active lifestyle. "Kids are very active so they need something that they can feel very secure in and that feels like their own hair," Khanis says. "For their cases, Follea has a Gripper Sport wig, which they can be very active in without worrying that it will come off. The Gripper wigs stay securely in place with medical grade silicone tabs, and do not require adhesives that can irritate the skin."

Before purchasing a wig, try to get a prescription for the wig from your child's doctor — it may be covered by your insurance. Remember that quality matters when it comes to a wig. An obvious, unnatural wig may cause your child to be ridiculed even more by classmates and peers.

A wig expert (at a wig shop or hair salon) can help you determine the type of wig that is best suited for your child, make sure that you get the proper fit, and help with trimming, styling and adjustments. Wigs come in a wide variety of colors and textures. Therefore, you can likely find a wig that matches closely to your child's natural hair.

If your insurance doesn't cover the cost of a wig, some organizations supply wigs to children undergoing cancer treatments (or experiencing other forms of hair loss) at little or no cost. Locks of Love, Free Wigs for Kids, Angel Hair Foundation and several other organizations around the country can be of assistance.

Want to help? Learn about donating your hair to cancer patients >>

Where to turn for support

If your child is suffering from hair loss, of course you want to treat the underlying cause and get prompt treatment. However, don't forget about the psychological and emotional impact too. A wig is a good way to cover the obvious signs of hair loss, but don't cover up what your kid is feeling inside. Keep an ongoing dialogue with your child about what she is feeling. Acknowledge and validate those feelings, then help her work through her emotions with the assistance of support groups, counselors and other professionals.

The I'm a Kid Foundation was created to raise awareness about hair loss in children, and help those kids who are suffering. Visit their website at imakid.org to learn more about the organization and get information, resources and referrals that may help your child and family.

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