About a year ago, I excitedly went to a local salon to have my regular thermal reconditioning touch-up consultation. Forever tortured by unruly curls, this treatment had transformed my locks from fearfully frizzy to sleek and sexy, and I never intended to go back to my former self. Unless, of course, the choice was taken out of my hands…
My stylist, a trusted friend after years of hair straightening, lowlights, highlights … and gosh darn it, the hot pink hair phase… took one look at my thinning ponytail and shook his head sadly. “Your hair is breaking — it’s falling out. We cannot do straightening on it.”
What?! My heart in my ears, I was already mentally planning my wig purchase. My stylist suggested I eat more protein, and that an essential oil deficiency very well may be a cause of my condition. Of course, though, we couldn’t be sure, so all we could do is break out the tuna and hope for the best.
More common than you’d think
Hair breakage, thinning and loss is actually very common in women of all ages. According to Dr Marc Dauer, (mdnewhair.com) a specialist in permanent hair restoration, “Thinning hair can be related to diet, stress, hormones and heredity.” And it’s quite common: According to the American Hair Loss Association, women make up approximately 40% of all reported conditions. Hair loss (or alopecia) can result from a woman’s predisposed genetic composition, but it may also come from stress, pregnancy, the taking of certain medications, and many other factors.
You should get a thorough workup by the your physician if you experience hair loss. “The good news is there are many treatments available for hair restoration, ranging from correcting any metabolic issues — if that is the cause of the hair loss — to Follicular Unit Transplantation — which transplants individual hair follicles from the back of the head where the hair is typically thicker and unaffected, to the crown and frontal regions.”
“One main cause of female hair loss is iron deficiency, or anemia. Anemia is one of the major side effects a condition that affects one in five women (10 million women in the US) and is arguably one of the most widespread health issues facing women today,” says Lisa Mokaba, an account executive with Schwartz Communications.
Are you really losing your hair?
How much hair can you lose before you know you have a problem? “It is normal to lose 100 hairs a day,” says Dr Dina Strachan, a board-certified dermatologist in private practice in New York City. “A better test of true loss is if the ponytail is thinner. Hair in the brush or comb may be normal.”
She adds that hair loss can be divided into two categories: scarring — in which the hair follicle is destroyed and the hair loss is irreversible, and non-scarring — when the hair loss is potentially reversible.
Relaxers, color, heat, tight curlers, ponytails or braids are call common causes of mechanical hair loss. This is usually reversible unless there is damage to the scalp, Strachan says.
Why you may be losing your hair
Dr Chris Meletis, the Executive Director of the Institute for Healthy Aging, suggests that the leading causes for hair loss include many well-known factors, as well as some lesser known.
- Stress: Up to 6 months after a stressful time, a person can lose her hair
- Low thyroid: Very common cause for thinning of the hair, often severely
- Nutrient deficits: Biotin, zinc, essential fatty acids
- Toxic exposures: Mercury, arsenic (yes, believe it or not)
- Parasitic and allergic reactions
- Hormone imbalance for women between estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone
The two most common causes of hair thinning: 1) heredity and 2) scalp build up of dyhydrotestosterone (DHT) — a natural compound that is known to clog the hair folilcles, thereby restricting blood flow to the hair root.
However, thinning can also be triggered by a multitude of causes including the hormonal changes associated with childbirth, stress, environmental pollutants and even chemical hair treatments.
“Hair loss, at least for women, is common to imbalances,” says David Tippie, director of the Anti-Aging Clinic Association in Florida. “Why their hair may be falling out and how they might prevent further degradation — often is an imbalance of hormones. Some of the questions on the questionnaire we provide to our clients, when they are about to become involved with our Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy Program, is: do you have thinning hair and are you growing hair on your face? If the answer is yes, more than likely, when we receive the 37-day saliva panel back from the laboratory, it could indicate an elevated testosterone level. Balancing hormones is not only important for elimination of hair loss and growth in un-usual places; it is vital for overall good body and mental health.”
“Hair loss can arise from a number of conditions ranging from hormonal factors to genetic or dietary factors — although, typically, the cause is unknown,” says Dr Joel Schlessinger, a board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon, and president of both lovelyskin.com and the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery. “Most of the time, changes occur at middle or later years and changes can be subtle. One of the most common forms of female pattern hair loss, telogen effluvium, occurs after a traumatic event [illness, loss of family member or pregnancy] and can resolve over a period of months.”
Don’t disregard styling as a potential “root” cause! All of over Hollywood, we see starlets with less-than-glam bald patches. This is often due to styling damage, such as removal of temporary hair extensions. Note, this is not a sign of pattern baldness, but that doesn’t make those bald patches any more fun! Overstyling or chemical treatments (as in my straightening procedures) can also stress the hair to its breaking point – literally!
What you can do?
Schlessinger says treatment varies, though in the case of poor diet, for example, oftentimes iron supplementation or dietary revamping can improve the situation effectively. He also says that hormonal factors should be evaluated by either an endocrinologist or ob/gyn. These can sometimes be treated once a cause is found, but frequently the underlying reason remains — unfortunately — unknown.
Hollywood’s little helpers
About a month after my soul-searing experience at my local salon, I visited Frederic Fekkai’s new SOHO salon for a cut and consultation. As I sat in her chair, Nicole, my stylist at Fekkai, took one look at my hair and talked me through a variety of possible causes and answers for my problem. An hour later, I walked out with the best cut and style of my life, and armed with a wealth of new information.
For both men and women suffering from hair loss because of a hormonal imbalance, Fekkai’s MORE system has had incredible results. “Many of my clients who suffer from thinning hair have expressed concern for the limited options available,” says hair expert Frederic Fekkai. “This is why I developed a technologically advanced system that creates visibly denser-looking hair.” This hair care regimen includes Scalp-Purifying Shampoo, Root-Nourishing Conditioner, All-Day Density Styling Whip and Nighttime Follicle-Boosting Treatment — all contain Fekkai’s patented NIAPLEX and a continuous release of niacin (Vitamin B3).
Fekkai’s not the only celebrity hair expert taking notice. Hair thinning and breakages are such a problem that the biggest names and salons are taking special measures. Phyto haircare — an botanical hair care line from France, makes products that are specifically designed to combat women’s hair loss. They offer their own line of shampoo and treatment, as well as a new treatment called Phyto Universe where they analyze the hair with a microscope, which magnifies it 200 times in order to see what the problem may be and prescribe specific products. And New York City’s hottest new salon, Tela, has a variety of conditioning hair treatments meant to combat thinning.
The supplement market is in full swing as well. Phyto has a dietary supplement with loads of positive testimonials, and Nu Hair’s Anti-Thinning and Hair Loss Treatment daily supplement tablets eliminates DHT, which will help you grow new hair while it thickens up your existing hair.
And, remember those Rogaine ads? It’s not just for men! Women’s Rogaine is now available without a prescription, and contains Minoxidil, the only ingredient that is FDA approved and proven to regrow hair in women.
My ‘do — revisited
My hair? After a few visits to NYC’s Paradise 54 and Oscar Bond, and a conditioning treatment at Brooklyn’s Slope Suds, it’s better than ever.
But never again will I forsake that protein.
More SheKnows hair health:
- Get healthy hair with herbs
- Pregnancy and hair loss