How to hold your head high when facing hair loss
Our hair has been grown, styled, celebrated, decorated, perfumed, purposefully removed and lost. In a world where hair has been considered a measure of femininity or masculinity and part of our how we define our individual style, visible hair loss can be a devastating blow to how we feel about our appearance.
If you’ve ever lost handfuls of hair while shampooing in the shower, you’ll have probably heard of the term alopecia. Alopecia is the clinical term for partial or total hair loss from areas of your body where hair once grew.
Hair loss can be serious in that it can have profound effects on a sufferer’s emotional well being. If you know someone that is facing into significant hair loss, make sure to check in regularly and ask them if they are okay - explore with them ways you may be able to offer support. Sometimes just finding a willing ear can be life changing.
Most men and women will be affected by alopecia or hair loss at some stage of their life, and most likely as you age. It is just a matter of when and how quickly it happens.
Statistically, men are more likely to be affected by a gradually receding head of hair (referred to as ‘pattern hair loss), but some women can experience pattern hair loss too. For women, this is more likely to be experienced as a thinning of head hair all over, rather than a receding patch of baldness.
There are many causes of hair loss. Sometimes the loss is temporary and in other cases it may be permanent. Like skin conditions such as eczema, hair loss is thought to be caused by a rogue immune system - sometimes referred to as an autoimmune condition called Alopecia Areata - where hair follicles are the victim of the battle your immunity system is fighting, by mistake.
The good news is that with the evolution of technology and science, along with cosmetic advancements, hair loss solutions are in abundance.
What causes hair loss conditions?
People experiencing alopecia or hair shedding don’t only lose hair from their scalp. Eyebrows and eyelashes can also be affected. Depending on the cause and severity of the alopecia you could lose some or all of your body hair too.
Being prone to head hair loss is genetic and hormonal, rather than caused by environmental factors alone such as over-washing or excessive hair product use. Although environmental factors such as stress can trigger a predisposition to shed hair.
When your immune system erroneously starts attacking your own hair follicles causing your hair to fall out, the following causes could be behind this malfunction:
- stress such as that caused by bereavement, or anxiety attacks
- medications such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- illness or poorly health
- recovery from major surgery
- weight loss
- nutrient deficiency
- hormonal imbalance
- excessive hair styling using heat or dyeing or bleaching of hair.
It is thought that androgen hormones in our body can contribute to making our hair follicles decrease in size or stop growing all together.
What treatments and solutions are available?
While genetic or hormonal hair loss is challenging to reverse, medical technology has developed treatments that can stimulate partial regrowth, or slow down or block hormonal effects. There is no guaranteed cure or single treatment.
The summary of treatments below are not an exhaustive list, but are some of the more common solutions that people suffering with hair loss are recommended.
The method of treatment is best assessed by an experienced health care professional.
Cooling the scalp is a treatment used during chemotherapy to help prevent hair loss.
Steroid injections or steroid creams, gels or ointments may be prescribed by a dermatology specialist.
Topical sensitizers are medications applied to the scalp that actually produce an allergic reaction that can end up stimulating hair growth.
Minoxidil is a topical solution applied on the scalp, brow or facial hair growth areas to promote hair growth in Alopecia Areata.
Ultra violet (UV) phototherapy
UV phototherapy is a treatment that may be recommended for more severe cases of Alopecia Areata.
Finasteride, is a medication that works by preventing testosterone being converted to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). It is thought that DHT can cause hair follicles to shrink, weaken and eventually die altogether.
For Alopecia Areata, corticosteroids may be prescribed. These are powerful anti-inflammatory medications that are delivered by local injections, oral tablets or ointments.
Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP)
This treatment involves drawing from your own blood plasma, and having that platelet-rich plasma injected directly into your own scalp. Some of the components of the platelets act to stimulate hair growth by healing soft tissue. This treatment may be suggested as a potential solution for Alopecia Areata.
Always consult with a qualified health care professional before undertaking any treatments for hair loss. Alternative therapies for treating hair loss may include:
- aroma therapy
- ingestion or topical application of essential oils such as evening primrose oil
- zinc or vitamin supplements.
Hair transplant surgery
For permanent hair loss conditions, hair transplant surgery may be recommended or sought out. This is where a surgeon takes strips or small bunches (‘plugs’) of hair from areas of thicker hair growth that are less outwardly noticeable, and surgically place them in areas where there is no hair, or to thicken out thinning areas. Hair transplant surgery is usually a progressive series of lengthy surgery sessions.
Facial cosmetic prosthetics
For people that have lost eyelashes or eyebrows, this decade has seen a resurgence of false eyelashes, liquid eyeliners, eyebrow tattoos that are ‘feathered’ on to replicate individual eyebrow hairs, and do-it-yourself take home eyebrow kits. All of these facial cosmetic prosthetics are very welcomed by people experiencing hair loss conditions.
Wigs and hair pieces or extensions
People experiencing total hair loss or significant thinning may look to wigs or hair pieces or extensions as a way to help them face the world, without the focus being on their hair loss. There is a vast range of options available from budget through to real hair wigs or hair pieces.
References and helpful online resources
If you’re facing into hair loss for the first time, please book in a consultation with your General Practitioner first to check underlying health conditions.
Here are some of the references used to write this article, along with some other helpful online resources.
- Look Good, Feel Better – an invaluable resource for women in cancer treatment that want to regain confidence in their appearance
- Better Health Channel – Hair loss conditions
- The Australasian College of Dermatologists – Alopecia areata
- The Australian Alopecia Areata Foundation
- The Wig Outlet – online store
- Thin on Top – advisors on women’s hair loss
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