The Horror of Thinning Hair
As published in Silver Sage Magazine March 8, 2021
Healthy, thick hair was one of the few remaining vestiges of my youth. And although I allowed the color to naturally change from the darkest of browns, to a much lighter shade of brown, to salt-and-pepper, and finally to silver-grey with only the tiniest amount of brown left, throughout the color transitions, my hair remained dense and glossy. Therefore, the handfuls of hair that began to appear in the shower and bathroom sink came as a bit of a shock in the aging process. Like many women I know, my hair is important to me in terms of how I view myself.
Determined to “fix this thing, whatever it is,” I made an appointment with a trichologist. He examined my scalp and hair under a magnifying apparatus attached to his computer and showed me color pictures of my hair follicles blown up to frightening levels of magnification (i.e., imagine white and brown poles swaying and waving from gently mounded, flesh-colored volcanoes). The news was apparently “all good.” My scalp was healthy, my follicles clear, and healthy new hair growth was present. And although the trichologist beamed at me triumphantly after doing the assessment, I was left wondering how to explain the handfuls of hair in my brush every few days, or the constant shedding. While my hair and scalp are still considered entirely healthy, the volume of my hair is “easily one-third as thick as it was five years ago,” according to my stylist. And while I may be accused of being vain, that news made me panic. So, I began to do some research on thinning hair, and in the event that I am not the only female with such a secret horror, I’ll share a couple of the things that I have learned.
The first thing I discovered is that there is an overwhelming amount of information available on thinning hair. The next thing I realized is that experiencing thinning hair is a natural part of our aging process, for both sexes. As we age, our hair growth slows down and the actual strands becomes finer, less coarse, smaller, and with less coloring or pigment (https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/yes-women-experience-thinning-hair-too-heres-why-a). Factoring in what I learned about natural hair shedding is that the “on average we lose around eighty strands a day” (Why Is My Hair Falling Out? 9 Triggers Of Female Hair Loss (cosmopolitan.com), the stray hairs on my shoulders and in my brush suddenly became a little less worrying.
There’s a genetic component to how quickly these changes take place for us, as well as other factors that may complicate things. Illness, poor nutrition, and stress are common factors that can affect not only our overall health but may also be reflected in the condition of our hair. Research shows that “at least one in three women will suffer from hair loss or reduced hair volume at some point in their lifetime,” says Anabel Kingsley, an internationally recognized trichologist (see article cited above, published in Cosmopolitan). In terms of the distinction between real hair loss and hair shedding, there are two important considerations: genetic thinning and reactive hair loss.
A genetic predisposition to hair thinning means that your hair follicles “will gradually shrink and produce slightly finer and shorter hairs.” When this begins to happen and how quickly it happens in the life of an individual is a result of genetic make-up. Reactive hair loss is prompted by a trigger of some type. Kingsley itemizes some of these causes, which may include iron, protein or vitamin deficiency; stress; rapid weight loss; hormone imbalance; or traction (the repeated breaking of hair by pulling and styling). There are also certain medical conditions that can contribute to hair loss, namely autoimmune disorders, thyroid disorders, or alopecia (a condition that causes baldness).
The most responsible thing to do if you are worried about your hair loss is to make an appointment with your family physician. This is because it is important to rule out underlying medical conditions or vitamin deficiencies that may be affecting your overall health and hence also your hair. Once your primary care physician has given you an all-clear, it may be time to consult with a trichologist. After a thorough scalp analysis, you will be presented with a wide array of treatment solutions. These will range in price from a few dollars to several thousand dollars. Typical solutions include a regular head massage to stimulate blood flow, dietary supplements, topical treatments (including enriched shampoos), laser therapy, implants, hair pieces, extensions, hair wefts, toupees, and wigs. Individuals differ and the cause of hair thinning differs, so you may have to experiment with the treatment options. Remediation efforts may be both slow and costly.
I have come to terms with my stray hairs and have stocked up on sticky lint brushes which I’ve stashed all over the house. Now that I know I haven’t done anything to cause my thinning hair (and also that I have a clean bill of health), I’m happy to tinker with volumizing mousse and invest in protein-enriched hair products. My hair, alas, will never look like that of a young woman’s again, but then neither will the rest of me. And it is important to me (and, I suspect, for many others) to acknowledge the natural changes that take place as part of aging, not as something reductive but as part of an organic and natural process. C’est la vie!