Hair loss or alopecia (the medical term for hair loss) can be hard to deal with. The condition, while more common in men (around half of all men suffer male-pattern baldness by 50 years of age) can also affect women, which can cause particular distress.
Losing one’s hair means adjusting to a new appearance and having to deal with the way others react too. Often hair loss is just temporary, for example it can be a short-lived reaction to stress or hormonal changes. However, some forms of hair loss are permanent. Treatment will depend on the type and cause of your hair loss.
Coping with Hair Loss
Common causes of temporary hair loss include stress or hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, changing oral contraceptive or starting HRT. It can also occur as a reaction to medication. Chemotherapy is another cause of hair loss which is usually reversible as the hair usually grows back once treatment has stopped. And hair can fall out in patches due to an autoimmune response due to conditions such as thyroid disease. Again the hair follicles are not permanently damaged so the hair should grow back within a few months.
Male-pattern baldness and female-pattern baldness (which can involve thinning on top of the head) are more permanent conditions. While scarring alopecia is hair loss that occurs (usually as a result of another medical condition) where the hair follicle gets completely destroyed.
If the hair loss is temporary - caused by hormonal changes or stress - then you should not be too worried. That said, you may want to visit your GP to check for underlying causes. You should also eliminate any new styling or colouring hair products in case these have aggravated the situation. It also makes sense to stick to a balanced diet rich in fruit and veg and to exercise and get plenty of rest to bring down your stress levels.
If the hair loss has resulted from chemotherapy, ask your health provider about the Look Good Feel Better scheme. This charity runs workshops to help women deal with the visible side effects of cancer treatment including hair loss.
Permanent hair loss, particularly for women, will involve a period of adjustment. Alopecia UK has a list of support groups led by people with personal experience of hair loss.
If someone asks you why you don't have any hair, you can reply directly, suggests Alopecia UK, stating: “I have alopecia, it’s a condition which makes your hair fall out".
If unhelpful thoughts intrude causing you to question your attractiveness and your faith in other people, it may be worth asking your doctor to recommend a counsellor. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), either via a counsellor or through self-help books, can help you tackle negative thought patterns.
How is hair loss treated?
Baldness as a hereditary condition cannot be prevented but there are two drugs to slow it down: Finasteride (for men) and Minoxidil (suitable for men and women). There are also a number of surgical techniques to replace hair including: hair transplant - harvesting existing hair and grafting it onto bald areas, artificial hair transplants - implanting synthetic fibres into the scalp and scalp reduction - moving hairy part of the scalp closer together.
Alternative Therapies & Self-Help
- Bald patches can be covered with an eyebrow pencil, cream, spray or keratin microfibre product which binds to each hair follicle to give better coverage. Volumising shampoos and conditioners can be used to thicken existing hair.
- Clever hair styling techniques, including experimenting with your parting, using hair clips, slides and bands, can help disguise thin patches. A very short haircut can detract from a receding hairline, while layers can make hair look thicker.
- Scarves, hats and wigs are another option. There are human hair wigs that look very natural and synthetic ones which are pre-styled.
- Loss of eyebrows or very short hair can be replicated with a tattoo. This is known as dermatography.
- Aromatherapy, acupuncture and massage are sometimes used for alopecia but there is scant evidence on effectiveness.