It was the bad hair day I didn’t see coming.
At first, I didn’t notice. It crept up subtly. Once I did, I’d already lost a significant amount of hair, and that’s when the panic set in.
I booked an appointment with my GP post haste.
This can’t be happening, I thought.
During the years of peri-menopause and then finally menopause, I ran the gamut of symptoms: hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings and anxiety, insomnia and on it goes.
They say there are at least 34 symptoms connected to menopause. Yes, someone’s come up with a number. Seems a lot, but there you have it, welcome to menopause.
Luckily, if you want to call it luck, I didn’t get all 34. I only made it to 24. Yep, 24 symptoms over several years.
They seemed to come a couple at a time; perhaps this is the body’s way of helping us cope. An avalanche of 34 menopausal symptoms would be debilitating. At times, even with the drip feed, it was hard to carry on, business as usual.
By the time the frightening prospect of hair loss appeared, many of my other symptoms had begun to subside, and I thought the worst was behind me.
Sadly, I was wrong.
It may sound silly, but I initially felt shame and embarrassment about discussing this with my doctor. Why? I can’t explain it. Perhaps it was fear. If you think that way too? Don’t. Go and see your doctor.
So what was going on, and what did my doctor say about my problem and hair loss in women?
Once I overcame my misguided shame, discussing my thinning hair with my doctor was a relief. Blood tests were ordered, and a trip to the dermatologist was recommended to ascertain my hair loss’s root cause (no pun intended).
Medically, rapid hair loss is known as Telogen effluvium and is different from other forms of hair loss, such as Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune disease characterised by sudden and random bald patches or Androgenic Alopecia which is also known as male or female pattern baldness.
Telogen effluvium is a scalp disorder characterised by the thinning or shedding of hair resulting from the early entry of hair in the telogen phase (the resting phase of the hair follicle). In this phase, telogen hairs begin to shed at an increased rate, where normally, the approximate rate of hair loss (having no effect on one’s appearance) is 125 hairs per day. During telogen effluvium, it can be much higher. Source: Wikipedia
Genetics, dysfunctions in your thyroid, anaemia and auto-immune diseases, and the onset of an illness or virus can contribute to hair loss. And, of course, it can be stress-related.
Or, perhaps it’s your reproductive hormones having some fun with you!! Except it’s not funny, it’s frightening.
But, it could be something else. Hair loss in women can be confusing and complicated. Don’t guess at this or try to self-diagnose and muddle through; see your doctor post haste.
Enter the confusing world of hormone replacement therapy.
Even before the blood tests came back, the subject of hormone replacement therapy came up. Until now, I’d resisted hormone replacement.
Like many women, the controversy surrounding HRT was still on my mind, and I’d never found a doctor well-versed in menopause and hormone replacement therapy.
It’s weird, and I’m sure I’m not alone, but on a subconscious level looking for pharmaceutical assistance in what is, after all, a natural occurrence seemed weak. My mother managed without any medical intervention, so why couldn’t I? Or maybe, she just suffered in silence, as was the case with so many women’s issues for her generation. Things are getting better but at a glacial pace.
But my hair? C’mon, this was different. I was not going to lose my hair, and I would do whatever it took to stop it.
As well as HRT, my doctor also suggested I start using Regaine or Rogaine in the U.S.
Seriously, I gave her a sideways look because 1), that was for balding men and 2), did that stuff even work?
Apparently? It does. Not only did my doctor suggest I start using it, but that I commence immediately, don’t wait to see the derm, get started. Today!
I left the medical practice, feeling mildly bemused that my doctor had recommended Regaine. But I also felt vulnerable, ashamed and embarrassed. And, again, I ask myself why? Perhaps our hair is so deeply tied to our femininity that it brings all emotions to the surface.
But, I pushed back on these feelings and marched into my local pharmacy; and when I say marched in? What I really mean? I slunk in. Dark glasses firmly planted on my face, hoping not to be recognised with my purchase of minoxidil foam.
I may have felt embarrassed, but I’m so glad I pushed through my fears and took my doctors advice.
It worked. It took several weeks to notice a cessation of hair fall, but then eventually, baby-fine hairs began to appear. Let me tell you, those baby hairs? Well, it felt like spring. I was renewed!!
The upside of hair loss? Yes, for me, there was one.
Now, a few years later, my hair is not what it was, and I don’t think it will ever be. But for me, that’s not such a terrible outcome. With slightly less hair, the natural wave I’ve been trying to tame all my life is no longer weighed down with all my hair (I had a lot of it) and can bounce into a gentle curl that I love. Silver linings.
What are the things I do to boost hair regrowth?
1. Minoxidil Foam (Regaine)
I started applying Regaine every night.
How does it work?
First up, if active ingredients that seem unnatural to you are not your thing, then Regaine is probably not for you.
Personally, this is not something that worries me.
Minoxidil is the active ingredient in Regaine. Originally a medication for hypertension (high blood pressure), it was discovered to have an interesting side effect—hair regrowth.
To be clear, it will not work on every person experiencing hair loss, depending on the underlying cause and type of hair loss you’re experiencing.
If the area where hair once grew is caused by female pattern baldness then Regaine probably won’t be effective. However, women with general thinning of the hair are likely to see a result.
If you want to know more about minoxidil and hair loss in women, you might like to check out this article at Healthline or over at MrDr.com.au.
My final word? It worked for me. However, some say they experience unpleasant side effects like headaches. I had very few side effects if any. But it is a drug and following the manufacturer’s protocols for dosage and usage should be taken seriously.
2. Nutritional supplements.
I also decided to tackle my hair loss issues with a nutritional supplement.
A specific formula for hair, skin and nails containing, Biotin (Vitamin B7), Zinc, Silica, Iron, Vitamin C and Milk Thistle may be useful.
Has it helped me? It’s hard to say, but when I was going through the initial stages of hair loss, taking a vitamin supplement went a long way in calming my anxiety.
So while I’m not one to dose up on every conceivable alternative medicine, I believe some nutritional supplementation can be helpful in certain instances where there’s a possibility of a deficiency.
If it’s in the budget, then a supplement for your hair, skin and nails can’t hurt. But I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker, and this is only my opinion.
3. I changed my hair care routine.
In my quest (not panicked at all), I also changed my shampoo and conditioner to a range to help with hair regrowth called Nioxin. A cleansing shampoo, a conditioner and a scalp treatment are packaged as a system.
Does it work? Yes, it seemed to help me, and Nioxin has a lot going for it, including all the B vitamins.
Thiamine (Vit B1)
Niacin (Vit B3)
Pantothenic acid (Vit B5)
Pyridoxine (Vit B6)
Biotin (Vit B7)
Folic acid (Vit B9)
Cyano-cobalamin (a synthetic form of Vitamin B12)
It also contains sunscreen agents, which seems a nice bonus because your hair and scalp need UV protection.
Nioxin also contains salicylic acid, which will help remove any build-up of dead skin cells and sebum, which is excellent for the overall health of your scalp.
For a full review of Nioxin, you may like to visit Lady Alopecia.
Or you can buy it over at Adore Beauty.
4. Hormone Replacement Therapy.
Hair loss was the trigger to seek help, but the truth is, struggling with menopause had become life-limiting.
Did it help with my hair loss? Most experts in the field of hormone replacement will say of all the symptoms HRT can alleviate, hair loss is not one of them.
I have no anecdotal evidence that going on hormone replacement therapy helped, as I started on Regaine simultaneously. Still, I slept better, was less anxious and other symptoms like hot flushes began to subside.
So, if calming anxiety and getting a better night’s sleep improves my overall well-being, you won’t get an argument from me.
Having a calm state of mind and a solid 8 hours of sleep is paramount to our health and hair!
Here’s the thing. I’m not a doctor. Nor am I promoting hormone replacement therapy, but what I am suggesting is; if you’re suffering from the symptoms of peri-menopause or menopause, then talk to your GP about it.
Or, find a GP who’s well-versed in all things hormone replacement. I’ve listed links to useful websites at the bottom of this article.
Or, if you’re looking for a good read on all the ins and outs of menopause. The M Word By Dr Ginni Mansberg
And then there’s vitamin D.
Vitamin D is a hormone activated by UV exposure. It’s an essential nutrient; whether you’re suffering from hair loss or not, it’s worth checking your levels as most of us don’t get enough of it.
Some symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency include getting sick more often than usual, fatigue and tiredness even after a good night of sleep. And other worrying symptoms, like bone and back pain, depression, muscle pain, impaired wound healing, the loss of bone which is compounded by menopause and yep, hair loss!
Vitamin D deficiencies are common, even in sunny Australia. Emerging evidence suggests that 60 to 70 per cent of Australians have inadequate or low vitamin D levels.
Most of us are unaware of the importance of vitamin D or once identified how easy it is to fix. But fix it, we should. I’ve also written more about vitamin D here.
Finally, getting the help, you need.
So that’s what I did. I’m okay. I hope you are too. My hair finally grew back, but hair loss in women is different for all of us, and this was my experience. Get the help you need from a medical doctor.
I no longer feel embarrassed to talk about my hair loss. Hair loss in women can happen at any age, and it’s not always caused by menopause. However, if you’re struggling to find a doctor well-versed in menopause, you may find the support you need by visiting one of these websites.
International Menopause Society
North America Menopause Society
You may also find this article: Are your hormones ruining your life?
And now you?
If you found this article useful, why not share it? Struggling with hair loss can be lonely, and you never know who amongst your circle of friends may need help.
Or, if you’ve got more questions about my experiences, you can email me here.
See you next time.