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, the 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, and perhaps this is the bodies 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 have to say about my problem and hair loss in women?
Once I got over my misguided shame, discussing my thinning hair with my doctor was a relief. Blood tests ordered, and a trip to the dermatologist recommended to ascertain the root cause (no pun intended) of my hair loss.
Medically, rapid hair loss is known as Telogen effluvium and is different to other forms of hair loss, such as Alopecia Areata which is an autoimmune disease characterised by sudden and quite 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). It is in this phase that 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 is can be much higher. Source: Wikipedia
Genetics, dysfunctions in your thyroid, anemia and auto-immune diseases, 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 a bit of 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 on your own. You don’t have time for that, go and see your doctor.
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, 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 it brings all manner of 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 forward, my hair is not what it was, I don’t think it ever will 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.
The things I did 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 and it will depend 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.
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 do 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 the regrowth of hair called Nioxin. A cleansing shampoo, a conditioner and a scalp treatment packaged as a system.
Does it work? Yes, for me, it seemed to help, 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 like a nice bonus because your hair and scalp need UV protection.
Nioxin also contains salicylic acid, which will help with removing any build-up of dead skin cells and sebum, which is excellent for the overall health of your scalp.
For a full review on 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 at the same time. Still, I slept better, was less anxious and other symptoms like hot flushes began to subside.
So for me, if calming anxiety and getting a better nights sleep improves my overall wellbeing well, 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 our 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 website at the bottom of this article.
Or, if you’re looking for a good read on all the in’s and outs of menopause, I strongly recommend this book. 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, and whether you’re suffering from hair loss or not, it’s worth getting your levels checked as most of us don’t get enough of it.
Some of the symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency can be 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 my menopause and yep, hair loss!
Vitamin D deficiencies are common, even in sunny Australia. Emerging evidence suggests a whopping 60 to 70 per cent of Australians have inadequate or low levels of vitamin D.
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.
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, as struggling with hair loss can be a lonely feeling, and you never know who amongst your circle of friends may need help.
Or, if you’ve got more questions on my experiences, you can email me here.
See you next time.