The Dirtiest Secret
This month I want to talk about the thing many women fear and very few openly talk about, except to their hairdressers.
I'm bringing it out of the whispered conversations of hair salons because it's also my current reality.
Hair loss often feels like it's coming out of nowhere, and it's terrifying.
At first we try to convince ourselves it's not that bad, but the handful of hair we hold when we're conditioning in the shower tells another story.
Then the daily brush inspections. We think it's getting better, but every morning the brush says otherwise.
"This is just super random, it'll quit in a couple days, right?" But six weeks later it's not any better and daily scalp inspections are the new normal.
So what in the hell is going on???
Despite all of the attention male-pattern baldness gets, more than 50% of women will experience noticeable hair loss at some point in her life. *stats from The Cleveland Clinic
Some of the causes can be easily traced (chemotherapy, family genetics), but others are waaaay sneakier. More often than not it can be linked to changing estrogen and testosterone levels once menopause hits.
But what if none of those options apply to you?
Because, legit, that's me.
The other culprit of hair loss is extreme shock to the body. What qualifies? Extreme weight loss, surgeries, illness, and having a baby. But first, let's back up and talk about how healthy hair growth works.....
Hair strands have three phases of hair growth: anagen, catagen, and telogen.
The anagen phase lasts from 2-8 years, where the hair strand is actively growing from the hair bulb/root.
After this phase has come to an end (determined by both genetics and where the hair is located on the body), it switches to the catagen phase -- which is best described as a 2-3 week transitional pause between the anagen and telogen phases. In the categen phase the hair follicle shrinks as the root/bulb dies.
The telogen phase is considered the resting phase, where over the course of 2-4 months the hair strand falls out.
At any one time about 85%-90% of the hair on your head is in the anagen phase, and a healthy person will shed between 50-100 strands of hair over the whole body per day.
But what happens to the normal hair growth cycle when we experience extreme physical stress?
When your body is struggling with an illness (cancer), surgery (gastric bypass), or trauma (having a baby), it's going to redirect all of its energy reserves on healing the issue. The typical duration of the anagen phase is immediately cut short and the hair bulb/follicle think, "Well, that's all she wrote!"
The transitional categen phase starts happening and continues to put a halt on more and more anagen strands for the next 2-4 weeks.
Finally your hair sheds in a mass exodus (the telogen phase) within the next 2-4 months.
How can you tell this is happening to you? Take a look at the hair that you just brushed/shampooed/conditioned out of your head. Is there a small little round ball attached to one end of the strand? That's a telogen-phase strand that you just lost (as opposed to hair breakage).
Over the past 12 years I've noticed a pattern of clients' reporting scary-levels of hair loss approximately 4 months after having a baby. Or having a surgery. Or recovering from a very serious illness. Even if I don't know that a client had a medical emergency/procedure within the last six months, when I'm conditioning their hair and I'm getting a big handful in the sink, I know. And then I ask. And folks think I'm a wizard because How on Earth did I know?
Just because I do hair, and I know all of this, doesn't mean that I applied it to myself. Insight can be such an elusive thing. ;)
Last Christmas my family and I headed out for a much-anticipated vacation. While we're busy having a blast, I end up contracting a super scary food-borne bacteria (not food poisoning) on January 1st and -- BLAM -- my vacation was suddenly over 5 days before we were scheduled to leave. I should have gone to the hospital, but I'm stubborn. I also didn't know how dangerous my situation was.
I don't remember much about the last 5 days, other than I now know what level 10 pain is. And remember I'm the woman who broke her foot last year -- I'm not talking a hairline fracture, either -- and RETURNED TO WORK THE NEXT DAY, standing on that bad boy on nothing but ibuprofen. I remember consciously thinking during those bed-bound days that last year's broken foot was CAKE compared to the crazy levels of pain I was experiencing.
Getting me home was an entire family endeavor that also required Oscar-level acting on my behalf. My immediate trip to Urgent Care resulted in blood draws, cultures, very intense antibiotics and pain meds, and a diagnosis that Dr. Google had to explain because I had never head of it.
Fast forward to the beginning part of April, and I start noticing that my shedding was more than normal. I consider myself a "fall shedder," so a springtime heavy shed is beyond atypical for me. Then it didn't stop. And then is got worse. Granted I don't wash my hair more than about once a week, but the literal handfuls of hair in the shower were terrifying. And pulling loose strand after strand out of my hair when it was dry was something I had never, ever experienced.
So what happened? When I got sick the growth cycle of my anagen-phase hair strands were immediately interrupted. Over the course of January a large percentage of that anagen hair moved into the catagen phase. It then took another 2 months for my hair to get to the telogen phase, and I didn't notice what was going on until the first of April (which was RIGHT on time) when copious amounts of my hair started falling out.
Enough of the problem -- how do we handle this? Pretty much the only way out is through. If everything is going the way it typically does, within about two months of noticing the worst of the shed, it should slow way down or even hopefully go back to your usual shedding rate.
If you are experiencing large bald (like literal bald) spots on your scalp, you can pop over to your doctor and see if there are some interventions they can do. That is considered alopecia areata and it's a bit of a different issue -- what we're talking about here is telogen effluvium.
What's your shampoo and conditioner situation? I have tried Nioxin in the past and I had a horrible allergic reaction to their active ingredients (many of which are often correlated with a higher risk of developing cancer). It seriously burned, and my clients who do use it often have very brittle hair because of it.
I started using a brand-new line from ColorProof called BioRepair-8 which uses all natural oils, vitamins, photo-nutrients, and plant stem cells to regenerate hair growth on the cellular level directly at the scalp. This line is also 100% color-safe and sulfate-free. Bonus: they're cruelty-free and vegan! Their system includes a shampoo, conditioner, lightweight scalp oil, and a scalp massaging tool that gently exfoliates, ensuring the product gets to where it needs to be.
While I didn't find that the ColorProof BioRepair-8 system didn't stop my hair loss, I did notice that the amount that was shedding didn't increase once I started using it. I love how each of the products smell, and the scalp oil is awesome for hydrating my hair but doesn't make my scalp greasy.
Biotin. Does it work? Yes....but you need more than that! You need biotin to help increase the speed in which your hair starts regrowing, but because of the health crisis you just went through, you also need additional vitamins and amino acids. There are quite a few amino acids necessary to help regenerate your hair that without those, the biotin just isn't going to work. Look for a supplements that include MSM, L-Methionine, Inositol, and Alpha Lipolic Acid, as well as Vitamins C, E, B6, B12 and Thiamin, Folate, Selenium, and Manganese. Plus Biotin.
I know that's a huge laundry-list of ingredients you need to support hair growth from the inside. I found a great option in the Target Simply Balanced Hair & Skin Multi -- I love that one tablet covers everything and I don't have to piece together my micronutrition. (PS, I'm totally not paid to endorse these products. I just love them.)
STOP WEARING YOUR HAIR UP. Right now. The tension placed on the root when you wear a ponytail, bun, or braid will pull out those fragile strands straight out of your scalp. Also, quit with the blow-dryer while you're at it (there's a lot of tension placed on the hair during a blowout). If you HAVE to wear your hair tied back, old-school cloth scrunchies are your new best friend. As well as a low, loose pony.
No more brushes! Even if it's a Wet-Dry brush, it's still yanking out those strands. Switch to a wide-toothed comb and use it very gently on both wet and dry hair.
Finally, take super good care of the hair you have that's going to stick around. You know what I'm going to say....Olaplex. I've recently started a love affair with Olaplex No 6, which is their new styling cream. It provides non-greasy hydration for 72-hours, is great as both a heat protectant and scrunch-and-go styler, plus it treats your hair as you wear it! My brittle hair has become much softer, and I know it's stronger because I'm only finding hair with bulbs attached in my comb -- not those plus small segments of broken hair.
Whew! I feel like this post was one part information one part confession, and one part education!
Have you ever experienced hair loss related to babies/illness/surgeries? Can you relate to any of this....and how did you cope? Let me know in the comments what happened, how long the hair loss went on for, and how did you bounce back?