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Tuesday, 03 January 2012

What to Do About Thinning Hair

category_bug_journal2.gif Last week, I made a small complaint about my thinning hair. Since that was not the topic of the post, I was surprised at the number of people – in comments and email – who asked for more information.

It's not so surprising, however, when you remember that an estimated 60 percent of women older than 70 have the problem which usually begins in one's 50s or 60s. It occurs, too, at much younger ages; five percent of those under 30 are afflicted.

Even with such high numbers, female baldness is almost never discussed in public.

The silence, the secretiveness is particularly strong in relation to old women. Now and then, magazines for younger women publish upbeat stories about thinning hair that are barely (pun intended) disguised sales pitches for expensive shampoos, conditions, scalp tonics and dietary supplements that promise to regrow hair.

STOP RIGHT HERE: Before we go any further, know this: there is no product, drug, medicine, treatment, cure of any kind known to medicine that thickens or regrows hair in women. Period. Full stop. End of story.

The only medication approved by the Federal Drug Administration for women's hair loss is minoxidil 2% which is mildly helpful in about 20 to 25 percent of women, is expensive and must be applied to the scalp twice every day for the rest of one's life to maintain any regrowth.

Additionally, although hair transplants can be successful in up to 90 percent of men, for a variety of reasons only two to five percent of women benefit from transplants. Read more about that here.

So basically, women are stuck with their thinning hair. We have our parents to blame for this – mother and father. Assuming no chemotherapy drugs, no thyroid problem, autoimmune disease or any of a few other medical causes - in 90 percent of women, hair loss is genetic.

Female-pattern baldness, unlike the receding front hairline that commonly afflicts men, occurs all over a woman's head but is especially visible in the front and at the crown. According to a well-reported story at WebMD, this is how it progresses:

”Typically, each time a normal hair follicle is shed, it is replaced by hair that is equal in size. But in women with female-pattern hair loss, the new hair is finer and thinner - a more miniaturized version of itself, Rogers says. The hair follicles are shrinking and eventually they quit growing altogether.”

Which is precisely what has happened to me beginning about eight or ten years ago. Here is a photo of the crown of my head (you have no idea how hard it is to photograph this stuff on one's own head):

Bald Crown

The amount of shedding since that tenth photo in the blog banner at the top of the page was taken about a year ago has increased. The empty spots on my head are widening and it takes a good deal of effort each morning, several tries, to arrange my hair so that the top and crown of my head are not nakedly, pinkishly exposed.

Usually, I make a sort of bun at the crown of my head and secure it with a hair clip or stick. I don't much like my overall appearance with this “style” but it's better than a bald spot at my crown.

Also, it is no longer possible to disguise the front, above my forehead. My scalp peeks through the strands looking increasingly like a man's bad comb over, as you can see.

Bald Top of Head1jpg

Another irritating part of all this shedding is cleanup. Every day, many long strands of gray hair stick to my clothes, clog the shower drain, fall out onto furniture. I find hairs everywhere – on the desk, keyboard, tables, counters, in the sink and basins. They get twisted onto my hands when I'm washing my hair and it's a bitch to get them off. They're all over my bed pillows too.

With all that, mostly, they are on the carpeting which has its own special problem: the vacuum cleaner does not suck them up; they get wound around the brush roller and must be cut with scissors and pulled off so not to ruin the machine. It takes 15 or 20 minutes to do that after each vacuuming.

I am thoroughly fed up with all this, fed up with all the work in hair arrangement and in house cleaning and fed up with people (including the guy who used to cut my hair) who tell me it doesn't look that bad.

I'm old, not blind. Of course it looks that bad.

An simple solution could be to shave my head, but that's extreme. Aside from the occasional actress, model and rock star, women generally don't walk around in public with a bald head and those few who do are invariably young and eager for attention.

On an old woman, baldness would undoubtedly be seen as a disfigurement, perhaps a cause for pity from people would would guess she is undergoing chemotherapy.

The culture just does not allow for old women with shaved heads and I'm certainly not going to lead a movement for bald old ladies (although now that I've written the sentence, it sounds like it could be fun to do if we lived in less perilous times with real problems that need solving.)

What I'm doing now is researching wigs. It is simplicity I'm seeking, less work in caring for my hair and in cleaning up every day behind its loss. A nice, gray wig appears to be my best solution. I'll update you when the time comes.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, me – Ronni Bennett: Storytelling in the New Year


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Every person I know who has worn wigs say that they are very uncomfortable. I am rather lucky since, up to now, my hair has not thin, but I guess it has to do more with heredity than with luck. My father never got bald. And I am lucky I inherited his hair and not my mother's who had distinctly thinning hair. Now she hardly had any white in her hair, when my father was grey at 25!
You can't have it all!

I think you would be much happier with shorter hair (not shaved) Short hair doesn't get wrapped around things as much and the weight of long hair pulls the hair down making it appear thinner.

My Mom wore wigs. She started because she liked the look. I think she didn't mind the hat feel because her generation always wore hats(and gloves). However, she began with a color too color -ful and a thickness that was untrue to her or her age.
Eventually, she got better ones - not so "hairy" and pale blond. Looked good! And she did lose hair so that solved that. And that was it.

Short hair makes the scalp more visible as every blue-haired, permed old woman in the supermarket shows me every week.

You'd think that "solution" would have died decades ago.

At least with a bit of length, I can pin it up in something approaching a little style even if I don't like the look.

When I was in my 20s, I wore a wig for about a year after a hair cutter went nuts and left me with less than an inch of hair all over my head. Believe me, my head is not designed for a close cut and in addition, this was as far from "cool" as a woman could get in 1966.

I had no problem with the wig and today's wigs are much lighter and airier. I continue to investigate...

Twenty years ago I had chemo and wore a wig for months. I did not find it uncomfortable and I'm sure the wigs are even better now. In many ways they are much more convenient than your real hair. Also, with a good wig, people don't realize it is a wig. When I stopped wearing it, people asked me if I'd cut my hair!

Go for it, Ronni.

Good luck, but I still think you need to see a really good dermatologist, preferably a woman. Meanwhile, the wig sounds like a good idea. An acquaintance, much older than you, wears, a hair-piece on top of her head & I only recently discovered that. It looks lovely, but she does require her daughter help her with it. I'm sure you'll find the best solution for yourself. :)Dee

My mother, who died 8 years ago at age 93, was nearly bald. She got a gray wig. I nearly gasped when I first saw her because I thought all she needed to complete the look was go go boots. She was very happy with the wig. Later, when my sister went through chemo, I was amazed at how natural her wig was. She said it was quite comfortable.

Yup, my mother wore a wig, then in her 80's her hair began to thicken and in the back color began to return. Who knows why.

My hair has receded rather dramatically. On the back of my head it's nice and thick, darn it. Gee, let me know if you can find a salt and pepper colored wig. :)

Timely post and relevant in my case. I began losing hair several decades ago. Stress and worry. Now that i am retired, I suppose old age is catching up. I have begun to wear hats again to keep my head warm and the sun off my face where I recently had a skin cancer removed. Its always something, isn't it??

I put a comment in here earlier but guess I got the letters wrong or something glitched with the captcha feature. Anyway the gist of it was that my grandmother and my husband's aunt all wore wigs and quite happily. Grandma had fun with hers. I had a wig back when my children were tiny just for the fun of having short hair with a bubble cut when my own was long and relatively straight.

My advice for wigs is buy as good of one as someone can afford, then have them styled on your head by a good stylist as often what comes straight from a store looks wig like. Wigs that are styled tend to look more like the real thing. The better quality wigs have more comfortable caps with better breathing.

Personally I think a wig is a good solution to something like thinning hair and say go for it. You can have a lot of fun with them as some do by having a variety of styles...

now I hope this one doesn't get swallowed by the captcha feature ;)

Ronni,
All I can say is this – don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it. Minoxidil has changed my life. Until a couple of years ago, not a day went by that I didn’t think about my pink scalp shining through my very thin hair. It affected me more than I wanted people to know. A friend whose hair had been thin told me that Rogaine works for her. I started using it (well, the generic version) that day and, believe me, I’d as soon go without brushing my teeth as without the 10 second application of minoxidil twice daily. It’s no trouble and the cost is about $13.00 a month. It took four months for me to see a real difference, but now my hair looks normal. I’m so appreciative that my friend told me. I almost commented the first time you wrote about your hair, but I’ve always been a lurker, enjoying and learning from your blog, but never commenting. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but it is very much worth a try for four months. Thanks for your wonderful blog. It’s my first read every morning.

Well, I know you don't want to hear it, but I agree with Mary. I think you'd be surprised at how 'fun' short hair can be. When I say short, I mean about 1"-3" long. If 'fun' doesn't grab you... think EASY!

I think you just have to bite the bullet and do it. There's no hiding the fact that you're going bald. So, since it's obvious that you're losing your hair, no matter WHERE you drape your hair, what's the point of putting up with all the down sides you mentioned? It doesn't make sense. (And you're normally so sensible!)

Having said that, I know that some women just love their long hair and there's no talking them out of it. They'll die with it.

But a super-short "do" could do wonders for you. You've got a wonderful face for it. I just hate to hear you poo-poo the idea immediately.

Great idea Ronni. There are many websites where you can "try on" various wigs with your own photo in place to get the effect. I tried having a go, capturing your 10th pic and giving you a very short, punk hairdo.....real funky! Think Judy Dench.

It's how I wear mine, incidentally and it doesn't look a bit odd with silver hair.

Several years ago I got my hormone replacement prescription mixed up and was taking too much testosterone. My hair really began to fall out - my "hair fairy" noticed and so did I. As soon as I got the dosage corrected, the hair growth began again. Are you sure your hormones are in balance? It seems hormones are responsible for so many things and even though we age, it is my belief we still need to maintain at least a menopausal level of hormones. Also, I think long hair weights the hair down and that in itself is not good for fragile hair follicles. Same with hair that is pulled back into a pony tail. I have always thought your hair in the last photo is beautiful but a shorter style (say alittle below the ears) would be less weight. Geez it is good to talk to another person about such personal stuff. Recently I went through a terrible, all consuming bout of insomnia (hormone related I found out when I added an estrogen patch - I had stopped taking hormones about a year earlier). Not only didn't I sleep, I was anxious, depressed, etc., If only I could have talked it through with friends, I would have suffered less.

[EDITOR'S NOTE TO READERS: Hormone replacement therapy is a powerful and controversial medication the reasons for which can and should be diagnosed only by a physician.]

Of all the problems that come with aging, thinning hair is not one of mine. Perhaps my hair is thinning, but I am not aware of it because I was blessed (and cursed) with a lot of it. However, it's coarse and when it's layered the ends look like a brush. I envy people with fine hair when they have that nice wavy look that I try to achieve.

You can't have everything.

Now write about those ugly brown mole like spots that start cropping up all over the body. I am getting so many I think I am turning into a toad.

I agree totally with Gail! Hormone replacement and short hair. And I would think that if you get a wig, you really will need to shorten your natural hair for it to fit well and comfortably.

As for myself, I have another major problem in addition to badly thinning hair like yours -- I really, truly hate to wear anything on my head! Can't abide hats or scarves or anything! Guess I'll just have to talk myself into trying on some really good quality wigs and see how well I can tolerate one ... sighhh

[EDITOR'S NOTE TO READERS: Hormone replacement therapy is a powerful and controversial medication the reasons for which can and should be diagnosed only by a physician.]

Disclaimer first: I do not mean to offend anyone by what I;m about to relate, but it's relevant to this thread, and something I've thought about a lot.

A friend of mine shocked me about ten ears ago by converting to Islam. She had a close female friend from Pakistan and became involved with, and finally married, her friend's brother. In this process, she adopted a Muslim dress style of the long top over billowy pants, and the headscarf. She had several in various beautiful colors and fabrics. I was astonished when she made this conversion, as she had always been one of my most actively feminist friends. She had also been the person who had introduced me to the local Quaker meeting, which we both attended for many years. She looks so much younger with her hair covered (prior to that, she had continued to color her hair long after I stopped). Obviously this solved most of the hair problem for her. Perhaps head coverings would not be such a bad thing to adopt. Perhaps the boomers could begin a movement. I'm not sure why, but I still have a very difficult time with the idea of wigs, but I've always liked scarves.

What makes it worse than it really is it seems is how our culture defines appearances. Women are the victim of a cultural stigma that's been around since Eve, I'm afraid.

First - (and this worked for me) think about getting the very best haircut you can afford from a well-recommended stylist. Work with the person for a few times if necessary. It's infinitely easier to deal with your own head of hair than with a wig and the wind. However, it sounds as if you're motivated to try a hairpiece. Good luck and I hope you continue to post about this - it's something many of us deal with.

I wore wigs much of last year during chemo because I didn't want people feeling sorry for me. I acquired one for myself, and my daughter gave me a second she knew I liked. I wouldn't recommend them necessarily but can tell you the better ones are not only lighter (weight) but feel less hot in summer. And as some of the comments pointed out, I had fun with mine, choosing one red and one blonde. All that said, and I hope I never have to lose hair to chemo again (I'd wear wigs again if I needed) nothing keeps your head as warm on cold nights than whatever natural hair you can hold onto. In your shoes I'd try the shorter haircut for awhile, and progress to the wigs as and when needed. No better judgement is needed for when that would be than your own. You'll know.

My mom has been wearing wigs for years -- her hair starting thinning in her 40s.

I was in a very nasty car accident and they had to shave my head for some rather weird (and affective) surgery so I wore wigs afterward. And my hair didn't grow back right so I've pretty much been stuck with wigs ever since. (Sigh)

What's left of my hair is white so I suppose I should get a white wig but grey or white wigs aren't easy to find and the styles available look awful on me. What's an old girl to do? Keep looking I guess.

You are a gorgeous woman with a tall forehead perfect for short hair. Cut that shit off and enjoy!!!

As my health went, so did my hair...I use Nioxin. It helps....I feel your pain....

My hair has been problematic for the last 30 years--increasingly thinner, finer, and absolutely does not take a perm well. I have worn wigs off and on for much of that time, especially when I was working. During that time the wigs became much lighter and the synthetic wigs became much more realistic. I could never afford a human hair wig with the care they required. However, even the lights wigs became much too uncomfortable when the summer temps rose and my scalp sweated. I still have the last couple of wigs I purchased and use them when I need to. But for normal wear I twist my hair up or I will wear scarves. I found several sites that give very clear instructions for tying scarves in very pretty ways. And most people forget that head coverings aren't just a Muslim thing. Many European cultures had very interesting head covers and it is fun to explore them.

Obviously, this is a topic that warranted a follow-up (or more) post(s). Fascinating comments here.

As I wrote after the first post mine has been slowly thinning (since my early 50s). At first I had that wrap-around-my-hands-shoulders-waist-ankles problem when I shampooed in the shower. It drove me bats crazy, still does. But it has really slowed down. I realize you are correct when you say no shampoos, etc. can solve the problem.....but I have a suspicion, based on personal experience, that cream rinses should be selected carefully because some can make the shedding worse. From my own shower experiments, I found that the hair did not fall out during the shampoo, but as soon as I applied the cream rinse(s) I would have hair in my hands--and when it came to rinsing out the rinse was when the fallout occurred. At the Nordstrom sale last spring I was looking at beauty products online and saw [a brand of shampoo and rinse] on sale for $95/set. The bottles are huge and I do not shampoo daily so I decided to try it. Yes, the volume is increased somewhat but what I notice most is that my long hair has "bounce" in the ponytail I wear like it did when I was in high school. Mainly, however, is that it calms my scalp and my hair loss is truly minimal compared to what it was before. I still have lots left in the bottles, but have found the company's website and will order direct from them next time to save $$ and get free samples of other products.

To end, a vignette. In my first marriage in the mid-70s I mentioned a few times to my ex-husband that it might be fun for me to get a couple of different-colored wigs and play-act in the bedroom. After ignoring me initially, he finally tersely said, "That is your fantasy, not mine!"

Hi Lydia...

Just letting you know I deleted this comment and edited the
other one to remove the brand name of the shampoo and rinse. I
never allow commercial products to be promoted on TGB. If anyone
is interested in such instances, they can email and I'll put you
two in touch. But I don't publish brand names because long
experience has taught that once I do, the blog will be inundated
with nothing but product promotions. I'm sure you understand.


best wishes for the new year,
Ronni


Ronni
Bennett
Email:
[email protected]
Phone: 212.242.0184
Skype:
ronni.bennett
Blog: http://www.timegoesby.net/

Ronni--
Read your blg daily and love it. I used to have huge, thick hair... no more! But it's not too bald. I found out that cutting it short, just a bit longer than a pixie cut, and using hair spray to spike it gives it volume and a unsual look. I love it. I don't use any "products" on it except shampoo and hair spray. So far so good!

Vicki

Ronni - I will follow your adventures where ever they take you (and us).My hair is thinning in the front but as I wear it really short and kind of spikey, it's not that visible. But I'm saving this post for reference for that proverbial rainy day. I congratulate you on your courage in discussing another one of those "silent" issues that we, as women, have been too ashamed to talk about. You go GURL! (Well, woman but I mean it in the most positive and complimentary way. )

Ronni, I wouldn't give up without a dermatologist's visit if I were you. It's possible something physical is causing the hair loss.

I tried to grow mine in a few years back and was horrified to discover that 1) it barely grows and 2) just isn't that fun to wear even if it finally does. So ... off to Great Clips for a much shorter cut.

I truly did miss the ease of short year and understood that the latest trial of longer hair was probably the last time I was going to gut trying to grow it out.

I realized that I had tried to grow it out about every three years on average since I was about 16 and had NEVER actually succeeded. I have truly bad hair, and there's no shame in getting a life that doesn't involve stressing over it. Light bulb moment!

So I was glad to give up my fairly grim looking hair and don't miss it at all, but I do know the emotional suffering difficult hair can cause in our image-conscious culture. So, why not go in stages:

1) dermatologist
2) hair stylist for a slightly shorter cut
3) Rogaine, et al
4) Keep working with the cut
5) Wigs and hats

With your creativity and rebel streak, I can just imagine you wearing scarves in most wonderful and self defining ways...just a thought.

I have several friends and relatives who have great success and even fun with good wigs. That would be my first choice too. You will find what's right for you.

As with so many other topics (your moves, your teeth, etc.) you are providing much help as we all move through this aging process. Thank you!

Somehow I lost the first paragraph of my post! What I wanted to say was that with all the thorough research and investigation you always put into topics that interest you, I am sure none of the suggestions are new to you. However, they may be most helpful to the rest of us. I appreciate you shedding light on the subject!

Thank you Ronni for opening up this subject. It is something I am beginning to suffer from yet this is the firs time I have read anything on how older women can cope with it.

My hair has thinned dramatically within the last 6-12 months. I kept blaming the hair cut, but have finally resigned myself to the fact that I'm going bald at age 73. This realization is especially depressing because I am a woman and I am also growing a beard. I have to shave now - twice a day if I'm going out at night. So far I see no sign of other male characteristics, but nothing would surprise me at this point.

My doctor recently prescribed a miniscule amount of premarin, which he said would help the beard, but it would take about 2 or 3 months before I see any change. Who knows? It may help my hair, too.

In the meantime, I find that root lifters, or gel, or mousse add a bit of fulness. I had decided to let my hair grow a bit, but that is not an option now. Right now I am trying to find the best hair-cutter in town.

my hair looks thicker when it is not washed as often. i second: that it is the conditioner that loosens the hair. shorter is way easier, but of cource my husband likes long hair. thanks for all the ideas.

Could it be possible that hair loss is related to a nutritional deficit? With all the medications (and diuretics) people are prescribed couldn't hair loss be an unintended consequence? I am no expert on hair growth but I was surprised no one asked if it could be the result of a vitamin deficiency and therefore reversible.

I beg to differ with you, Ronni, that short hair unacceptably exposes the scalp even more when there is thinning hair -- unacceptable for you, maybe, but not necessarily others.

The shop where I go has primarily a clientele of older women and a few men. I see lots of thinning hair and have some hair issues of my own. I know for a fact that how the hair is cut, how it is combed, styled, can well compensate acceptably for a number of people with the problem and those observing them. Perhaps it depends to some extent also on the amount of hair that has been lost. How thin is too thin?

I've been told that the weight of long hair, also the stress of pulling it tightly back can contribute to hair loss.

I'm inclined to think what's important is to feel comfortable with your appearance, or at least that's what I'd want for myself. So, if wigs you want, then go for it. I'd think you might want to get a really good one to wear for certain occasions, then have a variety of cute head covers of various types I've seen, especially good for outdoor wear in cooler weather. In privacy -- whatever strikes your fancy or no head covering at all.

BTW appreciate reading your comment re not accepting coml product mentions. I've recently been getting similar hair product mentions on my old piece "Redhead Aging Naturally" but not from your commenter. Wonder if it's the same product?

I have long hair too Ronni and note it is falling away in clumps down the drain and everywhere else. I also have psoriasis at the back of my head which doesn't help for as much as I try not to I keep scratching it. As I used to have thick thick hair this is quite a shock and I applaud your courage in bringing hair loss forward for discussion and await your future updates on this!
XO
WWW

Bless you! I am in my mid 40's and starting to experience hair thinning. I have been under an extreme amount of stress lately and thinking that could possibly be the cause. The front of my hairline, and the top of my head seems like it is getting much more sparse where hair should be. I never thought it would bother me like it does, but I cannot stop looking in the mirror with tears welling up! I worry for the future, for I still feel that I am young. One of my Grandmothers was pretty much bald by the time she was 70. *sigh* I keep telling myself that it's only hair, it shouldn't be that important..but somehow it does affect the way I feel. I know though that so many other things are so important in this life, including health. I have to keep reminding myself of that! I have to keep reminding myself that regardless whether I have hair or not, I am blessed beyond measure to have this beautiful life that God has given to me, and each and every one of us will be perfect in heaven one day. :)

Read your very honest blog post with interest. I'm researching 'a practical ways to manage female hair loss' piece for my own website. Info is limited on this particular angle or plain 'cookie'! I'm not looking for a miracle cure, just realistic ways women can walk around, feeling good each day. For your hair loss around the front temples may I respectfully suggest Alice bands or headband scarves (small scarves you can tie round your head once). Please don't think I've lost it - I'm not suggesting a 'high school look' - you can get some sophisticated prints/fabrics that will enable you to look grown-up and interesting = stylish and chic, rather than anything else! Thank you.

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