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):
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.
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