Forced Time Out

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Part 1

My gradual balding, which I have mentioned in the past, becomes more noticeable by the day so because I am tired to death of thinking about it, over several months, I have spent serious time and effort looking for a solution.

This, then, is a report on one old woman's odyssey in search of hair.

Before I treat you to that narrative, let us be clear: nothing, not anything, zilch, zero, nada regrows hair in women (nor many men).

Unless there is a medical cause, no matter what anyone tells you or what advertisements promise, it's all snakeoil.

That said, two-percent Rogaine (minoxidil) for women is the only FDA-approved hair loss drug in the United States. It comes in liquid or foam and must be applied twice a day producing only minimal regrowth in about 20 percent of women. But you won't know if you are in that minority for about six months of use. If you are, any improvement will be lost if you ever stop using Rogaine.

There has been some small success with the higher-dosage Rogaine but not much. Here is part of what WebMD says about the use of the five-percent version which is available under a physician's supervision:

”Results from clinical studies of mostly white women ages 18 to 45 years with mild to moderate degrees of hair loss report that after using minoxidil for eight months, 19% of users had moderate regrowth and 40% had minimal regrowth.”

There are a few annoying and, sometimes, possibly dangerous side effects so all-in-all, Rogaine is not for me. Remember, aside from these minimally successful treatments, hair loss is permanent.

And if you still believe hair can be regrown, just back up a minute and take a breath: don't you think if there were anything that successfully regrows hair it would be headline news with millions of people standing in line to get it at any price? Of course that's true. It would not be a secret.

There are those colored powders that supposedly fill in and make bald areas less noticeable but they look exactly like what they are and you're in big trouble when caught in the rain. It is not a reasonable solution.

So, other remedies must be found.

My hair has been thinning for at least ten years and all treatable causes have been ruled out. Both my great grandmother and grandmother on my father's side became bald – my great grandmother after childbirth (which may not count), my grandmother in old age.

My mother's hair, by the time she died at age 75, was much thinner than mine is now so you could say I come by my own hair loss honestly.

It's called androgenetic alopecia, sometimes referred to as female pattern baldness which is more diffuse over the head than male pattern baldness. It is usually inherited and although it does occur in young women, it is far more common after menopause affecting at least 30 million women in the U.S.

Here is a photo from Wednesday of my crown:

Ronni's Hair Loss

Now really – would you want to walk around looking like that? I sure don't.

What I have been doing for several years is twisting my long hair in a updo and securing it with a clip to cover the growing empty area. But that is less effective now than in the past and doesn't do anything for the front hairline area that is becoming bald even faster these days than the crown.

Here are some of the solutions I have entertained seriously and not so seriously:

Learn to tie scarves
Buy a lot of hats
See if there is a hair style that will cover it
Shave what's left and go bald
Buy wigs

Hair extensions and weaves are, of course, out of the question as they would cause more strain on the hair and more baldness.

Scarves? I've never been any good at arranging them around my neck so I doubt I can learn the more intricate skill of making them work on my head. They, along with full-time hats, feel like a nuisance that would quickly become a daily irritant.

Going bald is a solution that is attractive for its ease – no work except regular shaving. I'm tempted and may yet wind up there. But the downside is that it would create an identity I don't relish: “Oh, you know who Ronni Bennett is – that old lady with the bald head.”

I don't want that to be the main way people describe me.

So I set off some weeks ago to see if I could find a hair stylist who has experience with balding women's hair and if there are styles that can minimize the pink scalp exposure.

To be continued...

UPDATE: Although as someone below suggests, arthritis is a good topic for us sometime in the future, today's topic is hair loss. Nothing kills an online conversation faster than off-topic comments so as is routine at this blog, arthritis comments have been removed.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow - Part 2
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow - Part 3

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Judith Dubin: On Sailing


Unfortunately, I'm loving this topic. Can't wait for the continuation.

I am so right there with you! In a way, it makes me feel better to know that I am not alone, at least, until I look in the mirror. My choice has been to go with a shorter hairdo. I recall my Mother's hair, so I know just what mine will look like in a few years. My hair loss is moving from the front to the back, and about a third of the top of my head has thinned out, The hair lying on the counter each morning is very distressing. Good luck with your visit to the stylist!

Ronni, I am always so jealous when you mention offhandledly that you have no major aches and pains, and also take no medication at your age. I guess I should feel somewhat abashed today for my jealousy because I still have very thick hair.

Seriously though, I am reading with interest because my sister has thinning hair, and I know the headaches she faces. (And how about a column one of these days for us arthritic geezers to compare tips and notes?)

There's one lady I work with who has little hair left at all. Mine is just retreating. Other's are in your position somewhere in the middle.

My mother solved her problem by wearing a wig which always left me shaking my head because she didn't get it washed and styled a couple of times a week. This several part article hits home, and I am looking forward to you trying solutions and telling us "all." :)

My aunt went to a very fancy wig maker after brain cancer and surgery in New York City. He made her a hair piece to cover the scars where hair wouldn't grow. I don't know how expensive, but she said very. But, she also had to go in every few months to have the hair tightened, and rematched with her color. It looked fabulous, and was easy to manage, but still -- expensive and a lot of work, so not an option for everyone. My hair is also thinning, so reading along with interest. Thank you!

I'm looking forward to seeing more on this.

Hair loss? Oh, yeah. That baby fine hair never did cover much and now? HA. I cut it short years ago and keep what's left of it neat and clean.

After that? If someone doesn't want to look at me and what's left of my hairline, they can go look at someone else!

My hair is short now - and that seems to help cover the scalp....with fine thin hair - ala genetics....I have found the a real short haircut / buzz back and cut front - keeps me from "kvetching" but I need teeth and with no money - trying to figure out what to is funny - I came into this world bald and toothless and it seems I am going out that way!!!!????

Thank you for starting this series. I have been a skulking reader for awhile but have never commented until today. Outside of the pink peeking through my silver strands, the bigger issue for me is, "if this can happen, anything can happen." I have always had enough hair for at least 3 people. Anyone cutting my hair would comment about my thick hair. So, thick hair has always been a part of my identity. I've lost about half my hair in the past year...probably for the reasons you describe since nothing else seems to be "wrong". So, like my mom, I lose my hair. Crummy but not deadly. But, if that can happen to the girl with enough hair for 3 people, what happens to my optimism about my always excellent health? My feeling that I would always be ok has taken a hit and I now wonder, "what next?" At least while I am getting used to yet another physical change related to aging, I find myself a little scared, not my usual fearless, positive self and a little too concerned about my overall physical appearance. I look forward to reading your experience and the comments of the "Time Goes By" community.

It comforts me that you can't figure out how to manage scarves any more than I can. It would have been so useful at various jobs if I'd been able to keep that together -- but no.

Looking forward to the next installment ...

Thank you for exploring this topic. It is my problem as well, as it was for my mother. I have tried various supplements and herbal oils to no avail, so will be very interested in your search for a styling solution.

Will be reading along with this one. Count me in on thinning hair..mine is mostly in the front. I'm thinking of growing my hair long so I'll have more hair with which to work.

Looking forward to part 2. My hair starting thinning this year and my pharmacist thinks it may be a prescription medication that's doing it. I take nothing I can get along without. There's a handful after every shower. It seems to coming out all over. Both my grandmothers kept their thick curly hair. My own Mom's was baby fine but she had no visible hair loss. I was also told autoimmune diseases and thyroid problems (I have both asthma and serious arthritis) can cause hair loss. Meanwhile I am trying to just be kind to my self, and my hair as well. Sigh.

Celia and others...
If your hair is coming out in handfuls and/or you take prescription drugs, please see your physician or, preferably, a dermatologist.

Age-related thinning hair does not come out in handfuls and too, there are a number of drugs that contribute to hair loss.

Those are different hair loss problems that might be remedied with help from a physician.

Although my old body has succumbed to most of the ravages of aging (pot belly, jowels, etc, etc.) hair loss isn't one of them.

On second thought, I do have hair loss but am fortunate that is has occurred in the right places. I no longer have to shave my legs or underarms daily. I may do so once or twice a year to get rid of those few long hairs that are determined to 'hang in there'. ;-)

Although most of us try to accept what age does to our appearance I do think vanity is the last thing to go.

Ghastly column! Every woman I know dreads the loss of her hair. At the Beauty salon I visit every 6 weeks there are always 3 or 4 little wiglets getting their shampoos and sets
very attractive! These are for the customers that have lost their hair in front/back and/or sides.
While I still have all (most?) of my hair I would certainly go for these wiglets if and when the time comes! Good luck and blessings to all of you worried.

The good news about my hair loss? I stopped shaving my legs years ago.

The powder stuff Ronni mentioned worked well for me for a while because I have curly hair. Summer is coming, though, and my scalp perspires a lot.

Finally went to this salon and was fitted with a tiny little hairpiece for just the top of my head. It's lightweight, secure and the proper color. NOT real hair so easy to care for.

I pick it up next Wednesday and will let you know how it works.

Thanks Ronni for mentioning seeing the doctor. I am seeing my MD in a couple of weeks and hair is on the agenda.

While I never had super thick hair it is pretty thin now. I stopped coloring it as the darker color just make the loss more noticeable. On the good side my underarms own only three hairs each and my legs are in the same shape. But, I have more wild facial hairs and my once heavy eyebrows are about half their old size. You have to be a little goofy to age well.

My solution to hair loss on my crown when I had chemo was to wear a denim golf hat that covered most of my head - it worked. Never liked those ugly "cancer scarves", although I can certainly understand why some women wear them.

In general, I think that we elder women look better with shorter hair styles when our hair begins to thin. Can't wait to see what your stylist comes up with! Even if you don't like it, you can grow it longer again if you want. Cutting it will not affect what grows back.

Doesn't it seem like life has enough indignities in store for us post-50--plus a new hair problem to struggle with as well?! So not fair!

I've been wishing for awhile that salons existed that advertised non-medical hair expertise--growing it out, styles to flatter around thin spots, etc. A typical town has dozens of "salons", from Supercuts to day spas, so how you can find a salon that can truly help?

As for tying scarfs, don't give up so quickly. Today, there's YouTube with more scarf tricks than you can watch in a week! As I know from having "difficult" hair all my life, sometimes it's great to take a break from trying to make your hair look right and just LIVE.

This topic is a true public service, Ronni.

I am 51. My hair started thinning when I was 32. I cried for the first several years.

With my hair constantly falling out, I am amazed I still have hair. It is thin enough to see my scalp at the hair line now. Funny, I no longer feel like crying about it.

There are folks on the web stating that PUFA's and grains attribute to hair loss.

However, I have tried many diets and, can't tell any difference.

I too think of shaving my head. My church teaches a woman should not cut her hair. But, about 3 months ago I did cut off about 24 inches in length. My hair is too fine and, wispy to comb out at that length.

I think that Sidney Thompson, above, has offered a most valuable insight: "You have to be a little goofy to age well!"

I'm 65 years old and I went through the same thing with hair loss a couple of years ago -- to the point that my scalp was beginning to show through. However, in the last 6-9 months, my hair has started growing back again. I think it may have been major stress or perhaps the meds I was taking at the time that caused the loss. Anyway, I'm pleased with my hair again even if it isn't what it used to be. So, hair can grow back.

Sounds like thinning (or departing) hair is a more common issue for women 65+ than I realized. I've always had fine-textured hair but it's now finer, thinner and more flyaway than it used to be. However, I still have most of it so far and consider myself lucky. I must have inherited my hair genetics primarily from my father's side (his mom had a full head of "red" hair until the day she died).

Even before she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 67, my mother had already lost a lot of hair at the crown. She lost all her hair and went the scarf/floppy hat route (it never regrew due to near-continual bombardment with poisonous chemo drugs during the 2 years before her death at 69). Scarves won't work for me since I've never been able to tie the d%#& things right. Since crown hair loss may yet happen to me, I'll be very interested in Melinda's solution (small fitted crown hairpiece).

Yes, some meds are notorious for contributing to hair loss. Statins are one of them. I got off statins when I realized that I was losing hair and got on Krill Oil Red Rice Yeast. Hair stopped falling out. BUT, I am thinning at the crown, just like my mom did. So I bought a small hairpiece for $36 (not an extension). Of course, my hair is short, and so it's easy to blend the piece in at the crown. It's very comfortable; I forget I have it on and other people don't notice. If you have longer hair, you can get a long piece and then ask your stylist to shape it while you are wearing it. Much better option than a wig.

Having auto-immune diseases and needing to take way too many meds everyday, I started losing a fair amount of hair. Nothing that really bothered me too much since I have always had too much of it anyway. My group online told me that they all take [snip] [certain B] vitamins that get peed out everyday so there is no chance of overdose. Obviously, makes sense to get the OK from your doc first. We all have noticed most of our hair coming back. I am not sure if it would help with genetic hair loss.

Throughout the comments today, I have removed references to retail websites and to drugs - prescription and over-the-counter.

This has rarely been a problem in the past, but in case you are unaware:

1. No commercial products may ever be mentioned or linked to.

2. No drugs of any kind may be suggested or promoted.

These two rules apply to every comment every day.

As to Lynne's comment, which I have edited, let me state again: NOTHING REGROWS HAIR due to genetic hair loss. Lynne is referring only to auto-immune disease hair loss which is a tiny percentage of women's hair loss.

I'm there, too. My mother's hair thinned noticeably but what was left was beautiful white, naturally curly and with good body.

I, on the other hand, have mostly dead-squirrel gray and little body. Keeping a relatively short haircut does seem to help.

And in line with Sydney Thompson's observation, being a little (or a lot) goofy sure helps me!

Thanks Ronni for being so honest and enabling this discussion. I have - until recent years - had thick, thick hair. It was naturally auburn and, because of its thickness, my mother used to say she could probably sell my hair to an electrician for use instead of fine copper wire. Then - about ten years ago - my hair started to thin or come out in the shower. I am 69 in a week's time. I remembered the receptionist at our doctor's when I was a child and her very thin hair. I thought to myself I don't want my hair to be like Vi's. I would have been on a statin at the time so was interested in the previous comment about that. I have been off the statins for a few years now because I was going downhill on them. Doctors don't seem to care about that - but that's another story for another day. I upped the amount of fish I was eating and the vitamins and minerals. Then in August 2006 I was driving to a retreat. En route I went to a hairdresser who didn't know me at all. I didn't mention at all my hair concern. As she was cutting my hair she said "You have got regrowth". I thought she was referring to my colour which was fading a little and that the grey was showing again. I said "Don't bother about it. My daughter does my colour and I will get her to do it when I get back to Melbourne." "No", she said "I mean you have new hair growing up." I replied "You've made my day!" and proceeded to tell her the story. So I don't know what will happen. I look in the mirror more closely on occasions because I suspect that once again the hair is thinning although not with the speed and quantity as before.

It seems to me that the way they're cutting hair today makes thinning hair look worse. They're using what amounts to a razor cut although they do it with scissors, which is the way they used to actually thin hair many years ago. I had thick but fine hair in my younger days and a razor cut never worked for me.

You might ask for a blunt cut and cut it a little shorter - chin length maybe?. I've suggested a blunt cut to hair cutters and they look at me like I'm crazy, but I know what works for me and what doesn't. I saw a young woman today with a blunt cut hairdo, so I'm encouraged that maybe styles are changing.

Also, I've started using gel/mousse to give my hair a bit of a lift off my scalp. I'll even resort to a bit of back-combing in a pinch. Both help give the illusion of luscious locks.

I can 'see' two solutions, if you can't abide scarves- although a chic turban you just pop on (not the kind you have to tie yourself) is also a possibility.

1. A short pixie like Judi Dench's, where the hair is cut to fall forward from the crown:

2. Continue to wear it up and add a small hairpiece (pony or chignon). Yes, you have less hair around your temples but with such lovely grey it is not such a demarcation.

And COW's idea about backcombing- try it!

Judi Dench has thinning hair and her haircut is perfect. Long hair leaves the scalp appears.

My hair has started thinning/receding around my widow's peak. Whee! Looks like male pattern baldness in front. (I can empathize with my son.) My cut is like Judi Dench's. That's how my stylist and I communicate: "Judi Dench again." Jamie Lee Curtis is similar, not quite as soft. A little light mousse for body and a bit of lift. I like a tousled, windblown look, since that will be the result anyway if I go outside.

I can't wait for Part 2 of your odyssey, Ronni. This is exciting!

Same problem as Ronni, more and more hair jumping overboard and leaving my once thick head of hair. I
have a question as the web is not divulging a clear answer, has anyone tried henna to thicken their hair? I've been debating it. It would mean a drastic change as I am allowing the gray to grow out and my hair is quite long and like Ronni I pin it up.

A friend in the same boat had the Judi Dench but her hirsute depression has worsened as instead of long bits of hair around the counter she now has twice the short bits.

Hair stylists always advise against henna but could that be because of promotion of their own expensive chemical products?

Thanks Ronni, I don't know what we'd do without your investigative journalism.


I forgot to mention above that I've recently tried some commercial "hair thickeners" (cream, gel and serum) and have found one that works to some extent for me. It doesn't claim to grow new hair--and doesn't--but it makes what I have look a little fuller. I think coloring my hair every few months adds the illusion of volume, too (I have a great colorist whose rates are very reasonable). Hey, I'll take all the help I can get.

Judy Dench hair style seems to be very popular with Elder women -- including me!

By the way, I was told a long time ago that having long hair is not good, the weight of the hair tends to pull on the hair roots and actually thins the hair worse!

Mine is, and always has been, short(except during the 1960s or course). I only wash it every 7 to 10 days, which keeps the oil glands from getting too active, and I do without any kind of chemicals on my hair or on my scalp, just nice, natural, gentle shampoo, which shall remain un-named and which does not contain any contents that I cannot recognize or pronounce or have to look up in a dictionary!

And quite naturally, it has thinned out just because of my age (76), but what's left is healthy and thriving and only about 1/3 of it is grey and the rest is still a healthy, mousey brown.

I used henna for well over 20 years because I wanted an all natural hair coloring. It definitely thickens the hair shafts BUT it was a once a month, 4 hour, very messy process that I stopped about 2 years ago because my white roots were coming up faster in front than I could redo my hair. Also not everyone is going to look good with reddish hair.. and as your hair gets grayer, the henna makes those hairs look very orange. First I went auburn for a year, now I am a bleach blonde and loving it. My grays barely show (that is another topic). And yes my hair is thicker bleached, probably because all the hair is damaged.

All hair color thickens the shaft, but then you have to weigh that against all the chemicals etc. Another idea if you are letting yourself go gray, is to try $1 travel size styling products from the drug store and see which ones help more for your type of hair. Sometimes it takes a combination of 2 or 3... .

1st, Thanks, Ronnie, for featuring my Elderblog last week. 2nd, I too am experiencing thinning hair (although friends say they don't notice--perhaps that's why they're friends?!)

I've been researching also.

aw, go for the shaved head. add some serious earrings. you'll be so hip. really.

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