Hair loss can be traumatic to deal with; it can happen anywhere on the head and symptoms differ from person to person

Hair loss – is it common?

If you have googled something along the lines of ‘hair loss’ ‘hair loss and what to do about it’ or ‘female hair loss and what you can do about it’, then chances are you are currently struggling with this horrible issue and I really feel your pain. This article will look into hair loss and what causes it; it also aims to explain the different types of hair loss and what things can effect them. I will discuss various treatments as well as telling you my experience of hair loss and the things I have tried.

It may seem sexist and a little out dated but even someone one like me, who I consider open minded, when I think/ talk of hair loss, thinning and baldness I generally think of men.

However if you are female and have struggled with hair loss like I have then you’ll probably know that actually there are thousands of women out there struggling with hair loss and as you research it, you’ll find that it’s also quite common. The NHS state that 8 million women in the UK suffer with hair loss (known as alopecia) (Noted on Wimpole Clinic).

Hair loss – what happens

There are different types of hair issues that lead to loss, thinning or balding, one is hair  ‘shedding’ which is medically known as telogen effluviu and is temporary. (American Academy of Dermatology Association )

Our hairs shed naturally each day, through natural loss, brushing, styling and washing. On average we tend to loose anything between 50-100 hairs each day (NHS online).

Excess hair shedding is something that usually stops on its own accord and tends to be related to changes in the body that lead to the hair shedding more than its usual amount. Changes such as loosing a lot of weight, fluctuations in hormones such as stopping birth control pills or giving birth, fever, operations, illness and stress are all other factors that can cause excess shedding.

Postpartum shedding (after giving birth) tends to occur around two months after giving birth and peaks around four months but soon stops and it takes about 6 -9 months for hair to regain its usual fullness. Although it can be upsetting, especially after having to go through child birth, sleepless nights, nursing and many other issues after birth, postpartum hair loss is normal and usually doesn’t last too long. However read my story for details on how my own issues with postpartum hair loss lead to discovering an iron deficiency.

Excess shedding should stop by itself and should only be temporary, but its still important to understand and know what and why your body is shedding more than normal, because if its linked to something like illness or stress, you need to target these issues in order to stop the excess shedding.

Hair loss is medically known as anagen effluvium, this is when something stops the hair from growing, and hair will not regrow until the cause of hair loss is removed. Hair loss occurs when the immune system over reacts, hair styles pull on the hair (such as tight braids / dreadlocks/ tight buns), harsh hair care products (including bleaching and dying the hair too much) and some drugs and treatments to name a few.

”Once you take away the cause, the hair should regrow. Please be aware that in some cases you may have to accept hair loss as a side effect of something you need to continue. For example some antibiotics if used long term or in high doses, have been found to lead to hair loss. If a person needed to take them to treat an illness, it would be necessary to continue taking them until they no longer need to. It could be detrimental to their health if they just stopped taking them, so the person would have to accept hair loss as an effect until they are well enough to stop taking the antibiotics” (taken from a hair loss website)

Alopecia Areata is an auto immune condition where bald patches appear on the scalp, the size of a coin. The hair can  re-grow but its often fine and white before it returns to normal colour. It can lead to (even) more serious cases of alopecia called alopecia Totalis, meaning no scalp hair and Alopecia Universalis meaning no hair on the scalp or body at all.  Sadly there is little understanding of alopecia and there are little treatment options. Some creams and lotions can help re-growth in less serious cases but hair loss can often happen repetitively after hair has grown back. It is quite a traumatic condition, causing serious lack of confidence and low self esteem. 

For less serious cases of hair loss and shedding there are lots of hair products out there that can be used to help slow down hair loss and encourage regrowth. Supplements aimed at supporting the body with the necessary nutrients and minerals can aid and encourage hair growth; regrowth shampoos and conditioners to help thicken, strengthen and minimize shedding; natural hair fibers to sprinkle over the hair to help it appear thicker (for an instant superficial solution). Products like this are marketed towards women as well as men. Unfortunately there is no 100% guaranteed treatment, but it’s always worth trying things as some hair re growth is always better than none! 

Some people may inheriting genes that cause hair loss. A doctor, dermatologist or hair specialist would be able to advise on hair shedding and hair loss, they would be able to see if there are any underlying issues.

Treatments

There is no one size fits all when it comes to hair loss treatment, and nothing is 100% effective. There are many treatments and options but most are not available on the NHS and can be pricey. 

  • Tattooing
  • immuno-spressants
  • hair transplants
  • light therapy
  • wigs

Other options (not available through the NHS) are listed below, I wont discuss them as I haven’t tried any of them and you can easily find out more by looking online;

Medications

Currently there are two treatments used for male pattern baldness – Finasteride and minoxidil. For female pattern baldness, only minoxidil can be used as women shouldn’t use finasteride. When looking online as to ‘why’ women can’t use finasteride, it states that it can be absorbed through the skin, so shouldn’t be touched – hands should be washed thoroughly if it is; it caused birth defects in male babies and may cause changes to the breast tissue. These drugs don’t work for everyone, they are only effective when used (their effectiveness stops when you stop using them) and they are not NHS available and are expensive.

Supplements

Supplements such as hair complex blends and biotin can be helpful, as sometimes its possible our diets can be lacking in the nutrients that our bodies need, or maybe we are going through a tough time and need that extra boost. You can get blends that have a wide variety of herbs, vitamins, minerals and biotin or you can get biotin tablets on their own. Biotin is a B vitamin that helps the body convert food into energy, but it also helps the health of hair and nails, hence its often in supplements targeted at promoting hair and nail growth. I have tried a well known hair blend supplement product (that has research to show they work), but unfortunately they made me incredibly nauseous and gave me an upset stomach, so I was never able to take them long enough to work.

Probiotics (in tablet form as well as hair care product form)

Probiotics are great for our health as they can boost the friendly bacteria in the gut, which has shown to help the immune system and general health. Probiotics help with the breakdown of protein, which allows the proteins that build up your hair, to reach the scalp efficiently. If you decide to start taking a probiotic then make sure that you do your research and take one that has been proven to work (e.g. probiotics need to reach the gut alive, as stomach acid can kill it. Symprove has been show to reach the gut alive, there are other brands available but I have used Symprove and highly recommend it). You also need to research gut health, and make sure you feed the friendly gut bacteria too.

You can also get probiotic hair care treatments, a company called Gallinnee uses fermented rice water, which is rich in probiotic bacteria and is aimed at helping the condition and treatment of hair and scalp, which can benefit growth. Its fairly easy to make homemade hair masks too, which can help to keep the scalp healthy which is also important for healthy hair and re-growth.

Shampoos and conditioners

There are lots of shampoos and conditioners aimed at hair growth, but the ingredients differ from brand to brand and there is not always evidence to support whether they work or not. Some are natural and use things like essential oils to help stimulate the scalp which helps to encourage hair growth; some use ingredients that act as a cleanser to help remove product build up so that hair and scalp is clean and not clogged down, which can hinder hair re-growth . Some have ingredients that aim to help thicken the hair to help it appear thicker once its dry and some contain chemicals that aim to help regrowth but my online research is mixed as to whether there is evidence that it actually works, and if it does, its not always clear why. I have used a brand called Swell (I don’t think the trio that I used still exists), Watermans as well as Nioxin and I found they all helped with regrowth of my hair, but I don’t know if it was a combined effect of other things that I did at the same time. I liked the SWELL brand the most as it was a cleaner product but it also had a pump style nozzle which helped it to last for AGES (which was great as it was super expensive for the shampoo, conditioner and hair serum)

Going Natural – paraben, sulphate and silicon free!

Some online resources suggest stepping away from traditional shampoos and conditioners and using more natural products such as hair soaps or products made without parabens, sulphates and non-natural ingredients. I’m a big believer in going chemical free, as someone who has a chronic health condition I see it as one (or a few) less things for my body to have to deal with/ process . I have written a post about the impact of chemicals in beauty care products, if you are interested, you can read it here. I have used many different types of natural shampoos, conditioners and hair soaps (even a soap conditioner bar), but none of them stopped me from suffering with hair loss. So if you don’t use ‘clean’ hair products, please don’t be beating yourself up thinking its something you have caused yourself. One other advantage of switching to natural products, was that I found my hair condition looked wonderful, it was shiny, glossy and felt healthy.  I like natural soap bars the most as they last for AGES, I switch between natural conditioners and apple cider vinegar mixed with water, which is an age old tradition.

A tip for using shampoo soap bars is to get a small netted bag (the one I have is made from recycled plastic) and place the bar into the bag when you need to shampoo your hair. When you apply water to the bag/soap, the netting on the bag helps to get a good lather going.

Hair fibers

These are extremely tiny fibers made up of Keratin that you use to hide/ disguise thinning and balding hair. It literally looks like powder when you tip them into your hand. The fibers stick to your natural hair and make it appear thicker and camouflages balding patches. You need to match the fibers to your hair colour as best as possible, sometimes using a mixture of two colours can help give you the best colour match. It helps to use a little hair spray to help keep the fibers in place, or you can use finished spray which is usually sold by the brands that sell the fibers. It can be tricky to apply the fibers at first, because too much just looks incredibly fake, so it can be a bit hit and miss until you get used to doing it. You also need to avoid filling in your hair parting line (if you have one) which can be difficult without it looking too sprayed on! There are applicator products and special combs aimed at helping you apply the fibers, but I have never used any of them, I have only used the fibers itself. I originally bought my fibers from Boots, it is a brand called Toppik, it was £30 a small bottle, and I was horrified it was so expensive. However they did last me for ages and ages – I was impressed with how long the bottle lasted, especially as I never skimped when using them. I bought some fibers from Amazon to see how they compared and they were the same in texture / application but the colour match was not as good. It might be stating the obvious, but depending on how sever your hair loss is, depends on how long a bottle could last. I started off using the fibers everyday, but then I started to style my hair in a way that hid my patches and meant I didn’t have to wash it daily, and then I only wore the fibres if I wore my hair in a certain way that exposed the patches or thin areas.  I highly recommend trying the fibers, as they are a natural solution and can do a really good of camouflaging thin spots.

Hair dye

When my hair started to re-grow it was a lot lighter at the temples so I decided to dye it, so that it made my hair look fuller. I did do a bit of reading first and a lot of hair websites warn about dying hair when suffering from hair loss. It stated that if you dye your hair a dark colour to help camouflage loss, it can make the scalp show through the fine hair even more, making it look worse. It also said that going a lighter colour could help make the scalp less prominent, but what ever you decide to do always seek advice so that you don’t end up making things worse.

Hair styling

Options for hair styling to help hide or cover up hair loss, range from head bands to add ins such as clip in extensions or clip in pony tails. Most of these things are aimed at women or people with long hair, so you might have to do a little digging for more options for shorter hair styles. It might sound a bit silly but its worth taking some time to play around with your hair and try different styles, working out what works for you and your particular issues (e.g. styling to camouflage the worst areas). I found that as my hair got thinner I had to wash it more often which was exhausting, so i had to find ways of styling it that also hid if it needed to be washed. For me, I had the most extreme hair loss at my temples (both sides), so it looked like it was receding. This made it difficult for me to wear it scraped back in a bun or pony tail which is what I would normally do if it needed to be washed but I wanted to wait one more day. I began to wear it in loose plaits either side of my head or wore a material head band to cover the temples. 

You can actually buy clip in fringes too, which work really well with headbands. If you use clip ins or extensions, look at using natural / human hair as it will last longer and be a better match to your hair and it can also be dyed too. Synthetic hair can get tangled more quickly and has a shine to it that gives it away as fake. Just make sure that if you do use clip ins or styling props, don’t clip or tie them too tightly as it could stress/ damage the hair and lead to more loss.

The GP and blood tests

I highly recommend going to speak to your GP. At the moment with Covid-19 going on, it might have to be a phone call, but it IS possible. My hair loss started a year ago (in around March 2020 which was just before the 1st lock down happened). I spoke with my GP over the phone and two days later I was having my bloods taken. The idea of talking to a Doctor is so that you can work out what the issue is or isn’t. If you are able to get bloods taken, then get results back that show everything is fine, at least you can be relieved that there is nothing going wrong there. It does mean that you will have to go back to the drawing board to work out what the issue is, but its better to have all the facts when making decisions (rather that assuming its low iron etc and just starting a supplement). If it turns out to be stress of the side effect of medication you might have taken or be taking, at least you know that the hair loss should stop once you stop taking them. If you have to continue taking them, then you need to work out a solution that takes that into consideration.


If you have bloods taken, always ask for a copy of the results so you can look at them yourself. The print off will show you your result and will also show what the reference range is for whatever the blood sample was tested for e.g. if it was tested for your thyroid, it would state what the ideal range is for this. By looking yourself you can see where your results fall, for peace of mind. The reason I say to check results is because sometimes you can be told your results are ‘fine’ whereas actually you may be at the lower or higher end of the reference range and might be displaying symptoms of this (keep reading, this is known as being ‘symptomatic). I have had a number of receptionists and even Drs tell me that my results are ‘fine’ or nothing to worry about, but i have been very close to the lower limit of a reference range (thyroid, iron results in the past), in both instances i ended up needing treatment for these issues. I recently had my zinc levels checked and was told they were ‘fine’ but when I checked the results myself it noted on the form that I was 0.5 points outside the (lower end) of the reference range. I have since started taking a zinc supplement and some symptoms that i had been dealing with but didn’t know why that I have since found out are common in zinc deficiencies, have since gone away.


If you are ‘symptomatic’ this means that your results show that you fall into the reference range, but you are displaying symptoms as if you were out side the reference range. For example with iron levels, you should be within the reference range of 60 to 170 micrograms per deciliter. If you were say 70 (so at the lower end of the range), but displaying a number of symptoms of an iron deficiency, you would be ‘symptomatic’ of an iron deficiency.
This is why it is important to get your bloods checked and to also let your GP know of any symptoms you might be experiencing, it helps them build a picture that is key to working out what might be wrong.

My experience

A photograph taken just before my hair loss started
A photograph taken of my hair, during the worst stages of my hair loss

I have experienced problems with extreme hair thinning and hair loss a number of times over the last few years, one time being so sever that I thought about buying a wig or clip in hair piece. More recently i experienced hair loss a few months after giving birth, which although I knew was common, it was so bad that I decided to speak with my GP as it felt like there was something wrong.

When I first started having issues with hair loss back in 2013/4, it was when I began my health journey , so I had made a huge amount of changes from a complete diet overhaul to taking supplements and thyroid medication, so i assumed one of those were the cause.) Although these are all good changes, sometimes when you make adjustments in your life it can throw things out of kilter while your body adapts to catch up.

The second time I had bad hair loss was when I started the ketogenic diet, I lost a lot of weight at the same time too. After that, I had another three or four incidents. I usually put it down to thyroid complications (adjusting or changing of medications as I worked to find out the best dosage/ type of treatment). One period of bad hair loss was after taking high dose antibiotics for Lyme, it got so bad that I actually bought a clip in hair piece, and multiple (loose, material) hair bands that I wore to cover the front of my hair line where my hair loss was the worst. 

Recently I put hair loss down to postpartum hair loss which is common and normal) but after documenting my hair loss and then contacting my GP she agreed it was quite severe and not the average postpartum loss. Blood testing showed that it was a sever iron deficiency (something I used to struggle with prior to my ME/CFS diagnosis). I was put onto prescribed iron tablets and I noticed a huge difference within my health and hair loss after a few months of taking them. My hair has already started to re grow (especially at the temples where my hair loss was most sever) and I am no longer covered in hair that’s fallen out (it would literally be all over my clothes, in clumps in the carpets, it would fall in my food, it was horrible!). 

I dont know if my hair loss over the years have been down to all the various factors that I have attributed the loss to at the time, or whether its always been an iron issue, but I know that if it were to happen again, I would go to see my GP sooner rather than later. I would ask for bloods to be done and I would gather my box of tricks (e.g. hair bands, hair fiber powder ect), and I would most definitely invest in a wig of some sort.

Although my hair has now stopped shedding and i have lots of signs of re-growth, i still have a way to go before i can say that my hair has returned to how it was before. I dont know if this is it and it will never return to normal or if its just a case of time, but for now i have to accept that my hair is different. My hair is naturally curly but when my hair loss was at its worst it wouldn’t curl and just looked like a messy scraggly mess, so i took the decision to stop curling it. These days I can curl it, but i only get one days worth out of being able to wear it down (as opposed to two or three), i have to tie it back for the rest of the time; i use hair fibers to fill in the fairer spots and i use a Pony-O to give my pony some volume. So be prepared to have to make some changes and accept where you are at. Things will get better, but you have to do something for things to change.

Summary

Now that you have a better understanding of hair loss, you can take steps towards finding out what is going wrong for you and how you can take steps to change or stop it. I also hope that the information and tips that i written have given you some ideas on how to help deal with and to camouflage problem areas.

To summarise I would say that there are three things you need to do;

  1. Speak with your GP and give them as much information as possible to help get to the bottom of your issue.
  2. Once you know what the problem is, you can take steps to rectifying the issue if its possible. This could be anything from working out a way of dealing with stress, taking supplements or medication.
  3. Invest in things you might need to help you to be able to deal with / camouflage problem areas. This includes hair bands, dry shampoo, hair fibers, clip ins or wigs.

Comments

Please comment below if you have suffered with hair loss or thinning, noting anything that you have tired and found particularly helpful – by sharing your story, you could help other people with their hair loss recovery, or give them food for thought when choosing certain options.

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