Hair

My personal journey with hair loss

Background

Growing up, I’ve always had my hair referred to as: baby fine hair, thin hair, or grease ball (mostly my dad said that because how oily thin hair gets at a young age). But even though my hair was always super thin, I still had a lot of hair, so I didn’t care. And because my hair was so thin and greasy, it was actually pretty darn healthy – silky if I may. Even through my early years in high school, my sister and I would experiment with colors in my hair and despite all the processing during those years, it was still relatively healthy and full.

Post baby

I had two babies, one in 2003 and the other in 2005. It was after that time that I believe I started noticing some hair thinning but it still wasn’t enough of thinning to worry about. Regardless of that time being some of the most stressful times in my life, I really didn’t experience truly alarming hair loss until around 2012.

In 2012, I began to notice that the shedding of my hair was more apparent than what I considered normal shedding. It wasn’t just a small amount of hair that you find at the bottom of the drain in the shower, it was much more than that. I would clean out the drain weekly and each time it looked like I pulled out dead rats from it. Considering the amount of stress I was under at that time, I was concerned, but I wasn’t ready to address it. I had a lot of personal grief due to loss in the family, I also just moved out of state for the first time away from my parents and sister, and I lived with the fact that I separated my children from the family they’ve always known.

Around 2013 and 2014, the hair thinning became too much. I remember crying and wondering what was happening. I remember thinking that I was going to go bald if the hair loss continued. With no answers, I decided to make doctors appointments to really see what was going on.

Doctors & Tests

My first appointment was with my family physician. Still rather new in this state, I didn’t really have a history with my doctor so it was basically me finding any doctor that took my insurance and discussing my concerns. My doctor did a routine visual check of my scalp, looking for any possible scalp concerns and asked me about my history. She also set me up for some routine blood work and lab tests. As soon as I got the go ahead, I went to the lab to get tested. A few days later, all lab results came back normal, or within range, and not to mention, in good health. But how could it be? I felt like there was more hair in my hair brush and drain than on my head! I cried. My doctor suggested that I go to the dermatologist.

Again, because I was relatively new to the state, I didn’t know what doctor to see or where to go, so it was a matter of picking the first place that took my insurance and who could see me the quickest. The longer I waited, the more hair I’d lose, and the longer I was left without answers. I went to the dermatologist and they had two doctors (maybe one was an assistant). They sat me in a chair and started pulling at my hair. It was called the “pull test”. If three or more hairs came out in a single pull – that meant something. To no surprise, the results were 3 or more hairs came out during their pull test. I was given a couple options, blood work, or a biopsy of the scalp. With blood work just completed they reviewed the results again, confirming they were within range, but added a couple more tests that they suggested. I immediately declined the biopsy. I was told that they would cut a piece of scalp from the top of my head and there was a chance the hair may not grow back in that area. I was frustrated. I also later learned, that the results of their additional blood tests came back normal.

Defeated

I couldn’t help but to feel a sense of defeat. Was this something I was just going to have to live with? I started researching and learning that there were many others like me. I started following the advice of others who were going through the exact same issues as me. I started using Rogaine for Women. After a few weeks, I felt like there was hope. The product was working to keep my hair in. But as soon as I stopped, my hair again began to shed. I went through phases, or seasons if I may. A growth season then a shedding season. I would bounce back and forth about every six to eight months between growth and shed. But each return to growth was significantly less, so even the growth period was returning with thinner hair than previously. After stopping the Rogaine, I began using a shampoo called Nioxin. It was recommended by the doctor at one point. But again, I knew that this shampoo was not the answer, but it was going to help me until I could find answers. I always purchased Nioxin in the biggest bottle possible so that I wouldn’t run out, and so that I could get the best deal – since I knew I was going to be using it all the time. But, it was only time before I thought I could ‘wean’ off the Nioxin. I switched back to some of my old favorite shampoos but my hair started falling within a few days.

Learning to live with it

After feeling defeated, and realizing that this was just going to be a way of life until I found something permanent, I decided I would either learn to live with it, or figure out how to manage through shedding seasons. I began feeling content during growth periods. There would still be shedding but it wasn’t to the point of concern. I could still style my hair, and to me, it didn’t look too bad – I mean I know I saw worse times. But unfortunately, over these next few years, I continued to have the shedding season which lead me to panic.

Shedding season came and I decided to take the next steps and just buy a full wig. The first time I went, I was completely inexperienced, and I had no idea what I was getting into. I went to the local mall that had a wig shop and sat in their chair where I tried on a half dozen wigs. Each wig made me feel better, so I picked out one. I wore that wig right out of the store. Unfortunately, no one told me the feeling I’d get, would quickly change to disappointment, not feeling like myself, and the worst – feeling like I was living a lie. I got home that day and looked at myself wearing the wig and I took it off. I might have wore it once more, but then I retired it as quickly as I purchased it.

I felt like I was back to square one. I couldn’t fix it or fake it. This was my life. Fortunately another growth season was on it’s way. I continued to use my shampoo and this just became the way of life. I decided that I would do whatever I needed to in order to make me feel pretty again – despite of my hair loss. I started processing my hair, putting color in it – going red. I mean how bold could I be? Red actually looked really good against my skin color. Unfortunately, it’s also the most difficult color to maintain. I found myself processing as much as possible, and the other concern was that the Nioxin shampoo was working against me – killing the color within a week. At one point, I was trying to effectively find a product that would help maintain the red color between salon visits, but I had to take weekly photos just to see if it was worth my time and money to continue. This was a huge realization point.

For 4 weeks, I took weekly photos of my hair to see if the color looked vibrant. I sent these photos to my sister to ask her what she thought. Her comment to me was something like this: Oh my god, Jen – I can’t help but to see how thin your hair got after each week. I know she didn’t mean anything bad by it, she was just pointing out something that I was trying to deny. But she was right. This was the exact moment that I started thinking about a wig, again.

A new wig

This time I was going to be smarter. I was going to find something that didn’t scream FAKE. This time I was going to find something in the color that I was used to, the length I would wear, and the style that I could be comfortable in. I went to a bigger wig store and explained my concerns with the associate. I said that I didn’t want a style that would change my appearance completely. Something that was ME. And right then and there, I found the perfect wig. I wore that wig right out of the store. This time, I was good, and this time, I think my husband was more comfortable with it. Which reminds me – when he met me back in the store, he didn’t even realize I was wearing the wig. Maybe he didn’t see my natural hair as stringy as I did, but for a moment – I fooled him, solidifying the fact that this was the right wig for me.

I didn’t wear my wig daily, but for going out, I wore my wig. I actually got many compliments on my hair, and people had no idea that it was a wig. I was finally able to start gaining my confidence back. I wasn’t really sure if this was going to be my way of life forever or just during shedding seasons, but it was really the confidence I needed to get me through the hair loss that I had been battling.

New growth, new process

After months of wearing my wig, I finally felt like I was entering yet another growth period. I took the wig off and went back to the salon. This time, I was ready to try extensions for some fullness. I purchased a set of tape ins and had them installed. I believe I wore them (with reapplications) for well over 6 months. I was able to have thick hair without the wig and it was a nice transition period from wig to going back to my natural, thinner hair. I started with a full set, and then weaned myself down to just a few tape ins. I finally stopped wearing the tape ins altogether. In fear of going through another shedding period, I began to look online for answers.

Trichology

Facebook groups are a great way to find your tribe, or in my case, find out that I’m really not alone. Losing your hair to the point where I did is a very lonely place. I can’t even explain how much better I felt knowing that there were so many women in the same lonely place as I. Being part of this group was comforting, informative, and most of all – it was therapeutic. It was like group therapy. We are all supportive of each other and we have the ability to learn and help the others around us.

While in the group, I heard the word trichology. I had never heard of it before, but I learned that it had to do with the medical study of hair and scalp. Why was this the first time in so many years that I’ve actually heard this was a medical field? I started looking into it, and pulling my old medical records, and just wondering if there would finally be an answer. I was looking for a doctor who studied trichology near me and I came across one company. I spent a few days researching their products and the doctor’s background to make sure it was legit. I read reviews and I was overall pleased to see the success of others. I had a consultation with them, and they talked to me about my medical history, routines, and experiences with my hair loss journey. Some advice was given during that initial call but also re-testing of my blood work was needed. They explained to me that their theory would be to provide immediate relief to the hair loss while addressing the underlying cause of hair loss. It’s their theory that hair loss does not have to be something you live with. I felt like I was heard! I was finally ready to stop my hair loss forever.

I waited a few days to think about the next steps and to really step back and ask myself – was this going to be the answer or is this going to be another stage of my journey to only have to continue searching. At this point I was in a growth stage, and all I could think was, I don’t want to start shedding at all. If I can have someone give me answers and solutions to my underlying hair loss issues, then maybe there’s a fighting chance. I purchased the lab tests which included tests for: ferritin, iron, vitamin D, and blood type. Results came back quickly and I was able to talk to them about my results and to further hone in on the right treatment. One thing that really stood out to me was that the results from the lab were deemed in normal range (the same as when I took these tests years prior). But what was different was that from the trichology standpoint, they were on the low range which was a factor in hair loss. Fortunately, for me the treatment was a series of vitamins with the goal of increasing my numbers while still keeping them in the normal range. I have included information on these safe vitamins on my Helpful Products page.

So where am I today in this journey? I am about two months into my treatments and having amazing success. I feel more confident, and my hair is showing signs of thickness and new growth. I finally feel like the underlying issues that were causing my hair loss are being addressed correctly with natural vitamins and products that I can fit in my budget comfortably. I will have an update in a few months when I retest my vitamin levels and reassess my hair growth. For now, I am a happy camper and on the way to regaining all my confidence back in my hair.

You can see some hair loss in my part in this photo. It was always a game of hiding the bald spots especially knowing the cameras would be around.

This was wearing my favorite wig – the one my husband thought was my real hair.

This was the first photo I sent to my sister that was used as a color comparison. This was taken August 12, 2018.

This was the last photo I sent to my sister, taken September 2, 2018. This was the moment when she realized how much hair I lost in such a short time period.

Pre-Treatment – January 22, 2020 – Left side of head. You can see thinning above the ear and sides.

Partial way through treatment – March 5, 2020. You can see improvements in thinning.

Pre-Treatment – January 22, 2020 – Right side of head. You can see thinning on the sides and near the crown.

Partial way through treatment – March 5, 2020 – Right side of head. Improvements in thinning.