I’ve had a rocky relationship with my hair since late childhood when my hair turned from straight and blonde to curly and brown. I didn’t know how to care for it. I got teased for rocking a “tomboy” look because I would slick it back in a bun everyday because I didn’t know what else to do with it.
Fast forward to high school when I learned how to tame my fine but plentiful curls, but resented them. I would straighten them, colour them, bleach them, anything to try to change them from what they were to something else.
When I finished high school, my hair started to slowly thin. I didn’t suspect it at the time, but I now wonder if there is a connection between taking birth control and my thinning hair. By halfway through my 18th year, the thinning was noticeable enough that I went to my doctor. He minimized my concerns but ran a blood panel. When I went for my results, I distinctly remember him telling me that my iron was low which was likely the cause but sent me to a dermatologist. I waited months to see the dermatologist who took one look at my labs, blurted out the words “Androgenetic Alopecia”, words that I had never heard before, and told me to take iron and start minoxidil and my hair would magically grow back. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. I followed up with my GP about the treatment plan and diagnosis and he simply told me, “at least you will never be completely bald” as if that was of any comfort to, at the time, 19 year old me. I did this treatment (iron tablets and minoxidil drops) for a little while, but I reacted adversely to the minoxidil and decided to stop. The medicated treatment made my scalp itch unbearably, most likely an allergic reaction, according to the dermatologist. I switched to the minoxidil foam and used Nizoral shampoo at his recommendation and continued for another year with my hair continuing to rapidly deteriorate. I decided not to pursue any additional pharmaceutical treatments due to the need for lifelong commitment. I also knew that any gains made would be at risk if I stopped treatment, and knowing that I wanted to have children in the future meant that I would need to stop the use of minoxidil during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
In the meantime, I tried other crazy remedies that Dr. Google suggested: onion juice; Nioxin shampoo; Hair Skin and Nails vitamins; scalp massages; low ‘poo/no ‘poo methods; micro-needling. I considered accupuncture and scalp micropigmentation but did not pursue these options.
I spoke to family and friends about hair loss and they simply minimized it. They told me it looked thin because I was keeping it cropped short, but in reality, I was keeping it short to make it look thicker. I remember experiencing unwelcome comments about my thin hair throughout my 20s. A family member poking fun at me on my 20th birthday about it was truly devastating. Then, away for a wedding, I noticed just how “see through” my hair had become in the harsh bathroom lighting at our hotel. That’s when I began obsessing over my loss. I was frantically looking to Google for answers. My part was widening, my hairline was thinning, and my hair was overall much less dense than it was in my teens. I started disguising my thinning using dry shampoo, creative styling (aka back combing the heck out of it!), using a deep side part, wearing wide headbands, hats. There came a time when I couldn’t look people in the eye because I didn’t want to catch them staring at my sparse hairline and crown. I even obsessed about it on my wedding day!
I became cautiously optimistic when I was pregnant with my first child as my hair looked a bit better throughout. If you don’t know, the hair cycle changes during pregnancy due to hormonal changes there is less shedding that occurs until about 3 months postpartum. I went for a trim right around the time of my first postpartum shed. The stylist commented “wow, if this is what happens to your hair after having babies, I’m never having any.” This impacted me for a very long time, and I struggled to regain any confidence after this. I forced myself to muster up the courage to go to a new stylist and was up front with her about my thinning and told her about the horrible experience I had had prior to that. I started seeing her every 6 weeks for a trim to maintain my chin length angled bob. This made the thinning less bothersome for me for a while but required a lot of maintenance.
Since my hair wasn’t taken from me all at once, I grieved, albeit slowly, for a long time. Marriage, motherhood and a professional career slowly chipped away at my insecurity and grief about my hair loss. I started to see that there were more important things in life, and that the people in my life didn’t care if I had any hair at all. You will hear more about this shift in my thinking in later posts. My hair loss still bothered me, but I knew I had to carry on. I experimented with fibres, and then a combination of fibres and scalp makeup and kept my hair cropped short for quite some time.
My hair was in rough shape after the birth of my second child. I decided to experiment with alternative hair after much research. I took to YouTube to learn all about different options (I can’t wait to share all the YouTubers and Instagrammers that first inspired me with you all!). My hair was too thin for extensions at this point, so fortunately, I stumbled upon toppers. With my husband’s support, I bought my first relatively inexpensive topper to experiment with. When I took it out of the box, I was devastated because the colour didn’t match . I was too embarrassed to take it to my stylist to have her colour match and cut it so I took to Youtube once again to learn to do it myself which turned out okay. I learned a lot from this piece about my likes and dislikes. I knew I needed a bigger base and a different type of cap. So I kept doing research before ordering my next piece.
I finally opened up to my stylist about wearing hair when I bought my second piece. She colour matched it beautifully for me. The confidence this gave me was overwhelming! I was suddenly welcoming of having my photo taken, of going to gatherings, of letting my hair down at the beach. It was truly freeing. I finally felt like me again!
When I returned to work after maternity leave, I was too embarrassed to wear my piece. This seems to be an all too common fear amongst women taking the leap into the world of alternative hair. It wasn’t until I took a new job in a different department that I decided to go for it. Sure, it has raised a couple of eyebrows here and there, but it was better than the alternative, and made me feel more confident.
Now, I’m off work after having my 3rd baby, so most days, you will find me, with or without my helper hair, on the trails with my hubby, 3 kids and a dog in tow. I am blessed!
I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of the wonderful online hair loss community. There is something profound about the shared experience of hair loss that builds one’s confidence in and of itself. This has led me down this path of sharing my journey more openly. I am proud of how far I have come with acceptance. If only I had found the type of support this hair loss community offers sooner in my journey! I would have spent so much less time obsessing about my loss and instead, looking at solutions. A year ago, I would have never considered showing ANYONE (except my husband…maybe my doctor) my scalp, let alone having photos and videos posted on Instagram. My hope is to inspire even one person, wherever they may be on their hair loss journey. I have gained so much from connecting with all kinds of amazing Alopecians near and far and for this I am truly grateful.
There is no cure for androgenetic alopecia. There are treatments but I’m focusing my efforts on other things. Professionally, I specialize in helping people cope with mental health disorders. I want to use my professional knowledge and personal experience as my contribution to the hair loss community.