Alopecia - It’s more than “just hair”
We are often told our femininity lies in our hair. It’s a reflection of who we are, and we believe our attractiveness is linked to it. When we lose it, as women, we have to reconstruct our view of ourselves. If you take a look around, it’s always women with long, flowing hair. While it’s so common to see a bald man or one with a shaved head, there’s a lot of social stigma when it comes to female hair loss.
By the time they turn 40 years old, a staggering 40 percent of women experience hair loss according to the American Academy of Dermatology. This might come as a shock considering how little hair loss is talked about in women compared with men. Between periods and menopause, female health issues such as endometriosis and so many other subjects, there's an endless list of conversation topics that are deemed just too crude for women to talk about openly.
Alopecia is a term many are familiar with but is actually often misunderstood. According to the NHS, Alopecia is the general medical term for hair loss.
According to Alopecia.co.uk there are 9 different types of alopecia. Hair loss can be temporary or permanent, and the result of heredity, hormonal changes, medical conditions or a normal part of aging. The three main categories include alopecia areata, patchy hair loss on the scalp and/or on other places on the body, like eyebrows and eyelashes. In alopecia totalis all the hair on the scalp is lost, while in alopecia universalis, the rarest type of this disease, hair loss occurs over the entire body. What starts as a bald patch on your scalp can turn into a full hair loss, and very quickly.
28-year old fashion designer and influencer Zara Jackson recently opened up about her own experience: “My hair has fallen in the space of just 5 weeks and it was time to deal with it all leaving me for a while. Still an unknown cause but with the radical fall it’s looking like a viral hit to my immune system causing it to attack itself.”
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition which can affect anyone, regardless of their age or sex. The body's immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles, and research suggests that both genetics and environmental factors may play a significant role. The risk of developing it is greater in those with a personal or family history of alopecia or other autoimmune conditions, while many list stress and trauma as the key trigger that prompts hair loss to start.
Though it’s less stigmatized for a man to experience balding, women of all ages battle hair loss in silence.
Hair loss can be particularly fraught for black women. When it comes to black women, certain types of alopecia are more common. One is traction alopecia, which occurs from stress on hair follicles from the use of things like braids, weaves and other extensions.
If you’re wearing wigs or hair extensions or considering trying them out, make sure to learn as much as possible about how to wear and style them properly, as well as how to take care of both your natural hair and fake hair to minimize the risk of potential damage.
Another common form of hair loss is called CCCA [Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia]. It’s a form of scarring alopecia, which starts in the center of the scalp then gradually spreads out from that point.
About half of women over the age of 50 start to have some thinning of the hair to the point where the scalp begins to show through. This is better known as androgenetic alopecia or female pattern baldness.
While treatment and recovery often depends on the severity of the condition, currently there’s no treatment for alopecia areata that’s sustainable or consistently works for everyone. Although some people with even severe symptoms may see hair regrow eventually, not knowing if or when that might happen can be very distressing.
Life can be challenging in general, but especially when you’re dealing with a condition that’s so evident to everyone around you. While more and more women are speaking up openly and publicly about their personal struggles with hair loss, the vast majority of the ones suffering from alopecia still try their best to hide the condition, not just from the general public but their family and friends, too.
Suffering from hair loss is nothing to be ashamed of. Despite more women owning the bald look, due to either their personal choices or societal pressure the majority chooses to experiment with “fake hair”. The fitness influencer and businesswoman Kayla Itsines openly talked about wearing clip in ponytails to cover up her genetically induced hair thinning, creating a safe environment for women to speak up about their own struggles with not just hair loss but also trying to find the right wigs and hair extensions.
Societal standards of beauty are incredibly off base in many ways, and the significance of hair is one of them. Despite the common misconception, hair loss is more often than not not life-threatening or cancer-related. If you’re experiencing hair loss, consult with your GP to reveal what might be causing it.
If you are struggling with this diagnosis, please know you are not the only one, and finding a support group and learning more about the condition might help tremendously. Whether temporary or permanent, in spots, or total, know that hair loss is just that - hair loss, and despite what the social media or the society says - never forget that your hair, or lack of it, doesn’t determine your worth.