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Health 'I'm 27 Years Old—And I've Lost Half My Hair'

20:41  11 january  2018
20:41  11 january  2018 Source:   womenshealthmag.com

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This summer, I celebrated my 27th birthday, and I made the same wish I’ve made for the past 12 years: Dear God, please give me a full head of hair.

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By full, I don’t mean Blake Lively volume. I mean, quite literally, full…as in, nothing missing.

I have androgenetic alopecia—a term for testosterone-induced hair loss, which is quite common for men, who naturally have more testosterone floating around in their bodies. Among women, it’s slightly less common—affecting around 30 million U.S. women (versus 50 million men), according to the National Institutes of Health—and perhaps even lesser known.

That’s because women don’t talk about it. We are supposed to have healthy, luscious hair—an evolutionary sign of ideal baby-making potential, and of course, a societal symbol of feminine beauty. It’s embarrassing, shameful even, to admit when we are cheated out of something that we’re expected, no—pressured—to have.

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But if that 30 million number tells us anything, it’s that hair loss is actually pretty normal for women; at some point in their lifetimes, 40 percent of women will notice their locks thinning, per the American Academy of Dermatology. In fact, there are several types of hair loss—postpartum, postmenopausal, androgenetic, just to name a few. That last one, which is passed down from someone in your family, is the worst. Unlike the others, it’s permanent. It can’t ever be reversed—and takes serious intervention to even attempt to slow. Like I said, that’s the one I have—that and the hormonal kind, courtesy of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS, a hormonal imbalance resulting in excess testosterone).

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It took some time to figure this out. My own thinning started with a dime-sized area in the middle of my scalp when I was 15. I’ll never forget when I noticed it. “Hey, you have a bald spot,” my friend Jared said nonchalantly one day over chicken nuggets at lunch. “Um, hello, it’s called a part?” I retorted, dumbfounded by his ignorance. But when I ran into the bathroom and stared in the mirror, I saw what he saw. I cried, not because I knew then that the spot would grow wider and wider, but because I knew that if a guy had noticed it, then it had to be bad.

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I immediately begged my mom to take me to a dermatologist. You see, I had always maintained a love-hate relationship with my hair, despising its frizzy waves and hairline cowlicks but appreciating its undeniable thickness. It could be twisted, braided, pinned into anything; it could hold a curl or be blow-dried into a sleek style. If I let it air-dry, it looked like “Carrie Bradshaw-meets-Splash,” according to one random saleswoman at PacSun. I even won a freshman-year superlative for Best Hair. (The irony isn’t lost on me.)

I thought the doctor, and the one after that, would fix everything in no time. But they both said the same thing: stress was the likely culprit. Sure, I had family drama going on at home, but enough to cause legit hair loss? That seemed doubtful.

Without real answers, I became so obsessed with the size of the spot—counting and bagging fallen hairs in the shower, figuring out new hair styles to hide the thinness (headbands worked well), inspecting new areas of my widening part—that I fell into an anxious spiral. I went from being a fairly self-assured girl to a self-conscious wreck, constantly comparing my hair to everyone’s around me.

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Over the course of two years, the hair loss, along with my anxiety, only worsened. When a third doctor I visited told me he suspected androgenetic alopecia and recommended minoxidil (a.k.a. Rogaine, and the only FDA-approved OTC hair-loss treatment for women), I told him he must be confused. There’s no single magical blood test that says: “Yo, you’ve got this type, good luck with that.” It’s more of an educated guess based on medical history, lifestyle, a series of blood work, and biopsies (that merely rule out things like an autoimmune disorder), and those guesses can be wrong. I wanted it to be wrong. At 17, the thought of applying foam to my head every day for the rest of my life seemed so completely impractical and revolting that I walked out of his office without so much as a thank you.

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Around this time, the therapist I was seeing for my “high stress level” diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder—which, to this day, I believe was triggered by the hair loss. I went on Lexapro in an attempt to end the cycle. I kept hearing what the first dermatologist had told me two years prior: “The more you worry about your hair, the more hair you’ll lose.” Yet the hair loss didn’t stop, and neither did my newfound insecurity. I eventually went off the meds and tried to accept that this was my fate.

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I was able to keep my issue a secret for some time. By college, I’d figured out how to blow-dry my hair with two types of volumizers to pump up my strands and push my part farther and farther to the side to cover up my thinning crown. I avoided swimming at all costs (tough to do as a student at the University of Florida), and when I started dating my then-boyfriend, I never let him see me with wet hair. Wet hair sticks to your scalp and shows sparse areas. I thought he was the hottest thing in the world; I didn’t want him to see me like that—to see me ugly.

My hair loss changed me. I said no—and still do—to many weekend trips away with friends out of fear of not having access to a bathroom where I can wash, blow-dry, and conceal my thin spots (with Toppik powder—tiny keratin fibers that stick to the strands I have) in private. I sometimes stay in on rainy or humid nights, when my hair frizzes like crazy, because I don’t want to let it look thin and bad. I avoid boats and convertibles because wind messes up my hair, which needs to fall and stay in one intentional place. I constantly wonder if I’ll ever be comfortable enough to jump into a pool or shower with a future boyfriend—it took me four years to do either with my ex. Of all the thoughts that go through my head on any given day, about 70 percent of them have to do with my hair.

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Which is why I feel particularly scared but empowered putting all this out there, to unburden myself from being not just another victim of this unfair stigma, but also a perpetuator of it.

It’s also why I’m finally taking action to save whatever hair I have left. I just started working with several leading dermatologists in the field, Neil Sadick, M.D., and Dhaval Bhanusali, M.D., to explore more long-term options that might help, like plasma injections (called PRP therapy) and anti-androgen pills (specifically spironolactone).

Hopefully six months from now, when my 28th birthday rolls around, there will be new growth sprouting on my head (it generally takes about that long to see noticeable change). But even if there’s not, I’ll wish for something entirely different when I blow out those candles: the courage to not let something so superficial rule my life. And for the other 30 million women out there, to not let it rule theirs either.

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