I first noticed bald patches on my head when I looked at a video of a friends birthday party on Instagram. We were all wearing Barbra Streisand masks over our faces, but only one of us had bald patches.
We had gone to see the original A Star is Born in London then on to tapas . As the camera panned around the restaurant amid the bad singing and the toasts, I was horror struck to realise the bald patches belonged to me. It was in a state of disbelief that I went to visit my hairdresser of almost two decades – Mark Smith of Nicola Clarke at John Frieda.
He has seen me through various traumas and tantrums. When I said, “My hair is falling out, look at this bald patch,” he tried not to say anything. His face went frozen and said, “Let’s talk to Jessie (Renyard senior colourist who happened to be walking by).”
“ If a man says I am losing my hair you can gloss over it and say that is kind of what happens. When a woman says that, it’s very sensitive. I felt that even if I could see it, my instinct is to tell a little white lie. It was very difficult…”
Jessie actually took pictures of it so I could see it, the bald patch at the back and its general thinness. I was on high alert. I wanted advice. I didn’t take it from one person I took it from everybody.
Mark agrees, “You threw the book at it.”
I veered between being frozen in denial, wanting people to say, “No, I really can’t see it,” which some friends did. I loved them, then hated them for it, then I wanted to confront it by visiting every hair loss doctor ever known to human hair. I was living mostly in Los Angeles at the time. Fortunately I owned many hats, essential for the sun, now essential to disguise the hair. That year I bought hats obsessively, good ones, expensive ones – I was on a mission – My Hair or My House. I stopped paying the mortgage.
I remember going to one interview with Elisabeth Moss at the Four Seasons. We sat inside. I wanted to bond with her so badly but I knew that if I kept my hat on indoors she would think I was weird. If I wore a wig she would think I was having chemo, therefore attention seeking or I could just sit there with limp, thin hair and look at her glorious bright blonde shining hair.
This week I reminisced with Mark about the American doctor I saw who prescribed something that would make me incontinent, but I wouldn’t be bald. It was a tough call. He also advised Rogaine but warned me if I got it on my fingers I could get hairy hands. The first thing I started was Viviscal because one of Mark’s clients had found it helped. All this happened in the summer of 2019 and now because of Covid, the stress of pandemic and lockdown, hairdressers are experiencing wide spread hair loss.
Mark says, “We come into the salon to feel good about ourselves because of the transformative quality of hair, but if the hair isn’t there we can’t feel good. Covid hair loss; it’s a thing.”
The New York Times confirms Google searches went up 8% this last year and the topic was searched for on average 821,000 times per month in the US. A mixture of stress and post viral inflammation causes temporary hair loss.
I was beyond devastated. I have always felt that hair and sexuality are intrinsically linked. I wrote about hair, I wrote about what celebrities reveal in their various hair decisions. Hair is the psychology of the soul and mine was dropping out. Also, I love cats. Years before I had gone on a safari where the open topped Jeep had got stuck in sand and we had to pass a mother and four teenage lions and their kill. My friend said, “I can see the headline now, ‘She loved cats then one ate her!’” This was a less fun headline, ‘She loved hair then she went bald.’
It turns out my hair loss was largely due to hormones and stress, it was called non-scarring alopecia. Of course, at the time you don’t know if it’s temporary or not. In LA they are all over it. I went to a salon called Blow Me Away. They took pictures of your scalp on a computer so you could see hair growth or loss. Then you would receive a 45 minute head massage with various pro hair oils. Apparently in Japan head massage places are like nail bars – everywhere.
I saw a demonstration by Chris Appleton of how to get Arianna Grande’s fierce pony tail – he invented it – and said, “If you pull hair into a ponytail tightly you might see some scalp. You can colour with Color Wow’s Powder. I had used this for root touch up and now I was applying it to my head but not feeling very grande. Once back in the UK I went to see Dr. Sophie Shotter. Shotter is a doctor who specialises in transformative skin tweakments and hair. Her own hair is bouncy and glossy but she is big on empathy and has seen it all. Through her Kent clinic (www.illuminateskinnclinic.co.uk) she has had several hair loss virtual coffee mornings as she believes hair loss is the last taboo. Women’s baldness is talked about less than female incontinence.
Dr. Sophie says, “By the age of 60, 50% of women will have experienced some kind of hair loss.”
That is a pretty huge percentage for it to be a taboo. There are various different kinds of hair loss, it can sometimes be hard to determine which is which. Anything with the word alopecia in it is frightening. It started with a blood test and Dr. Sophie tweaked my thyroid medication.
“Hormonal shifts can mean a lot (these can occur in pregnancy, post pregnancy and with thyroid problems). There can also be vitamin deficiencies like vitamin D or B12 of other B Vitamins and iron and anaemia can be a cause. There can be certain medications that cause hair loss and more common in certain ethnic groups, styling. For instance, in Afro-Caribbean women might wear their hair in corn rows which can cause traction alopecia.”
Also, diet. John MacPherson is an iconic hair stylist who has a hair studio/salon in Ladbroke Grove. He recalls when a client went vegan and her hair fell out.
MacPherson comments, “A lot of clients are experiencing hair loss due to stress and Covid. They took B vitamins and zinc and biotin and silicone and conditioned their scalp to reverse it.”
Mark Smith also had clients who took B-12 injections.
Dr. Sophie says, “Historically, I think there has been fear about talking about female hair loss, about women’s hormonal problems, about women’s aging, until the last few years it really hasn’t been okay to talk about them. It’s confronting societies perception of attractiveness. Very few people talk about hair loss. When someone is a new mother, if they start complain about their hair the perception is that there is some degree of vanity versus they should just be delighted they’ve got a new baby. Things are improving and opening up. People are starting to talk about hair.”
Most people who have suffered hair loss went to see the UK’s premiere trichologist – Annabel Kingsley. She sees a lot of weeping women.
“I do, yes. How our hair looks, and how we feel about it, impacts the way we feel about ourselves. It affects our mood, confidence and self-esteem more so than any other part of us. Women I see often tell me they don’t feel like themselves anymore, or that they have lost a part of their identity when they are losing their hair. Hair loss can be psychologically debilitating. I have seen it affect work performance, social life and relationships”
Hair is in her DNA. Her father Philip was hair doctor to the stars. Philip Kingsley is now her clinic.
“There are many types of hair loss. The two most common types of hair loss that we treat are androgenic alopecia (aka hair thinning/female pattern hair loss) and Telogen Effluvium (excessive daily hair fall). We also help people to manage rarer hair loss conditions, like autoimmune and scarring alopecia.”
Her products really helped.
“There is no ‘one size fits all’ as everyone’s hair loss story is individual – and what works for you may not work for a friend. It’s why we take a holistic approach at our Clinic, looking into every possible factor that might be affecting someone’s hair i.e. health, diet, lifestyle, hormones and genetics.”
It all starts with a blood test
I had both androgenic alopecia and telogen effluvium. Androgenic alopecia is where hair follicles on your scalp are genetically predisposed to be sensitive to normal levels of androgens (male hormones). This causes follicles to gradually miniaturize and produce slightly finer hairs with each passing growth cycle. To treat this, I was prescribed Kingsley Clinic scalp drops containing minoxidil (a stimulant that helps to keep hairs in their anagen (growth) phase) and anti-androgens (help to protect hair follicles from the impact of male hormones).
“TE is a reactive hair loss, caused by an internal disruption. For you, this was due to your thyroid condition, not eating properly, and stress.
“You were given our Gelatine Protein Supplement, Tricho Complex multi vitamin & mineral supplement and asked to improve your diet! I also asked you get in touch with your doctor to adjust your thyroid medication dosage – your blood tests showed your thyroid was in a critical state.”
What hair I had was also broken off and brittle.
“Breakage is also something to be aware of. Often times, women who are losing their hair also have fragile hair – and it’s important to address this as breakage can further thin-out your mid-lengths and ends. I recommended you use our Elasticizer pre-shampoo conditioning treatment once to twice a week.
“Your scalp is your hair’s support system; it is the bedrock of your hair follicles. If your scalp isn’t in good condition it can impact the integrity of newly growing hairs. A flaky scalp can also cause hair loss. Also, any topicals you apply to your scalp to treat a hair loss condition penetrate a clean scalp most effectively.
“Remember that your scalp is simply skin and needs similar care to the skin on your face. i.e. frequent cleansing and toning. In terms of scalp conditioners – you shouldn’t apply conditioner to your scalp. They are formulated for your hair.”
Kingsley continues, “Covid-19 has 100% impacted people’s hair. 6-12 weeks after any sort of fever or illness hair usually sheds. It’s called ‘post-febrile alopecia’. While our hair is hugely important to us psychologically, it is a dispensable tissue as physically we can survive without. This means that when we are unwell our body diverts attention away from hair cell production and towards maintaining essential systems that keep us upright and breathing. Stress also commonly causes hair loss as it can impact our general health. For instance, it can disrupt our gut microbiome and our ability to absorb nutrients. Stress can also mess with our hormone levels and scalp health – both of which can result in hair shedding.
“We aren’t classed as medical, so we have had to shut during lockdown. However, we have been giving Virtual Consultations.”
I also discovered Centred – a range of hair wellness products and Pills created by Laura Tudor who suffered from stress related hair loss and is married to an award winning hairdresser. Hair loss knows irony!
Her research showed that 40% of women had visible hair loss by the time they reached 40. This is attributed to more stress and more people being vegan.
Mark Smith concludes, “I hit upon the ultimate taboo by mistake.”
He felt that he shouldn’t be seeing hair loss even though he is a hair stylist, in the same way he had been taught growing up not to look into a woman’s handbag and he didn’t know how to confront it either and then he realised, “You have got to arm yourself with knowledge so you can steer people in the right direction. I would say have a blood test. If you haven’t had any stress in your life and nothing has changed it’s always worth a blood test to see if there is something you are missing out on. It’s not always stress related. It can happen if you become depleted in certain vitamins and minerals. Also, there are things that you might be doing wrong when you are washing or styling your hair. Using a sharp or aggressive brush or combing or washing hair too much, using too much heat, obsessively washing hair and tonging it. The Viviscal really helps and I had a client with long, very fine hair, she took it and it made it amazingly thick.
“Many clients have been concerned about their hair and have wanted help. It does depend on how much hair you have to lose. If someone has got a real lot of hair it’s not going to make a difference, but if you’ve got fine hair like you, it can be devastating. We should be open, we are part of people’s mental health.”