My hair woes began when two significant life events coincided – entering my 30s and after having my first child about 8 years back. I remember being in utter despair as I peered at my receding hairline and widening expanses of scalp every time I looked in the mirror.
Suffering from hair loss and hair thinning can be extremely distressing. It often feels like nothing you do can reverse the situation, and you start to dread every hair wash because of the amount of hair that ends up clogging the drain.
First, it’s important to know that hair thinning and hair loss are not exactly the same thing. “Hair thinning is often one of the early symptoms of hair loss,” says Dr Evelyn Tay of Shine Dermatology.
“Thinning hair refers to either the reduction in the density of hairs on the scalp, and/or an actual reduction in the calibre of the hair shaft leading to thinner and finer hairs. This results in the hair looking less full and voluminous. Hair loss, on the other end, refers to a decrease in the number of hairs on the scalp. This can lead to bald patches, a widening of the hair parting or a receding hairline,” says Dr Tay.
Hair loss can be acute. This is when you find significant amounts of shedded hair when you comb or brush your hair, and on your pillow after sleep or in the drain after a shower, says Menuka Ghosh Rai, senior manager of education for hair loss and hair care brand, Nioxin. In chronic cases, the hair shedding is usually not as dramatic but you might notice a reduction in the thickness of your ponytail (for those with long hair), a receding hairline or an increase in the width of your hair parting.
If hair loss is localised in conditions like alopecia areata where small bald patches appear on the scalp, the bald spots are often detected by one’s hair stylist.
Several medical conditions and disorders can be the culprit behind hair loss and hair thinning. These include alopecia areata, some autoimmune diseases, thyroid disorders, and more. Female hair loss can also be a result of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), post pregnancy and menopause. On top of that, external factors such as the use of unsuitable hair products, frequent chemical hair treatments, and internal factors like hormones and stress can contribute to hair loss as well.
With so many possible causes of hair loss, getting an accurate diagnosis is a no brainer. This is why making an appointment to consult a dermatologist is probably your best option. These specialists in skin, hair and mails have the medical training and can conduct a clinical examination, as well as any necessary tests to get to the root of your hair problems.
“A few bedside tests can be done to diagnose hair loss,” shares Shine Dermatology’s Dr Tay. “Hair loss can be quantified by doing a hair pull test to see how many hairs shed with gentle grasping of the hair. The density of the hair, diameter of the hair shaft as well as the number of hairs in one follicular unit can be assessed accurately using a dermatoscope.”
Dr Tay adds that if the immediate cause of hair loss is not apparent, blood tests to screen for underlying endocrinological, nutritional or autoimmune conditions might be performed. A skin biopsy can also be done to look at the hair condition under the microscope and these often help to determine the diagnosis.
There are many solutions available to help boost your hair health. As a start, it helps to make simple adjustments to your everyday routine. For example, lifestyle changes, such as improving your diet and reducing stress levels, can play a big part in preventing hair loss and hair thinning. A balanced diet with adequate protein, iron, vitamin B, vitamin D and zinc will ensure that your body has the essential nutrients for optimal hair growth. If, for whatever reason, you are unable to attain this balanced diet, you might find a supplement useful to serve up the necessary vitamins and minerals for healthy hair growth.
You can also avoid tying your hair tightly in a ponytail or braids and change your parting occasionally to avoid excessive traction on your hair.
Like your skincare, your home hair care should cleanse effectively yet gently, and have lightweight hydration and nutrients to care for and replenish your scalp and hair. Add a nourishing serum for more intensive treatment if your hair is more damaged.
Chemical hair treatments like colouring, perming and straightening should be done in moderation to minimise damage to the hair shaft and resulting in brittle hair. However, if you must, the harmful effects of these procedures can be minimised by using reputable products that are formulated and proven to protect the hair. “It is very important to choose a professional and experienced stylist who uses good hair products to do your chemical hair treatments,” says Candice Lee, Shiseido Professional’s educator.
If your tresses are badly fried by frequent chemical treatments and heat styling, or if you have chronic hair loss and thinning, try in-salon treatments that are designed to gently cleanse, nourish and replenish your hair and scalp. Similar to going for a facial, when you get an in-salon hair treatment, a professional therapist performs specially designed steps and uses salon grade machines and products that you cannot get at home. This is why professional treatments often give more effective and long lasting results.
In a dermatologist’s clinic, topical and oral medications such as minoxidil may be prescribed, as well as a combination of low level laser therapy and microinjections of growth factors to stimulate hair growth.
Of course, it goes without saying that the efficacy of these measures and treatments is subject to one’s lifestyle and stress triggers.
What worked for me (and stopped my panic-inducing hair fall)? Managing my work stress by changing to a less pressurising job, having ‘me’ time daily to do things I enjoy like reading, exercising at least twice a week, and washing my hair thoroughly with quality products. I’ve also learned that gently scrubbing and massaging your scalp with your fingertips (not your nails!) while shampooing helps improve scalp circulation and clear the scalp of debris that can further clog hair follicles and worsen the problem.
Part of my ‘me’ time included going for in-salon scalp balancing treatments every couple of months, pampering my hair and scalp the same way a facial gives my skin a feel-good, look-good treat. It took me over two years of trying different solutions and consulting various hair and scalp experts until I eventually quelled my hair loss problems. Even after having my second child four years after the first, I used the hair and scalp care methods I had learnt, which helped my second post-partum hair loss so it didn’t degenerate into a code red situation, and my hair fullness was restored quicker.