I ran into an old friend who has suffered for years with hair loss (alopecia). I have had numerous clients and friends with permanent hair loss, along with many who temporarily lost their hair during chemotherapy. One client lost all of her hair when she took on an extensive and stressful remodel of her home. Often, women with hair loss issues come to L.A. to work with some of the hair pros here. After all, if you can’t get good-looking hair in Hollywood, where can you go!

You may be surprised to learn how many women have either very thin hair (lots of scalp showing through) or are actually bald. Of Americans who suffer hair loss, up to forty percent are women. Research indicates that approximately 25-30 million women are affected by hair loss in the U.S. alone. And men thought they had it bad! At least male baldness is an acceptable and often sexy look.

What are the causes of female hair thinning and hair loss? Autoimmune conditions, such as lupus, in combination with stress, is the most common cause. Stress, low carb diets, drug side effects, certain hormonal conditions, mercury toxicity, or an imbalance of certain nutrients (Vitamin A, zinc, manganese, B6, essential fatty acids, iron) are all possible causes. Even birth control pills can trigger hair loss. Anything that negatively affects our mind, emotions, or body can affect our hair.

Hair loss can happen as early as during the teenaged years, when we come under intense peer pressure. Does a young girl have to lie constantly to her friends or to potential boyfriends to maintain any sort of self image? What about a woman whose hair loss started during her marriage, and now she’s getting divorced and is back out there in the world of dating and mating? Our image of a woman slowly stripping to climb into bed with her partner doesn’t usually include a vision of her taking off her hair.

Most women keep their thinning hair a secret, and often ache in silence. It’s more in the closet than homosexuality these days. Women rarely discuss it with others. Even though their doctors may be saying it’s no big deal since hair loss is not life-threatening and there isn’t much to do about it in terms of treatment, it certainly is a big deal. The psychological pressure can be unbearable. As if trying to stay in shape, wear the right clothes, earn money, have a perfect relationship, and raise decent kids wasn’t enough!

Amy Gibson was starring on a daytime soap when she started losing her hair at age 13 from alopecia areata, an auto-immune condition that eventually left her permanently bald. As a soap star for decades, she kept her condition a secret. Eventually she decided to break the silence and help other women go “from feeling like a victim to being victorious” (amyspresence.com). A brave and compassionate lady, she sports different wigs in a variety of colors and styles—and looks gorgeous in all of them!

One of the older women I met, who permanently lost her hair after being given ether during the delivery of her two children, has been wearing wigs for over 50 years. I’m sure she has no idea what’s available these days. From gorgeous full wigs made of high-grade Russian human hair to cheaper wigs made of coarser Indonesian or Chinese hair or a variety of synthetics, the options—and price ranges—are mind boggling. It takes a full-fledged commitment to figure out what will work best in each particular case. Would hair extensions work? A piece to add fullness to the top of the head? A full wig? What’s comfortable? Can you swim in it? Does it take a lot of time to get ready to go out in public?

None of this is trivial. You know the saying, a woman’s crowning glory is her hair. Without it, she seems ill or disfigured in the eyes of the world, and therefore in her own eyes. Hair is such a powerful symbol of sexuality, and it will take some time for us to be as neutral about bald women as we are about men.

My heart goes out to all the women who expend enormous amounts of time, energy, and money managing their hair loss problem, and who suffer the psychological grief of losing their crowning glory. And bravo to those who, like Amy, are comfortable enough to break the code of silence surrounding this devastating blow to a woman’s self-image and self-esteem.

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