When I started dying my dark brown hair blonde a few years ago, I anticipated a few lifestyle changes — the random jerkos on the street who demand to know if I have "more fun," for instance, or the fact that washing my hair now requires one hour and multiple unguents. However, I did not anticipate having my hair fall out. Yet there I was, one year into my life as a bleach addict, staring down a shower drain full of hair that belonged on my head, wondering what was causing my hair loss.
Being a mature and rational adult, I immediately started crying while stroking my remaining hair as if it were an injured kitten. But if I had hopped on the Internet, I would have seen that I was far from alone — though as a culture we're loathe to discuss it, many women lose their hair at different times in their lives, for all sorts of reasons.
Most of us lose a fair amount of hair every day, no matter what else is going on in our lives — according to the Mayo Clinic's website, the average person loses between 50 and 100 hairs a day. But a wide variety of issues, from autoimmune diseases to poorly-considered styling decisions, can make our hair fall out at a more alarming rate. In fact, the American Hair Loss Association says that women make up 40 percent of those struggling with hair loss.
The good news is that most conditions that cause hair loss are temporary or can be improved with treatment; but the even better news is that we can make the experience of being a woman dealing with hair loss of any sort less stressful by talking about it — admitting that it happens to many of us, and there's nothing shameful about it. (And for any of you at home wondering, I switched to a gentler kind of bleach, and my hair once again lives happily atop my skull, instead of in a hairbrush soaked with my tears).
1. Birth Control Pills
For some women, birth control pills actually cause their hair to grow at a faster rate; but for others, hormonal birth control can lead to thinner hair. According to the American Hair Loss Association, "Women who are predisposed to hormonal related hair loss or who are hypersensitive to the hormonal changes taking place in their bodies can experience hair loss to varying degrees while on the pill or more commonly, several weeks or months after stopping the pill."
Is There Treatment Available?: Since birth control pill-related hair loss is related to the hormonal make-up of your specific pill, switching pills or using another form of birth control will typically end the hair loss. So if you think you might be experiencing pill-related hair loss, make an appointment with your gyno to chat about your options — you deserve to be able to keep your ute baby-free while still keeping your hair attached sturdily to your head.
Who knew that so many things related to your vagina also impacted your hair? But according to WhatToExpect.com, many women experience postpartum hair loss — a "sudden shedding (sometimes in clumps) that many new mothers experience between three and six months after they give birth." You know, just in case dealing with a newborn wasn't fun enough, right?
But look on the bright side: you're actually not really losing extra hair at all. Rather, certain pregnancy hormones keep expectant mothers from shedding those 50-100 hairs that the rest of us lose every day. Once your hormones drop back to their pre-pregnancy levels, those extra hairs begin to bite the dust — but you're just losing the extras, so there's nothing to be concerned about.
Is There Treatment Available?: The best treatment here is time — your hair density should return to roughly pre-pregnancy levels a few months after giving birth (it may take longer if you're breastfeeding).
3. Thyroid Conditions
Hypothyroidism — a health condition that occurs when your thyroid underproduces certain hormones — can eventually lead to hair loss if it goes untreated for long enough. But hair loss is really among the least of your worries if you have untreated hypothyroidism — without medication, the condition can lead to fatigue, high cholesterol, depression, joint pain, memory problems, and even a slowed heart rate.
Is There Treatment Available?: Luckily, hypothyroidism can be treated with medications, which should eliminate pretty much all of the scary side effects of the condition listed above.
4. Certain Kinds Of Hairstyling
You were just trying to fancy yourself and your hairs up, and somehow, in the process, you accidentally wrecked them. Cruel, right?
There are a few different ways that hairstyling can lead to hair loss; one of the most common is traction alopecia, which is hair loss created by overly tight braids, extensions, weaves, or other styles that put stress on your hair (think: ponytails so tight that they give you a headache). Over-enthusiastic use of some intense conditioning procedures, like hot oil treatments, can also inflame your hair follicles and cause hair to fall out or have trouble growing.
And my own bleach blonde-related hair loss experience? That's called chemical breakage or a chemical haircut, and isn't hair loss in the strictest sense, since it's about the hair strands breaking, rather than falling out from the follicle. But your hair ends up looking and feeling thinner all the same.
Is There Treatment Available?: There's only one solution for all of these problems, alas: changing your hairstyling habits. If you think you're suffering from styling or product-related hair loss, talk to your stylist — not only will they be able to calm you down and let you know you haven't done permanent damage in your quest for cute hair, they can help you come up with new styling routines that won't damage your hair as badly.
5. Extreme Stress
I know, I know, hearing that stress can make you lose your hair is just stressing you out more. But the kind of stress that leads to hair loss isn't the constant low-grade stress of, say, wondering if trying to make a living in the arts is a sham and you'll eventually have to move back into your dad's spare guest bedroom (EXAMPLE NOT DRAWN FROM REAL LIFE).
Rather, sudden physical stress (like the experience of going through surgery or giving birth) or intense emotional stress (like the kind caused by bad breakups, major financial problems, or the death of a loved one) can cause a kind of hair loss called telogen effluvium, which can occur up to six months after the stressful event in question. So don't fear — you won't do your tresses any damage by continuing to wake up at 3 a.m., breathless with terror about your student loans.
Is There Treatment Available?: Only time heals telogen effluvium, but it is an effective treatment — according to Jerry Shapiro, M.D., an adjunct professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, talking to the Huffington Post, most people find that their normal hair growth patterns return as they become less stressed.
6. Vitamin Deficiencies
Though vitamin deficiencies alone probably won't lead to hair loss (or we all would have lost our hair during that one semester in college when we lived on instant mashed potatoes and sadness), not getting enough iron, vitamin B, vitamin D, or zinc could exacerbate other conditions that might make your body lean towards hair loss. And no, fruit-flavored booze does not count as a vitamin.
Is There Treatment Available?: Eating a more nutrient-rich diet and taking vitamin supplements can help, but if you think you're losing hair for vitamin or other health-related reasons, make sure to talk to your doctor so they can make sure there's nothing more serious afoot.
7. Certain Medications
Sometimes, stuff that makes our lives better in the long run can complicate things in the short term — like the number of medications used to treat depression, arthritis, cancer, heart problems, and other health issues that can sometimes have hair loss as a side effect.
Is There Treatment Available?: If you think you're losing your hair due to medications, talk to your doctor — they may be able to tweak your prescription or prescribe a different med that won't have the same side effects.
A lot of the time, hair loss is nothing serious, just another side effect of trying to navigate life within this wacky thing called the human body. However, on occasion, hair loss can be a sign of a more serious problem. Some autoimmune conditions, like lupus, can lead to hair loss — it is often an early symptom of the disease. Some medications used to treat lupus can also lead to hair loss.
Is There Treatment Available?: According to the Lupus Foundation of America, medication-related hair loss will usually be treatable once your lupus is under control, while hair loss caused by lesions or scarring may be permanent.
Women, just like men, can inherit pattern baldness — in women, it's called andogenetic alopecia, and tends to lead to thin hair all over the head, rather than male pattern baldness, which often focuses on the hairline. Though female pattern baldness is more common among women over 60, it's ultimately about genetics.
Is There Treatment Available?: Women dealing with pattern baldness have similar treatment options to their male peers — they can take medications designed to keep any more hair from being lost, or undergo hair transplants.
The most important thing to remember when you're dealing with any kind of hair loss? You're far from alone. Discussing female hair loss may be discouraged in our culture, but that doesn't mean it's rare. So the next time you're hanging out with your female friends, consider breaking one of our most long-lasting cultural taboos and say, "So, have any of you lost any hair lately?"
Images: Aleksandr Zubkov/Moment/Getty Images; Giphy