Our twenties are a time to enjoy the fleeting pleasure of youth. You’re still young, but now old enough to appreciate it. But for those dealing with the social stigma of early hair loss, the ability to savor the joys of youth of may have diminished too soon.
For men, loss of hair can lead to feelings of reduced virility and stress. After all, it’s difficult to accept a radical-and sometimes inevitable-change in appearance. For women, the situation can be doubly difficult, as early hair loss is tied to notions of female beauty and femininity.
According to the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS), women who lose their hair early can suffer “catastrophic” consequences. Society places expectations on women with regard to appearance, and losing one’s hair can lead to depression and negative body image. The NHS estimates about eight million women in the U.K. suffer from hair loss.
For men, the cause of early hair loss is typically easy to pinpoint — male pattern baldness. Four in seven men inherit the gene that causes baldness. While it’s often assumed that baldness is inherited from the maternal grandparent, it’s not a direct cause. While there is evidence linking the two, there are other factors that influence male baldness, including a history of baldness of the father’s side. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates fifty-percent of men will have some degree of male pattern baldness by the age of 50, as the odds of losing hair increase greatly as we age. Along with genetic predisposition, there are a number of environmental and nutritional factors that can affect hair growth in men, including things such as vitamin deficiency or changes in diet.
Women also suffer from genetic baldness, though the prevalence is significantly lower than in men. A number of other factors can lead to temporary or permanent loss of hair. These factors include: pregnancy, hormone changes, side effects from medication or certain hair care methods or hairstyles that place undue stress on the hair.
While there is no cure for genetic baldness, there are a variety of treatments available. A dermatologist may perform a scalp biopsy to pinpoint the particular cause. Once you know how to proceed, there are multiple options to consider. Some women and men respond to minoxidil, which is the active ingredient in Rogaine. Men can also choose to use a prescription medicine called finasteride, which slows the production of DHT, the hormone that leads to baldness. Laser devices used to stimulate the scalp are also available. Because these treatments are not effective for everyone, hair transplants and modern, more realistic wigs are also popular options.
Dealing with the emotional cost
Whether or not you decide to pursue medical or cosmetic options for early hair loss, it’s equally important to address the underlying emotional issues that go hand-in-hand with such a potentially life-changing event. There are a number of support groups for men and women with hair loss, and a wide range of online resources. Here are some notable sites and communities:
- The Women's Hair Loss Project features stories and tips from women experiencing early hair loss - and the site is a light, positive place.
- The National Alopecia Areata Foundation has support groups in every state.
- Spencer Kobren's The Bald Truth is a radio program that deals with the social stigma and emotional difficulties of dealing with hair loss - in both men and women.
Getting in touch with others who have gone through the process - whether through online forums or local support groups - can help you develop strategies to help cope.
Ultimately, it’s important that you make progress toward coming to terms with your appearance and situation. Your self-image and well-being may be improved by seeking professional hair loss treatments, but your self-worth will almost certainly be improved by accepting the fact that your identity is not tied to your hair.