The hair. It’s personal. It’s public. It’s an identifier (blondes having more fun?) and a trademark (think Rapunzel or Medusa). More importantly, in our culture of beauty, hair is currency either for self-esteem or meeting society’s high standards. Together with height and weight, hair is used to describe a person. It is one of the features most often remembered after social encounters.
Throughout history and across cultures and religions, hair represents personality and belief. A woman’s hair symbolizes femininity and sexuality. According to 1 Corinthians 11:15: “But for a woman, if her hair is abundant, it is a glory to her.” In men, thinning or losing hair shouts of aging and diminished virility. Monks shave their heads to show lack of vanity.
In her lifetime, an average woman of today allots two hours weekly washing and styling her hair will spend about US$50,000 on it. Yale University researchers reported ‘bad hair days’ made women ashamed and embarrassed, and men nervous and anxious, both genders making negative comments and criticizing themselves. The International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) survey in 2010, revealed half of men and women participants would trade their life savings for a new full head of hair because this means career advancement and more earnings. Sixty percent chose a new head of hair over more money or friends, and one-third would abstain from sex forever in exchange for healthy tresses.
Hair today, gone tomorrow
A person has 100,000 to 150,000 hair follicles (where hair grows out of) scattered in the scalp, in different stages of development – resting, growing, and shedding. Human hair grows roughly six inches yearly. It’s normal to lose 50 to 100 strands of hair a day. But at some point in people’s lives, hair loss is unfortunately inevitable.
The most common cause is hereditary hair loss or androgenetic alopecia (AGA). Affecting both genders, it starts gradually and becomes more noticeable as one ages. Male pattern alopecia or male pattern baldness presents as receding hairline and bald patches on top of the head. Female pattern baldness, contrarily, tends to save the hairline but manifests as thinning hair, initially as widening of hair part. Half of all men and women will experience some degree of hair loss by their 50th birthday. Blame mom! The genes inherited from her are the strongest determinant for hair loss.
There are roughly 30 diseases, from thyroid problems, eating disorders, prostate conditions, to anemia that cause hair loss. Baldness carries a 70% higher risk of heart disease. In alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder, the body attacks its own hair, resulting in smooth, round bald patches on the scalp. Ringworm of the scalp, a contagious disease common in kids, can cause balding. Trichotillomania, a mental disorder, makes people (mostly women) pull their hair out of its roots to release stress.
Cancer treatments like radiation therapy and chemotherapy may cause hair loss. Prescription medicines like blood thinners, birth control pills, steroids used in sports, gout pills, and medicine for heart problems may be culprits as well.
Hair loss after major surgery or severe infection is called telogen effluvium. Stressful traumatic experiences such as a death in the family, dipping levels of hormones in new moms, and menopausal women endanger one’s precious strands. Locks may fall out in people who drastically lose weight, take too much vitamin A, and lack iron or protein in their diet. Good news? It’s temporary.
Frequent dyeing or rebonding, using hot hair styling devices, and wearing hairstyles pulling the hair like cornrows weaken hair. Too much use of shampoos, conditioners, gels, hair sprays and the like, especially with chemicals, may lead to hair breakage. Studies also show smoking damages hair follicles and interferes with blood circulation in the scalp.
Bye, Bad Hair Days!
In an ideal world, self-worth is not determined by aesthetics. Men would embrace their baldness. Women will proudly strut gray hair as a crown of wisdom. But, the fact of life is appearance does matter. So, we fight nature by delaying and disguising hair loss with an arsenal of treatments.
US FDA-approved topical minoxidil in liquid or foam is to be rubbed in the scalp daily. Scalp disorders like dandruff should be treated before using topical treatments. Prescription oral drugs like finasteride for men and oral contraceptives and spironolactone for women are other options. Thickening shampoos and conditioners are also great affordable choices.
Surgery, such as hair transplantation, is a permanent but costly (and painful) solution. Afraid of the knife? Brave needles with micropigmentation and have your closely shaved head covered in tattoo. Fashionistas can always don wigs, hair extensions, hats, and scarves. Don’t be afraid to let your crowning glory tell your story.