I can’t believe that my first real blog post – after months of procrastinating on other, much more fun topics like food – is about hair loss. I would not have believed a month ago that sudden hair loss, of all things, would be the thing that would finally get me out of a creative block and put writing out into the world.
So it happens, I guess!
About 2 weeks ago, I suddenly started seeing my hair absolutely everywhere, on every surface. At first I thought it was just a day or two of extra fall-out, maybe a tangle unwinding itself or something, but as the days went it just got so, so much more intense. I began to fear simple things I never thought twice about before, like using my hairbrush, shampooing, and making even any minor contact with my hair.
They say it’s normal to see about ~100 hairs fall out per day, but I estimate mine has probably been closer to 400-500 each day, if not more. Needless to say this was very alarming, not to mention very unwelcome, for someone who prizes her long hair and whose goal is to become brunette Rapunzel, lmao.
After much panic, lab tests, and both over-the-phone and in-person doc visits, I ended up being diagnosed with a combo of alopecia areata + telogen effluvium. Before I talk about my experience with these types of hair loss so far, how they look like, and how I’m dealing with all of it, here’s a bit of info about what these conditions are (if you wanna skip to my personal story, CTRL + F for/scroll down to “How My Alopecia Areata & Telogen Effluvium Started” 😜):
What is Alopecia Areata?
Breaking down what “alopecia areata” means: alopecia is any partial or total loss of hair. “Alopecia” itself doesn’t necessarily mean a disease, just the general loss of hair. Areata means patches. Alopecia areata hair loss typically occurs in round or coin-shaped spots on the scalp, but can also happen elsewhere on the body.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease, meaning that your body essentially mistakens a part of itself as Public Enemy #1 and attacks itself – in this case, the hair follicles.
It isn’t entirely clear how alopecia areata starts – and it can be different for each person – but stress is a possible cause, and if you’ve got other autoimmune conditions (like I do, with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), it’s more likely that they’ll “make new friends” over the course of life and pick up other autoimmunities.
It’s important to note that alopecia areata can look similar to other conditions, so it’s absolutely key to go to a dermatologist and get a personal diagnosis to know for sure!
I’m not gonna lie, the following picture of my alopecia areata is pretty embarrassing for me to show, especially as my hair loss is still happening and it’s all still very fresh. But I think it’s important for me to break through that feeling of fear and shame about it, and I also hope it can help someone out there reading this. Here goes:
As you can see it looks like a well-defined circular spot, with some hairs still in the center (it lowkey cracks me up that my body basically left me a donut on my head; even in hair loss MY FOODIE DIGNITY IS NOT LOST 😂). As of right now, it’s not fully exposed and you can’t see it when my top layer of hair covers it.
With alopecia areata, it can feel pretty scary/anxiety-inducing to learn that regrowth of patchy hair loss may or may not happen, and even “better” still, that it can be lost again in the future even after regrowth, if the body attacks the hair follicles again.
However, I personally believe that as I have decided to fully trust my body, and to feel confidence in my body’s power to heal itself, it will regrow. I refuse to think any other way or doubt it for even a second! My life-long stubbornness, I think, will be key here 🙂
There’s so much more to alopecia areata and I am thinking to make more posts in the future as my journey with it continues, but for now here’s some more info and resources:
- National Alopecea Areata Foundation’s general alopecia areata info page
- Alopecia areata symptoms
- (This one may be a bit graphic but it was interesting to learn about) Trichoscopy of alopecia areata vs. other hair conditions. Trichoscopy is a method of using magnification to pinpoint and evaluate hair/scalp conditions. While this is very informative, if you’re experiencing hair loss, please don’t try to self diagnose (like I did 😜) and see a derm!
What is Telogen Effluvium?
Telogen effluvium is a bit different from alopecia areata, in that it isn’t necessarily triggered by an autoimmune, self-attacking function. It could be a one-off, one-time event.
“Telogen” refers to the telogen phase of hair growth, in which hair is “resting” and will eventually release and fall out; it’s that hair that appears on brushes/pillows/shower drains. Here’s more info about the 3 stages of hair growth. “Effluvium” comes from the Latin word effluo, or “to flow out of” or “away from”.
The amount of hair that falls out due to telogen effluvium varies a lot; I’ve seen research showing it’s usually no more than 50%, but other sources say it could also be 70% or more (at this point, I’d guesstimate about 60% of my hair has fluttered off and away). The kind of hair loss that’s seen in telogen effluvium is usually more diffused and all-over thinning.
The following might be a little disturbing for anyone who treasures their hair (like me)! Here are some pictures of what my telogen effluvium is currently looking like *cringingly uploads and inserts photos into post*:
So yeah, a lot of hair popping out, all the time.
I also noticed that my hair feels a lot more dry and brittle, which, according to this source, makes sense as the hair is technically “dead” and preparing to fall out 😳
It can happen to anyone as a cause of a whole bunch of possible factors, whether it’s key nutrient deficiencies (i.e. iron, vitamin B, zinc) or, similarly to alopecia, may be linked to a distinctly stressful event.
One key finding for me was that telogen effluvium can start weeks or months after the stressor occurs, so there’s usually a big delay between the trigger and when you actually experience hair loss. I know in my case, it was at least 5-6 weeks between my suspected cause (more on this in the next section!).
This can be distressful (as it definitely has been for me) because by the time it falls out, you’ve probably moved on and are living your best life. It makes it feel a lot more random and I found myself asking “why me, why now?” since it wasn’t a clear, immediate effect of what happened.
The good thing is that with telogen effluvium, apparently the hair pretty much always grows back and one just has to be patient.. and continue living their best life 🙂 The areas of telogen effluvium on my head have already sprouted little spikes of hair! Unlike plants, this is probably the only thing I’ll be able to grow successfully 😂
For more info about telogen effluvium:
How My Alopecia Areata & Telogen Effluvium Started
Phew, now that we got all the context out of the way – here’s how my alopecia areata and telogen effluvium experience has been for me so far, in the short few weeks since diagnosis!
I mentioned before that it came out of nowhere, and it really was alarmingly sudden. So alarming that I went through all the phases of medical panic, FAST: scrambling to research online, self-diagnosing, and making appointments left and right. The works!
I was in upstate NY – shoutout to Catskills people out there! – when all of this went down and it was super frustrating because I still don’t have a driver’s license (lol I’m a Brooklyn, MTA-taking native ok) and had to depend on my dad to help me out with getting to appointments. Honestly, if there’s anything I’ve learned during this time, it’s LEARN HOW TO DRIVE for goodness sake.
I usually love staying upstate as it’s beautiful and very calm there, but all of a sudden it became a trap where I felt isolated and very far from the doctors and facilities I wanted to go to. In the end I did get a whole slew of tests done, including to check my thyroid hormones and antibody levels (I thought it was my hypothyroidism acting up), vitamin deficiencies, sex hormones, etc. While these are all valid, possible reasons for hair loss, my bloodwork results showed that none of these are likely to be contributing to my problem and my levels were all, very thankfully, in great shape.
Anyway, while I was in that initial state of total, horrified distress, I started to think about how and why this could have happened.
I came to realize that about a month before, I had an extremely stressful 4-5 days where I felt absolutely, desolately miserable, a truly low point. I had several conversations with someone close to me that left me totally questioning everything, and even more specifically, questioning what was wrong with me. I was blaming myself for everything, crying up a storm. for. days. PHEW. 100% TMI, but that’s just how it was.
And you know what? It actually completely doesn’t surprise me why my body reacted the way it did. Imagine having this immense ball of pent-up stress and tension and not doing anything about it, not channeling it anywhere for several days in a row.
It was like an implosion, and my body identified a target within itself to channel the overflow of negativity into: the very head that was creating the storm.
While there is the possibility that I could have just randomly picked this up as I already have Hashimoto’s, I strongly believe it didn’t happen out of nowhere. My gut tells me that it was that period of severe, uncontrolled stress that brought this about.
While I was devastated at the beginning of the hair loss, I’m not someone to sit around and wallow forever. I took this as a signal that I need to make some major strides in my mental well-being, and to raise my emotional and psychological strength.
What’s Helped Me Thus Far
When I was diagnosed, I was prescribed a corticosteroid called fluocinonide to deal with the hair loss, but to be honest I did not use it for long because it was causing me to stress out a lot and I don’t feel certain that it will be the solution to my underlying cause, stress. This absolutely isn’t discrediting the possible efficacy of treatments like fluocinonide; my decision was a completely personal one. I decided to look into more natural, long-term ways to heal.
One of the first things that I was recommended to do to help combat the feelings of panic, hopelessness, and stress during this time was to take up guided meditation.
I piggybacked off my relatives’ Breethe account; Breethe is a downloadable app (note, this is absolutely not sponsored and I haven’t been paid to say this!!) with a bunch of different guided meditations you can choose from according to theme/mood. I saw ones specifically for dealing with COVID-19 stress, to increase happiness in one’s life, and a lot of others. While this is a paid app, I’ve found it to be incredibly helpful. However, there are definitely tons of free resources out there, like on Spotify, YouTube, etc. that I plan on exploring as well.
As someone who always feels like they want control over a situation, guided meditations have been a wonderful way to let go and have someone else tell me how to deal with and think about my problems. I can’t recommend them enough for anyone who feels that same need for control of situations in their life or for those who just want more relaxation.
Also pro tip: taking some hemp oil along with guided meditations has been SUPER calming and conks me right out to blissfully deep sleep afterwards.
Next, I decided that my experience with this hair loss would be largely improved by a change in perspective. I could choose to pity myself, to mourn the loss of my beloved long locks, or I could find ways to make light of the situation and return to feelings of happiness and normalcy ASAP. Including cracking jokes about it. This is gonna sound weird but bear with me:
I named my alopecia areata bald spot – I call it my “Lucky Egg”, and you can rub it for good luck. 😂
And it’s been a great excuse for me to begin growing a collection of cute hats (and even a few wigs, which I can’t wait to try)!!
Also exciting to think about is that the new hair that will grow out will be completely “new” and untouched by heating tools/etc., so it will probably be even healthier than before!
Another #majorkey has been amping up the nutrients in my daily diet (I say as I’m snacking on an almond croissant – let’s call this balance, lmao).
To name a few nutrients that are reported to be excellent for hair growth:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Healthy oils rich in polyunsaturated fats and omegas
- Protein in general
- Biotin and collagen
- And so many others!!
Since my hair loss diagnosis, I’ve added in eggs, bone broth, oatmeal with vitamin C fruits on the side to amp up iron absorption, as well as biotin supplements. I eat more veggies and try to include at least 20-30 grams of protein per meal (for context I usually eat about 4-5x a day and need more noms because I exercise quite a bit). My end goal is to amp up my health overall, as I noticed I wasn’t putting enough care into my nutrients in recent months. I’m confident this will boost my hair health in addition to everything else.
Lastly, here are some other realizations I’ve had that have helped change my view on this whole situation:
- Apart from the hair loss that’s happening, I feel completely fine. Of course, it has been emotionally disruptive at times, but I can still think clearly, I can move around with no problems, and I can still laugh and enjoy life. My hair loss has a pretty clear boundary as to how much it can affect my life.
- My hair, contrary to my previous belief, is not a crucial part of my beauty and identity. I think that for a long time I’ve held this idea that hair = femininity (especially longer hair) and I have been realizing that it’s probably just one of the many things we ladies are told to care about that isn’t actually that much of a big deal. I’m still working on this, and as I mentioned earlier I’ve cherished my long hair and have endlessly chased growing it out even more, but I feel more liberated from this idea that hair defines how “female” I am and feel. And I think that applies to any part of a woman’s body – any one part of a woman does not define her entire life, including her ability to be happy.
- Strange, sudden things happening to my body are a clear signal that something has to change, that I need to do better in one way or another. It could be stress, an imbalance in my body, or something else entirely that I should strive to improve. I used to question and feel self-pity that my body seems to react in much more aggressive, obvious ways to stressors than others’ seem to. Now, though, I couldn’t be more grateful that my body makes it so easy for me to understand what I should learn about and do next in order to become a stronger and healthier person.
- If you are an empathetic person, please take care to be more responsible with your emotional well-being. If you know that your own emotions and feelings are very easily influenced by others’, you need to set yourself up with plenty of outlets like supportive friends, hobbies, and other ways to spring yourself back to a happy, stable place. After all of this, I know that in order to build my resilience against future emotional blow-ups and implosions, I need to give myself a lot of support. Basically, know thyself!!
Aaaand that’s about all I have to say about this, for now. Dang, I did not anticipate spending hours rant-writing all of through the weekend! 😂
My hope is that this was helpful in even a super small way for someone out there. While I’m still experiencing hair loss and not all days have been happy and perfect (it’s still sometimes stressful seeing the hair coming out), I’ve been able to find solace in knowing that I’m absolutely not alone in this, and there are communities of people – even on Instagram, like the #AlopeciaAreata hashtag in the Explore tab – that have been through and are going through the exact same thing as I am.
I mentioned earlier that I also have Hashimoto’s, and I plan to make another blog talking about my loooong and winded journey with hypothyroidism and some tips especially for my newly diagnosed peeps.
Please let me know about any thoughts and feedback for this blog, as it’s my first “real” blog on here 🙂 And please let me know if there’s anything you’d want me to talk about in the future!!
I am also super excited to write a lot more fun posts about food, like restaurant/cafe reviews, including a ton of pictures (and possibly videos, especially once indoor dining fully reopens) about the visits!
Thank you for your time, and for reading! 💛