I’ve always had fine hair. I just used to have enough of it!
When I was in primary school I had long, strawberry blonde hair and my Mum would put it up in ponytails with scrunchies she had made (yeah, scrunchies! Super cool huh!) and would do french plaits for me.
My hair loss story is a common one and it may have started long before I realised there was a problem.
When I hit the ever joyful teenage years the dreaded pimples started to appear. My skin seemed worse than most of the other girls at school and I felt really self conscious. So my Mum took me along to the doctor who went on to prescribe an array of lotions and tablets, none of which really seemed to helped. When I got to 15 years old the doctor prescribed Dianette - a contraceptive pill prescribed to women with severe acne that has not cleared up with the use of antibiotics or other treatments. Again, I didn’t feel it was helping enough,I didn’t like the side effects and I stopped taking it. The doctor prescribed some different contraceptive pills but still the acne was a problem and it was really effecting me emotionally.
When I reached 18 I was referred to a dermatologist and prescribed a course of Isotretinoin- a strong retinoid medication used to treat severe acne. This medication didn’t come without risks and had some unpleasant side effects. I saw a huge improvement in my acne but not long after I had finished the course the acne would again return.
I continued in the cycle of going on and off the contraceptive pill, trying to figure out what was going to work. Whenever I stopped taking the pill the acne would become worse again, so I would go back on the pill. I was being led to believe that it was only the pill that could really cause any improvement. At one point I even tried the Depo Provera injection (contraception that lasts 3 months). Big mistake! My acne wasn’t improving, my weight was going up and I didn’t feel good.
During another discussion with another doctor, I was told about a new contraceptive pill that was supposed to have a nice effect on skin and hair. That pill was Yasmin. I decided to give it a go. I saw a big improvement in my acne. My skin looked better than it had in a long time and my hair was in good condition, soft and shiny. I would even visit the hair salon regularly to have highlights done.
“So what’s all this got to do with hair loss?, you may ask be asking yourself.
I continued with the Yasmin up until the age of 28. I was recently married and I stopped taking it in order to conceive our first child. I was very fortunate to conceive quickly and not long after I had given birth I was back on the Yasmin.
Our first child was only 9 months old when we decided to try for another. It was easy the first time so I’d fall pregnant quickly again and everything would be good, right? Wrong!
A few months after stopping the Yasmin my hair started to shed. I didn’t worry at first as I knew that was a common side effect after stopping the pill. I started to panic when I was seeing the amount of hair coming out in the shower, when I was constantly removing hairs from around the shoulders of my shirt, when I saw the amount of hair I was vacuuming from the carpet. It was everywhere! My hair was looking very thin on the top of my head. I knew something wasn’t right.
As usual, I went to my doctor (almost in tears) looking for some answers. He said it looked like I had dandruff and prescribed some Nizoral shampoo. Sure, the shampoo helped with the little bit of dandruff I may have had but it did nothing for the hair loss and it made my hair even more dry and rough. I knew it couldn’t just be dandruff causing the change in my hair.
A few months later I still hadn’t fallen pregnant but I didn’t link that to my hair loss. I just thought it was going to take a bit longer than the first time and my hair loss was a separate issue. My hair was continuing to shed. I paid (a lot) to see a private dermatologist and believed that was where I would really get some answers about why this was happening.
The dermatologist said that I was experiencing Telogen Effluvium- a form of hair loss where more than normal amounts of hair fall out. There is a general 'thinning' of the hair. Unlike some other hair and scalp conditions, it is temporary and the hair growth usually recovers. He couldn’t explain why it was happening yet he didn’t seem overly concerned and his opinion was that it would grow back. I felt hopeful.
A few months passed, I was patiently waiting for hair re-growth and I went back to my doctor to discuss my concerns about not yet becoming pregnant. Some tests were done and I was advised that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Some of the symptoms of this being infertility, hair loss and acne. I was told I would need help to conceive and I was referred to a gynaecologist.
Once I was under the care of the gynaecologist I was prescribed Metformin. I wasn’t really told why but I was so focussed on getting pregnant I didn’t really ask that much about it. I wasn’t given any advice on diet, how to manage my PCOS on a day to day basis or how my hair health fit into any of this.
After I had been taking the Metformin for a short time my hair loss started to worsen. The texture became very dry and straw like. It would snap very easily and my fringe started to look a lot shorter. I dyed my hair darker in the hope that it would give it a thicker appearance. I was becoming self conscious about it, worrying that people would start to notice and I began to isolate myself.
I started looking at ways I could conceal my hair loss. I bought a cheap synthetic clip-in fringe from eBay. This is was my first experience with ‘wearing hair’. It was too thick and I had to cut a section out, it was obvious where my hair ended and the fake fringe started so I covered the join with a thick hairband. It didn’t take long for the ends to frizz and I had to buy another. It wasn’t great but it got me through that difficult period.
In time and following some treatment baby number 2 was conceived! It took 18 months in total (but that's a whole other story!).
Soon after baby number 2 born, same as the first time, I started taking the Yasmin again. This time I knew that my hair was much better when I took Yasmin and I just really wanted my nice hair back! But this time, despite some improvement, my hair wasn’t restored to its former glory. I was feeling unwell and I was struggling to lose the ‘baby weight’.
I decided to take matters into my own hands and started researching PCOS. I read about endocrinologists and their knowledge of hormones and PCOS. Up until that point I hadn’t even heard of an endocrinologist! At this time we were living in Sydney, Australia and I asked a doctor to refer me to an experienced endocrinologist that I had read about. I went to see him and it was from this point that I started to really learn something about my hair loss and why it was happening. He talked to me about PCOS in detail and showed me a whole Powerpoint presentation on the subject. I asked why I had been experiencing the hair loss and he explained that it was Androgenetic Alopecia– which is female pattern baldness. It is genetic, passed on from either my mother or father and the early onset is triggered by the PCOS and the bodies response to testosterone.
I didn’t know whether to cry with relief that I finally had some answers or to feel angry that no one had told me any of this beforehand!
The endocrinologist told me that the worst thing I could do for my PCOS is take the contraceptive pill, that it had been effectively been ‘masking’ a lot of the symptoms over the years and often PCOS can reveal itself after stopping the pill and can then worsen after each pregnancy. His advice was to stop taking it and to start taking Metformin regularly. I expressed my concerns about having another hair shed after stopping Yasmin and he prescribed Spironolactone – a medication which blocks the effects of testosterone and has some estrogen like effects. That could help to prevent further hair loss.
The Dred Shed
A couple of months after stopping Yasmin the inevitable happened. The shed started, I knew that it wasn’t going to be pleasant and I had to ride it out for some months before I could potentially start to see any improvement. But this time seemed worse than ever.
I was reaching a point of desperation and I purchased some Rogaine from the pharmacy. I did try this for a while but then I learned that it’s pretty much a lifetime commitment and I couldn’t see myself keeping up with the routine and the expense. Plus there can be side effects with it.
My hair was very dry, straw like and snappy again. That’s when I realised that this is just how my hair was when I took Metformin the first time. I started researching Metformin and hair loss and I read experiences of other women who had the same issue. I spoke to my doctor about this and explained how much this was upsetting me, but she didn’t seem bothered and she thought my hair looked fine! I had a dilemma as the Metformin was helping me to lose weight but I was losing my hair at a rapid rate. If I continued taking the Metformin would my hair ever improve?
My First Topper
Until I had more answers and knew how to address my hair loss I wanted to find a way to conceal my hair loss. Plus I was living in the strong, Australian sun and my head was going to easily fry unless I constantly wore a hat!
I thought back to the cheap, little clip-in fringe I used to wear and wondered if I should go down that route again but I knew that something more was needed this time around. This was the first time I asked myself “Am I going to have to start wearing a wig?".
I started reading some online forums about hair loss and this was the first time I had seen toppers mentioned. I researched some more and looked at images of what they look like. I was intrigued. The more I learned the more I realised it was exactly what I needed.
I decided to go for it! I wanted to try a human hair topper as I wanted the most realistic look possible. I knew this would come at a cost but I had done my research and I knew it would be a good investment if I looked after it well.
I ordered a Jon Renau Top Form 18” in colour 14/26S10. When I first tried it on I couldn’t stop looking in the mirror and taking selfies! I was just so fascinated by it. The roots looked so realistic and it didn’t look ‘wiggy’ at all. It did feel strange to have that much hair and I wondered if it looked like I had too much. The more I wore it the more I realised it just looked like a normal amount of hair.
I took it to my hair stylist and she cut a fringe into it (while I was wearing it). She was nervous as she had never seen a topper before and I was nervous too as I hadn’t worn a topper before. She did a great job and I started to wear my topper every day. The first time I went out wearing it I felt so different. I felt good! There was a little concern about whether people who knew me would notice but honestly, no one ever did. I would just get compliments about my hair looking nice. If and when I told anyone I was wearing a topper they would be surprised and would be interested to know more about them.
The more I talked to people about toppers I realised that not many people knew about them, even many hair stylists I spoke to hadn’t seen them before. I thought about all the people out there struggling with hair loss, not knowing what to do and I felt moved to share the secret.
The Natural Approach
Despite having this revelation about hair toppers I still wanted to address my hair loss. The original endocrinologist I went to see had now retired so I went to see a different one. I explained my dilemma about my hair loss and whether to continue with medication. His view was different to the first endocrinologist and he wasn’t against women with PCOS using the contraceptive pill. His view was that women with PCOS can choose which symptoms bother them the most and treat them accordingly. It left me really confused.
A blog by a naturopath who specialises in hormonal issues led me to a clinic in Sydney, where I met a wonderful lady who was the first person who really took a genuine interest in my health. She explained to me that when women take the contraceptive pill the body gets used to the amounts of synthetic estrogen and when the pill is stopped and that estrogen is withdrawn the body goes into a sort of shock which can cause the hair to shed. It’s a very similar reaction as post-pregnancy hair shedding. Even though I had the early onset Androgentic Alopecia the focus now had to be on regulating my hormones.
The naturopath gave me some basic principles to follow to improve my PCOS symptoms and my hair loss by means of diet, lifestyle and supplements. She believed I could do this without the need for medication. She highlighted the need for patience and that it can take some time to see improvement in hair. I asked how long? She said give it at least 2 years! It sounded like such a long time to start with but thinking about the rate and which hair grows it seemed reasonable. The main thing was to give my body a chance to heal as best as it could.
It was when I stopped taking Metformin and the effects wore off that I realised just how my hair had been reacting to it. Even the texture of hair changed. Some softness started to return and I felt hopeful about improvement.
I’ve now been off medication and the contraceptive pill for 16 months I have seen some gradual improvement during that time. Some very fine, baby hairs are growing back in on my front hairline. I am still very thin on the top and I don’t have enough hair to cut in a fringe but the overall thickness of the hair at the back and sides has improved. Only time will really tell how much of an improvement is achievable through natural therapy.
Looking back to the years I was on and off different contraceptive pills I didn’t realise I was trapped in a cycle and I wasn’t giving my body the chance to let me know about the PCOS or to regulate itself naturally.
Until the point that I had my first conversation with the endocrinologist I had been given no information on how to manage PCOS in my day to day life and what the risks and implications were. The only focus from doctors was on fertility.
It’s impossible to know whether my hair loss would’ve occurred as it has, had I received different advice and treatment much earlier. Did contraception, medication or stress trigger or exacerbate my PCOS? Were there other factors involved? I guess I will never have all the answers.
It’s only over the past few years that I’ve learned some valuable information about hormones and how this can impact onto many aspects of health, including our hair!
I have also realised that the severity of my hair loss is far less than what some other people are experiencing/have experienced and I have felt humbled and inspired by some of the stories I have read and heard.
I am continuing to be patient, trying not to think too much about my hair and I will review its progress when I reach 2 years medication and contraceptive pill free. I realise it may be the case that the follicle miniaturisation I have experienced due to the Androgenetic Alopecia is irreversible and my hair won’t return to how it used to be. This doesn’t cause me the distress it potentially could have done now that I have hair additions in my life. I think I will always wear them. I can have hair colours and styles that I couldn’t have even achieved when my natural hair was in its prime! It’s uplifting, it’s fun and every day is a good hair day!
Now I would like to let others know about hair additions, how they can improve confidence and alleviate some of the negative feelings that hair loss can cause.
We would like people to help us in building an online community made up of people who are experiencing hair loss and using hair additions to help restore their confidence. A safe, private space where members can share their experiences, thoughts, feelings and tips. Visit our Private Online Community page.