Menopausal hair loss, the ultimate betrayal
by Anne Bonson-Johnson
My Barnet’s betrayed me, the traitor on my own head has left me for the bedroom carpet and the sordid evidence is all over the place, clogging up the Dyson and clinging to my socks. I’ve even managed to roll myself an impressive moustache from the sheddings off the floor to rival Tom Selleck's 'tash, and here's the picture to prove it.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised really as the signs were written large in the steam on the bathroom mirror. The curls that dropped like stones the instance a door slammed somewhere down the street, the perm so powerful it forced the hat from my head and into the stratosphere, the spikes that needed underpinning with soap to prevent punk wilt, and the colour that promised to shine like glass but tarnished like a brass halo. My hair has never been what you’d call fully committed to 'us'. It's never done exactly what I wanted and has always undermined me in some small but sneaky weasel-hearted way. I’m sure if we went to counselling it would claim it’s payback time for the shame it endured during the 80’s with the hennaed red mullet, the ferocious backcombing and ill-advised perm that resembled a mushroom cloud. But despite everything, I always felt we were close, that we’d been through thick and thin together… true, mostly thin... but I always prefer to say fine. I thought we’d ride the storm together, but my hair clearly has other plans and has packed its bangs… sorry, fringe
When consulted, my male doctor (yes, him again) told me with a pitying smile and a glance at his watch, that my hair loss was probably a symptom of menopause and that lord no, HRT could not be prescribed simply because I was losing my hair. Adding, whilst steepling his fingers, that a woman of my years couldn’t possibly expect to look like a woman in her 20s. Quite so Dr Geezertwat, but a woman of my years might expect not to look like Phil Mitchel from East Enders either.
My hair has never been what you’d call fully committed to 'us' It’s never done exactly what I wanted and has always undermined me in some small but sneaky weasel-hearted way. I’m sure if we went to counselling it would claim it’s payback time for the shame it endured during the 80’s with the hennaed red mullet, the ferocious backcombing and ill-advised perm that resembled a mushroom cloud.
To be fair, I think the doc’s own bald domed pate looming up from his eyebrows like the Matterhorn might have made him a little bitter and unsympathetic to my point that, for a woman, loss of hair might bring with it a loss of marbles - a state of depression so profound that her crowning glory and archetypal symbol of feminine beauty is being shed across the bedroom carpet and sucked up by a heartless labour saving device. A devastation so overwhelming in fact, that it might make a woman of my years dangerously close to snapping the steepled fingers of an annoying doctor like garden twigs.
In amongst the unsympathetic chuff though, the doc did manage some useful science. He told me that hair loss in menopause – if that is what it is – is due to a hormonal imbalance caused by lower levels of oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones help hair grow and stay put. When the levels drop however, hair grows more slowly and thins out in a very spiteful unstylable way. The decrease in hormones also triggers an increase in the production of male hormones called androgens and it’s these devils that shrink our hair follicles, resulting in actual hair loss and the sprouting of peach fuzz on our previously baby-smooth chins.
Anyway, sod the old bastard and his ilk. If you have meno-related hair loss and are very unhappy about it, I’d suggest trying HRT even if it means playing up your experiences of hot flushes, as docs will certainly prescribe for those. I must stress here though, checking first on your medical history and if you can take HRT obvs. - I’m not suggesting putting your life in danger and acting in a totally irresponsible hair-obsessed way. Also, ask your GP to investigate the cause of your hair loss because it may not be menopause related at all, as issues such as impaired thyroid function etc. may cause hair loss. The Guardian has a very interesting article on it and I’ll post the link at the end of this blog.
There’s also a tricky issue surrounding HRT and hair loss in that some preparations contain synthetic progesterone made from testosterone and have androgenic effects that exacerbate hair loss. I’d suggest therefore, checking out the Menopause Matters website which has an excellent section on the different preparations, listing which preps contain progesterone derived from testosterone and are better than others. At the very least you’ll be armed with some facts when you meet your GP and question his or her out of date or careless thinking. I know, I know... some GPs are excellent. I’ll supply the Menopause Matters link at the end of this blog and it's a site, dear chums, written by some excellent doctors.
I’ve been using HRT patches for a couple of years and it has helped me to reduce shedding in a tangible way. I’m still receding a little around the temples and I can still roll up good moustache of hair from my carpet if I ever needed to go as a hipster to a 70s themed fancy dress party. I use a combination of Evorel 75 patches, releasing a highish dose of oestrogen and combine this with a separate progesterone pill called Utrogestan to safeguard the lining of my uterus. Utrogestan is a micronised progesterone which I understand from the Menopause Matters website is the least testosterone-related prep out there. My GP knew little about it and had to look it up in a book, which all makes me think that I should ask for a referral to a specialist clinic to have my medication and meno symptoms reviewed.
In terms of over the counter preparations (OTC) for hair loss – forget the vitamins, tablets and expensive unctions – I’ve tried them and they don’t work. I like a bang for my buck, and they did chuff all. If you have a healthy balanced diet you shouldn’t need vits in any case. The only thing that is medically proven to halt hair loss are preparations containing the active ingredient minoxidil and in the UK, this is sold under the brand name of Regain. It’s available from most pharmacies in formulations suitable for women. Other good minoxidil news is that it’s now out of licence so Boots is selling a cheaper own brand version simply called Hair Loss Treatment at £23.99 for a month’s supply.
It is, however, a long term and pricey commitment because shedding resumes once you stop using it. It also messes up your Barnet as you need to apply the formula every night, which is a bit of a bind unless you don’t mind daily styling to pimp your flattened, oily locks. This is the reason I stopped using it.
In the end, I concentrate my efforts on crop and colour to disguise my challenged follicles. A good cut helps with the appearance of fuller hair and all those shampoos to plump and add fullness help a little bit although they sadly, promise more. I always wanted a glorious mane in my younger days but never managed one as my hair point blank refused. And I really think this is the case – we always want what we don’t have. Luckily for me short isn’t too much of a big deal. And there are some fab hair pieces out there – look at Naomi Campbell’s weave of power, Judy Dench, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sharon Stone and Charlize Theron's cool shorties. Rock those locks, be brave, try something new, tough it out with a crop if need be because you’re gorgeous. But also, get the blood tests done and try HRT if you need it. Don’t be belittled and made to feel that you’re somehow vain or foolish. Fella’s in the manopause channel their "big dick energy" by buying cars and Harleys (thanks, Grace Dent, for that one). To a woman, the glib comment "It’s only hair" is likely to get a very bad reaction indeed.