Shall I just wear a wig right now?
December 16, 2011 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Losing my hair: female, early 30s, not sure if I'm being hoodwinked by my hairloss clinic - what actually WORKS? iS DX genetic testing and hair bulb analysis reliable?

This year I'd estimate I've lost about half my hair. I don't know whether it was stress, finishing my postgrad degree, or going on prozac, but enough of it is gone so I have to use make-up to darken my scalp. My family doctor did bloods which all came back normal, he thought I was being vain and told me to 'stand on my head'. I'm getting married this year and also have to find a job, and the judgements made on appearance are hard enough without anything extra to repulse my interviewers.

In desperation, I've recently visited a hair loss clinic and after spending $600 on genetic 'dx testing' (which said I had a 70% chance of developing androgenic alopecia) and hair bulb analysis (they pulled 20 hairs). They've recommended a combination of laser comb therapy, in-clinic head massages and 12 different shampoos and lotions. This totalled to $2000, which I can no way afford (the initial testing almost wiped me out).

As they seem to want so much money from me in such a short space of time I'm suspicious they're trying to sell me snake oil and false hope (the woman who gave me my results had the recognisable MO of controlling our conversation to maximize sales I'd also been explicity trained in in a previous job and she became a little unpleasant when I interrupted it).

So my questions are, how accurate and reliable are these tests? Is there any evidence to support laser combs stabilizing hairloss/promoting regrowth? Do I really need 5 different shampoos and 6 different lotions? Will massaging my head really work? I've googled and googled since getting these results yesterday but can't seem to come up with anything - the results are mostly skewed by companies all selling the same thing. I'd really appreciate any advice as I can't seem to find any useful information on these things anywhere.

At the moment I'm tempted to just shave it all off, buy a wig and have done with it, which might be what happens in the end anyway if this really is AA.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think you should see a gynecologist or an endocrinologist - or both if needed - who can look more carefully for PCOS and hormone imbalances and who will be open to treating you even if your levels are at one end of the normal range. Also, make sure that they have some experience with PCOS and similar disorders - some really don't. And you should ditch a family doctor (if you have that option) who tells a woman that worry about hair loss is just "vanity" - that's such bullshit, it's also employability and all kinds of social stuff in a way that men just don't experience. (Even though no one likes to lose their hair, especially not so young.)

That clinic sounds like snake oil. I had a hair loss episode a few years ago (caused, I think, by medication and stress) and in my extensive researches I never, ever came across anything that suggested that laser combs or shampoos could improve or stabilize hairloss. If you have scarring alopecia or androgenic alopecia, you're pretty much out of luck because the follicles simply don't work any more. But very often, people just have the stress/meds kind.

Did your hair loss begin after starting Prozac? Mine began three months after starting a medication and ended a few months after stopping - apparently this can happen even though it's not an official side effect.

Also, do you see any regrowth around your hairline? If your hairloss is caused by medication and stress, you will eventually see little stubbly regrowth.

I think I had accelerated hair loss over about six or seven months. It was just awful, and I really sympathize.
posted by Frowner at 2:09 PM on December 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

(Oh, because mine was medical, my hair grew back. If you think yours might be, you should see if you can switch meds.)
posted by Frowner at 2:10 PM on December 16, 2011

When you say you went to a "hair loss clinic," does that mean a medical practice staffed by dermatologists, endocrinologists, and other medical professionals? Because if not, that's where you need to go. IANAD, but the google results for laser comb therapy seem to indicate that the manufacturers have been warned several times by the FDA for selling unapproved products and for misleading advertising. I would get a second opinion from a dermatologist and an endocrinologist, and do your own research before spending any money on what could be scam treatments.
posted by decathecting at 2:11 PM on December 16, 2011

I lost some huge chunks of hair in my 30s. It grew back a year or so later. The real difference between stress-related hair loss and hair loss due to aging or genetics, in my experience, is that temporary hair loss leads to bald patches, while the aging sort tends to thin out over a larger area -- typically at the front and top, for women while at the temples and crown for men. If you have bald patches, this is almost always due to stress. Eat a healthy diet and try not to obsess about your hair (yes, I know this is difficult). Your hair may well grow back with no problems (mine did, at your age). Losing this much hair rapidly does not sound like the more permanent hair-loss due to aging (which I now suffer from, so I can tell the difference).

To be quite honest, I've done a fair amount of research (as in reading) on the topic and I have come to the conclusion that nothing much does work, on female hair loss. I have tried most "cures," from massaging, to lotions supposed to clean out pores, to and they did not work. Rogaine (minoxidil) seems to be more effective for women suffering from diffuse androgenetic alopecia (even thinning over large areas, usually due to age). But you have to use it for the rest of your life and it is likely to stimulate hair growth elsewhere ... :-)

I was devastated when this first started, but now I have come to realize that there are so many worse medical conditions that one can develop. My own hair thinning is managed with occasional use of light cosmetics (for important social occasions) and judicious hair styling. Use a decent volumizing shampoo - I quite like Magick Botanicals Shampoo for Thinning Hair, as it is hypoallergenic and fragrance-free. Also use a very light conditioner, so your hair is not weighted down. I find that only washing my hair once or twice per week reduces hair loss.
posted by Susurration at 2:14 PM on December 16, 2011

Well first, get a new doctor. Being concerned about losing half your hair is not 'being vain' and standing on your head will not cause your hair to grow back (I hope he was joking). When your doctor did bloods, did he test your ferritin levels? 'Normal' levels can still be a cause of hair loss if you're on the low end (<6> Laser combs do not work. There is clinical evidence supporting LLLT for hair loss (sadly most of the research is on men) but the combs don't provide a suitable 'dosage' to have any effect.

The most important thing to do is to determine, if possible, the type and cause of the hair loss. What treatment may work will depend on the cause of the hair loss. Try to get a referral to a dermatologist or trichologist.

Something else to bear in mind, even if your bloodwork is normal now, it may not have been when the hair loss started, even after correcting the problem it can take months for regrowth to start
posted by missmagenta at 2:22 PM on December 16, 2011

Same thing happened to one of my best friends on Prozac. She has unmanageable thick hair and was thrilled but it doesn't sound like you are.
posted by fshgrl at 2:38 PM on December 16, 2011

First, get a new family doctor/GP. What a jerk. Second, go to a dermatologist and/or an endocrinologist.
posted by radioamy at 3:26 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Adding to the chorus: you need to find a new GP, one who will help you with this medical issue. (Maybe a female doctor would be more understanding?)

And this "hair loss clinic" is clearly a bunch of quacks. Don't give them any more of your time or money.
posted by ErikaB at 3:38 PM on December 16, 2011

If it's hormonal, I highly recommend minoxodil. I dated a trans woman who was seriously losing her hair, and the minoxidil made a huge difference even before she started androgen-blockers. Talk to another doctor, preferably a gynecologist or an endocrinologist. In the meantime buy some
minoxidil. It's absolutely not
hopeless. If it's just stress or medication, the hair will probably come back when the conditions have changed. If it's hormonal, the key is to start minoxidil and medication right away.
posted by thelastcamel at 11:23 PM on December 16, 2011

Everyone in here has good advice and you should probably consider all of those options.

My guess is that the clinic's lotion treatment is useless and plays on peoples fear and emotion around the situation. The few actual proven treatments are well documented with scientific evidence to support them, which you'd probably be hard pressed to find on most of the things out there. That said, there are some, with Rogaine being a good option- I believe the foam is only approved for men, but that may have less to do with the actual efficacy than the fact that the trials were done on men... its the same active ingredient, but still, talk to a doctor about it. Also, Nizoral shampoo (active ingredient being Ketoconazole) is claimed to be nearly as effective as Rogaine in some cases.

If it helps, most of the women that I've noticed that have had thinning hair seem to get to a certain point somewhat quickly, and then it stops or at least slows down considerably. And since women's hair loss tends to be evenly distributed, there are some very good cosmetic options available.

By the way, do you know what they call the person who graduated at the bottom of their class in medical school?
A doctor.
Find a new one.
posted by Dr. ShadowMask at 9:52 AM on December 17, 2011

*Not sure if the trials were only done on men- that was just thinking out loud. Also, the strength may be different.
posted by Dr. ShadowMask at 9:59 AM on December 17, 2011

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