Please indulge my vanity
April 25, 2014 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Due to unfortunate medical circumstances I am losing most of my (head not body) hair. I can't decide what to do about it!

[PLZ NOTE: the main medical situation causing the hair loss will be dealt with permanently in about 2 weeks! This is not a medical question about what you think could be causing the hair loss! Nor am I at all interested in hearing about the (extremely ineffective and unpleasant for me personally) "No-Poo" method of haircare! Thank you in advance for avoiding these well-meaning but unnecessary derails!]

BACKGROUND: A combination of iron-deficient anemia and related extreme stress has lead to startling hair loss - full strand loss, not breakage. I luckily have always had extremely thick and glorious hair, so despite the loss of between 1/3 and 1/2 of my total hair volume, I still have full scalp coverage. However, since the loss is so evenly distributed I am concerned that during the eventual regrowth period, I will end up sadly bemulleted or will resemble a startled dandelion. (I am already extremely prone to hairline area wispy baby hairs so there is already a bit of dandelionishness happening at all times.)

ACTUAL QUESTION: What has worked out best in your experience - cutting hair short now, before the regrowth starts? Or taking a wait and see approach and risking terrible summertime mulletness/dandelionness?

I don't think that I will lose enough hair to cause actual bald spots, so I am not really willing to just say FUCKIT and go the full buzzcut route. I have had boycut hair before so it's not a huge big deal for me, I already know it will look okay. Then again, I am a little concerned that if the hair loss does continue for another month or so despite the underlying cause being dealt with, then a short haircut will make that loss more apparent.

posted by elizardbits to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would keep it long for now and wait and see how bad it is. Why go nuclear if you may not have to?
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:58 AM on April 25, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Do you have a trusted hair person (stylist, barber, whomever) or one who comes recommended by someone you trust who could consult? If they know your hair type and what your skull feels/looks like, and may even have additional knowledge about how hair may or may not change when growing back after treatment of a condition, that could really help your decision-making. That and they might have awesome products of some kind that would help curb the potential for startled dandelion.

Hope this helps, and glad to see you back!
posted by rtha at 10:59 AM on April 25, 2014 [8 favorites]

If your standard haircut is already layered in any way, I'd imagine that regrowth will pretty quickly blend in. (If not, maybe get some layers cut into it?) In the interim, some good hair product of the leave-in conditioner or serum type should probably keep any dandelion frizzies under control.

-also sheds amply, and regrows constantly, and finds that problems chiefly arise in bangs and are not a big problem elsewhere.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:01 AM on April 25, 2014

Response by poster:
If your standard haircut is already layered in any way

Oh yeah I guess that would be helpful information, huh.

My usual hairstyle is straight, cut to just above the back bra strap, very minimal layering, with chin length sideparted bangs. So whole head regrowth beneath that will add a lot of volume to the top of my head.
posted by elizardbits at 11:05 AM on April 25, 2014

As a paper in one of my college science classes said about species extinction, "the first rule of intelligent meddling is to keep all the pieces" (or something like that). If your hair looks horrible later, you can cut it then. If you cut it now, you decrease your long-term options. Keep it until you think "ew" and then take steps.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:05 AM on April 25, 2014 [24 favorites]

I had long, thick hair, until after I had a baby, when a whole bunch fell out (more than just the extra pregnancy hair). The regrowth is definitely awkward, but since it's evenly spaced around your head, I don't think you'll end up with a mullet. Honestly it sucks, but I didn't do much to combat it, other than to try to smooth down the standing up baby hairs along my part and hairline (clear mascara/eyebrow gel works well for this, and blow drying hair to point downwards). Once the baby hairs in the back grew out to the bottom of my neck, I cut my hair to catch this fringe up to the rest. I still have dumb, wispy, uncontrollable baby bangs that are growing in more slowly; when they get a bit longer I might get bangs cut to help them blend in. I basically decided not to put too much effort/worry into it since there didn't seem to be much I could do to help the issue anyway. I did notice that pulling my hair back made the thinness up front a little more obvious.
posted by Safiya at 11:06 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been watching this happen with my bestie who has cancer, and whose meds have caused baldness, regrowth, and everything in between. I say you leave it for now -- it might end up looking fine, and if it doesn't a haircut can be accomplished basically instantaneously. Also, with warmer weather coming up you might want to explore scarf/hat combos to tide you over through the regrowth.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:06 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Given the fact that you've been anemic and stressed to start with--maybe go with short haircut plus new hair color for the moment? Like, if you can get away with it, even purple or something. I find drastic hair changes to make me feel a lot better about life during stressful times, and if it's short then it's reasonably easy to, if you've gone the drastic-color route, eventually recolor or just cut off the ends. Plus, lower-maintenance for in the interim.

But if that doesn't sound like something that would be your sort of happy place, I'd agree with wait-and-see, don't add more stress to everything.

(Note: I really wish I could color my hair purple and prooobably this is why I recommend it to other people regularly. It doesn't really have to be purple.)
posted by Sequence at 11:08 AM on April 25, 2014

I have lots of hair and would probably wait and see myself - after all, a haircut is obtainable within a few hours if you decide you need to pull the trigger pronto.

What you may have to deal with is that the regrowth may be texturally different from your "old" hair and you may need a different haircut/care/product to deal with that. To that end, I'd plan to get trims from the same stylist unusually frequently - 3 or 4 weeks - to keep everything as sleek as possible. Per your update, I would plan to go long layers (but mine is curly) before going nuclear.

You may have to turn into an Alice Band/headband person for a while, but if you can find ones that don't give you a screaming headache that may be all you need to get through the awkwardest stage. Or start rocking a kerchief, which appears to be adorable on everyone but me, who just ends up looking like a farmhand.

But I also like cutting my hair off, to around my chin or shorter, every few years. This would certainly be the year to do it if you're tempted.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:09 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

i love mohawks. i have always thought to myself if i were to ever lose my hair i'd be all "f___ this" and get one done, then shave it all off once the novelty is gone. or just shortening it to like 3 inches, keeping a lot on top in front to work with (bangs, side sweeps, what have you) and the sides and bottom nice and short.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 11:10 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Absolutely wait and see what actually happens when it comes in. My experience with this under similar circumstances (right down to the pre-existing very thick hair) is that your long thick hair that never fell out will dampen down any dandelion effect (and I have the hairline wispies too). And if you're still not comfortable with what's going on, then you find a hairdresser who is an absolute wizard (seriously, spend the money, if only for the initial cut) at feathering in new growth without losing length. Someone very good will give you a cut shape that will still look good all the way through to the full grow-out, so you can have your usual person, Supercuts, whatever, do all the trims after that.

The magic words you may want to use to find this person: ask for someone who has dealt with "medical hair loss" or "growing out very short hair" before (even if you're not showing up with a post-bald shag).
posted by blue suede stockings at 11:12 AM on April 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yeah, another vote for "your hair loss may not stop right away." I had a [different] condition causing hair loss (mostly not noticeable to others, but noticeable to me), and was told that the hair loss would lag behind the clinically low lab results, and that was true for me.

I think part of the stress for me was not knowing what would happen -- will it get worse, what will I do if it gets worse? It's stressful. But really, you always have the option to get your hair cut in a more flattering way; it's not like you lose that option if you wait and see.
posted by pie ninja at 11:14 AM on April 25, 2014

My hair is straight and was a similar length to yours, but then anemia caused some significant thinning over the past six months. So the other week I cut it to just past shoulder length and it's like I have twice as much hair! Twice! It is bouncy and full and shiny again!

I may cut shorter if regrowth looks weird. But for now, it looks really good despite the loss.

and hey, welcome back
posted by mochapickle at 11:15 AM on April 25, 2014

Is your hair naturally straight, or is there some wave/curl? I think that embracing the wavy/curliness can help hide a lot of uneven lengths. (Use way more hair product than you think you might need.

Also, for me, putting wet hair in pigtail french braids and letting it dry that way before upbraiding can conquer most of the frizz.
posted by mercredi at 11:15 AM on April 25, 2014

Response by poster: Is your hair naturally straight, or is there some wave/curl?

It is naturally very heavy and thick, as in each individual strand, not just the volume. So while when it is shorter it is prone to waviness and unfortunate frizzing in humidity, when it is long enough to go past my jaw the weight of it keeps it pretty straight.

The magic words you may want to use to find this person: ask for someone who has dealt with "medical hair loss" or "growing out very short hair"

Yeah, idk why it didn't occur to me to just ask my very awesome hairdresser! Probably because his own hair is also very long and thick. There is also the receptionist at the salon, who is just recovering her own very lovely hair after her last and hopefully final ever bout of chemo, and I bet she can give me some good advice as well. YEY
posted by elizardbits at 11:20 AM on April 25, 2014 [8 favorites]

You can always get extensions put in--a friend of mine who had severe anemia and hair loss, and the only downside (besides the cost) was sitting still all afternoon. Yes, they pull a bit, and get a little itchy, but no one would ever guess that she didn't grow all that hair. Ask your stylist.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:23 AM on April 25, 2014

My SIL has very curly frizzy hair, and once when we were at a salon together she got some kind of smoothing coating that got rid of the firzz, added a little color, and definitely bulked her hair up. Maybe something like that would be helpful.
posted by bq at 11:25 AM on April 25, 2014

Best answer: This happened to me. I had almost waist length hair, and similar medical circumstances led to about 1/3 of my hair falling out, evenly distributed, just as you've described. It was not at all noticeable for the first six months or so -- it bothered me personally, and I never wore it in a ponytail or braid, because I felt the relatively small diameter of either one was a "tell" that I had lost a lot of hair, but no one could really tell because I had started out with so much hair.

As my hair started growing back, like you said, the effect was not exactly "mullet", but the bottom ~75% of my hair started looking noticeably thin in comparison to the parts closer to my face which were growing. I love long hair and hate anything not long, but I bit the bullet and cut my hair to just above shoulder length. This did not come even close to matching the length of the new pieces, but it removed the thinnest area (the bottom).

The biggest problem for me has been managing the weird length pieces. For a long time I had tons of hair that was only 1-2" long that always stuck up around my part. Solution... hair product to mat them down a bit. I also had pieces for a long time that were long enough to tuck behind my ears but not to get into a ponytail... so I didn't pull my hair back at all for quite a while.

I'm now approaching the year mark and the new growth is starting to converge with the old hair in terms of length. My hair is still about a foot shorter than I wish it were, but I'm confident now that I'll get there.

tl;dr There is no need to cut in advance unless you're going to shave your head, because no matter how short you cut your head of hair won't be "in step" with completely new growth. Appreciate your hair until it becomes noticeably scraggly, then cut it as short as you're willing to go. Best of luck, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by telegraph at 11:30 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

My boss had some stress-related hair loss a few years ago. She had a slight wave in her style at the time, but it seems like she's switched over to a more blunt cut. But she never did anything drastic, although she mentioned the progress of the hair loss, and I never thought it was noticeable from my perspective.

So I'd take a wait-and-see approach, for sure. But do talk to your hairdresser, because he's probably seen a ton of people with different needs.
posted by Madamina at 11:31 AM on April 25, 2014

I would cut it a bit and add some layers, but nothing more extreme than that. It's hard to know what your hair will do when it starts growing back in, so some of this will be a wait and see situation. I really like leave-in conditioners to tame baby hairs and if I'm in humid weather, I also spray them with some low to medium hold hair spray and then smooth them down with my hands.

If they are really nuts, you could consider a keratin treatment or a Brazilian blowout straightening treatment. Either of those take curl and frizz out of hair effectively for about 3 months. They tend to be a few hundred dollars at salons, but if you hunt around on Groupon or Living Social, you can usually find the treatments deeply discounted.
posted by quince at 11:33 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would wait and see. I lost an enormous amount of hair after having a baby, and some of it did stick up as it was growing back in, but it could be camouflaged by sort if holding it down with the remaining long hair - like for example with barrettes. It was never necessary to do anything drastic with it.
posted by amro at 11:42 AM on April 25, 2014

Best answer: I have long hair. I got really sick about a year and a half ago and lost a lot of hair and my experience is:

- my hair looked TOTALLY FINE when it was just in the falling out stage, because I have naturally thick hair and just had massive overall thinning with no patchiness -- it sounds like the same is true for you

- when the new hair growth was less than an inch it blended in pretty nicely and really looked fine

- when the new hair growth was longer than an inch and shorter than like four inches I basically wanted to die/shave my head/kill myself. Part of this is that I have always had really low maintenance hair so Doing My Hair was not something I was familiar with. It was frustrating. I wore headbands when the growth was at it's shortest and then transitioned to bobby pins. Basically it was like growing out a set of bangs all over my head. I didn't cut it but I seriously considered it about 500 times.

Right now, my hair looks great when it is down -- the new growth blends in seamlessly. When I wear it in a bun, which I do really frequently, it can be kind of hit and miss in terms of.....not looking like I have some chin-length hair and some much longer hair. You can circumvent the whole awkward regrowth thing by getting a short all-over haircut, but I would cross that bridge when you come to it, not before.
posted by kate blank at 11:42 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I lost 40+% of my hair about a year and a half ago. Having fine hair to start with it was really noticeable. When it came back I likened my look to that of a baby chick - half of my hair was sticking straight up all over the top of my head and refused to lay down most of the time. Considering hair only grows about 6 inches a year and you will continue to normally lose some of the remainder of your long hair during that time, sadly I found it got harder to manage before it got better. I nth talking to your hairdresser to come up with a plan to make it through the very long grow out period. I went a tad shorter with lots of frequent haircuts to keep it from looking too straggly. I still have a ways to go to get back to the hair I like even this much later.
posted by cecic at 11:47 AM on April 25, 2014

telegraph: "The biggest problem for me has been managing the weird length pieces. For a long time I had tons of hair that was only 1-2" long that always stuck up around my part. "

Yes, I got a weird frizz-halo when the new hair got to about 3" long and I'd put my hair back in a ponytail (as I typically do because small children) and the new, short pieces in front would frizz up (the ones further back were held down by the longer hair on top. Like I'm prone to frizz halos in general but this was a WEIRD-LOOKING frizz halo, I guess because it was all the same length.

Like others above, if I was willing to change up my hairstyle, I could cope with the odder-looking bits of the growing-in process. Like tying a fairly wide scarf as a headband worked really well, and the growing-in process wasn't nearly so noticeable in some hairstyles as in others and it changed as it grew in. Unfortunately I am dead lazy and wear a ponytail 90% of the time so mostly I just shrugged and let it look weird and eventually it was fine.

I just let it grow back in on its own (letting the remaining long hair stay long gave me more style options to control the weird-looking bits, I thought) until it got fairly close to being grown back in; then I cut off several inches (again as others did above) because the ends felt really scraggly to me and I was tired of having different-length hair. (I normally let it grow in until it's so long that it annoys me and then chop it about as short as I can while still having it weigh itself down and go in a ponytail, so it wasn't a super-drastic chopping, just a little earlier than I usually would, and I went a little shorter than usual to even it all up.)

Also I hear that if you get an emu to groom your hair for you, it fixes the problem.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:33 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

As someone who has sometimes lost a lot of hair due to stress and malnutrition, please learn from my mistakes and try as much as you can to touch your hair as little as possible.

I unfortunately formed a nasty and seemingly unbreakable habit of mindlessly running my hands through my hair which eventually lead to tearing it when bored or stressed without even being aware that I'm doing so. It makes the thinning hair problem so so so so much worse.

So don't even get started down the path of forming the habit of feeling your hair, even if it feels weird as the new hair grows in. If you're not actively washing or styling it, don't touch it!
posted by Jacqueline at 2:39 PM on April 25, 2014

My hair is natively dandelionish and I usually look like a startled hamster awakening from a nap. However, one of the things I use that helps is Garnier's Sleek and Shine Anti-Frizz Serum. A lot of the sleeking formulas irritate my scalp, but this stuff doesn't.

I would use just a dab at the tips and comb your hair a couple of times to pass it through the entire length of your hair.
posted by winna at 4:12 PM on April 25, 2014

Another vote for not shaving it all off (unless you're dreaming of a pixie cut!)

I'm in the regrowth stage after chemo and as a friend said there is a fine line between cute pixie and hockey hair! I find the back and sides grow faster than the top so I tend to be a bit shaggy a lot of the time.

On the other hand I'm loving having my hair short. I had long hair my entire life and feel like short haired people have been hiding this big secret about the awesomeness of short hair cuts.
posted by five_cents at 4:20 PM on April 25, 2014

Response by poster: Also I hear that if you get an emu to groom your hair for you, it fixes the problem.

flagged as shockingly blatant propaganda from Big Emu
posted by elizardbits at 4:43 PM on April 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


They keep the sun and fluorescent lighting out of your eyes. You can use them to flag down a cab or get drivers' attention in the crosswalk. Bad hair cut? Pull out the hat. Too dandelion-y? Undoff. Hats can bridge any awkward regrowth period and then you may have become a person known for your hats!

If you're female, then it's OK to wear hats everywhere.

When my sensitive scalp is feeling tender and wants cozying, I reach for a Parkhurst hat. No seams at all, lovely designs.

No one will even notice your hair because you'll be rocking the chapeaux.
posted by Jesse the K at 5:44 PM on April 25, 2014

From an anemic black girl who feels your pain, might I suggest a weave? I know it's not as mainstream for other races/genders as it is for black women, but if done properly, it can really give your hair a rest and make it so you don't have to even out your hair length until the shortest bits make a hairstyle you like work.

I say "if done properly" because a bad weave can pull your hair out and make things worse, so it's important to get a skilled hairdresser for your hair type.

Alternatively, there are clip-in hairpieces, and I think it's probably easier to get the right colors and textures for those of non-African descent.
posted by lesli212 at 7:30 PM on April 25, 2014

Well.. as a woman with formerly hip-length long thick and gloriously gorgeous hair that I took for granted and then cut to chin-length, I feel your pain. I've been stressed and having some deficiencies for years and my hair has been falling out more and more. It sucks because I didn't notice it, but I was shedding soo so much hair and I miss it.

But... what I did is make peace with it. Realize, I have to take care of myself and my formerly frizzy and poofy hair will come back in time :) What I do is get frequent hair cuts so growth seems more even, probably every 2-3 months? I go to a great stylist because I know it's worth the money in how I feel and how great the growth is camouflaged in the layers.

Now my hair is about collar length and it's been about 2 years of this ordeal. I know it'll get there, but what's more important is my health. I wish you luck and it's hard to let go of the image you have of what your hair used to look like. So don't hate it or not appreciate it. You still have hair and it's still gorgeous, it's just in a different way. *hugs* Also, blow-drying is a great way to add volume, I refrain from using too many products because I don't want to irritate my scalp or take any chances with the growth.
posted by lunastellasol at 1:28 PM on April 26, 2014

A friend of mine (with massively damaged hair from bleaching, colouring, perms...etc.) has been experimenting with wigs while her hair grows back. It turns out there are some pretty awesome wigs out there. Just a thought.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:57 PM on April 27, 2014

My mom has wavy hair that used to be very thick and is now fairy thin. A haircut with lots of layers helps it look much thicker and fuller, and curl more too, if that's what you like.

Another thing that helps hair look fuller, if your hair has some wave and body to it, is using pin curl clips while it dries. Basically, you clip your hair in a pin curl clip at the root of your hair, do this all around the crown of your head and along your part, and let your hair air dry. Your hair will look similar to this.
posted by inertia at 12:07 PM on April 28, 2014

One more thing: I had been using a fancier shampoo without SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) but I actually found that cheap shampoo (like Pantene) works better for my current hair. I think because it weighs the hair down a bit more, which is really helpful for the shorter, sometimes frizzy parts -- I mean, when you have five-inch hairs all over your head of regular-length hair you don't really want to promote bounce and body. It's entirely possible that I'm crazy/this is bullshit, but I thought I would mention it.
posted by kate blank at 9:48 AM on April 29, 2014

Response by poster: Thrilling update: my hair has finally stopped falling out excessively, yay!

Unfortunately I am now in full dandelion stage and nothing other than excessive use of product has been able to curb the ridiculousness, so I have chosen ridiculousness over forehead/hairline/scalp acne.
posted by elizardbits at 10:27 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Help me fix my Mac!   |   Best ways to discuss new pregnancy with stepchild? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.