I'm attached to my hair - it isn't attached to me :( hope me!
December 17, 2018 9:00 PM   Subscribe

I am 29/f. I finally have long hair that has taken me lots of effort and years to grow. It has been slowly (and more recently, quickly) thinning, likely due partly to pretty advanced hypothyroid that was only recently diagnosed. In the last month my hair loss has reached fever pitch and is affecting my everyday life - my hair has become a nightmare of brittleness, tangles, breakage, shedding, and patchiness. I'm basically resigned to getting it chopped off - anything else I should think of before I do? (stupid amount of details inside)

(I read this post and this post and found them very helpful - just looking for anything that might address my snowflakes.)

Daily stress- It’s gotten pretty emotional for me lately on a daily basis- showers stress me out, my morning and evening self care routine stress me out - seeing the amount of hair on my pillow, clothes, shower drain, brush and floor each day is a constant reminder of my hair loss. If I don't remember to put my hair up in a tight bun by the evening, it will tangle itself into small dreadlocks just from the slight friction of my hair rubbing on my shirt, and the painful stressful detangling process takes up time and energy. I find myself obsessed with my own hair, and other peoples, and experience jealousy and comparison throughout my day.

Emotional attachment- I’m very attached to keeping my hair long. I have a pretty low maintenance beauty routine now, partially because I like that long hair allows me to perform some femininity without much effort. I am self conscious about some of my features (pale, long face, weak chin, high forehead, light eyebrows/eyelashes) that make me look sort of bland, and I feel my long hair helps make up for that. I also have a weird significance assigned to long hair and getting married - I’m 29 and have been getting antsy about finding a life partner, and I'd like to have long hair at my wedding, so cutting it short now feels like a bad omen.

Thyroid info- I started 100mg synthroid 6 wks ago after my dr noticed a goiter. My TSH level was over 20 on the test they ran that day; I haven’t been back yet for the re-test. The synthroid is absolutely helping all the other symptoms of hypo, but hair loss has either stayed the same or gotten worse in the last 6 weeks it seems. (From what I understand, synthroid doesn't contain T3, which is primarily associated with hair regrowth.)

Hair description- I’ve always had dark blonde, fine hair, about medium thickness, and a high forehead. I’ve always had bangs to cover my fivehead, and never expected to have huge voluminous tresses. About a year and a half ago I noticed how quickly and easily my hair would tangle, and about six months ago I started noticing my hairline receding even further than normal, to the point where if my bangs fall slightly out of place, there’s a very patchy spot of scalp right behind my bang line. At this point, my bangs have about half or less the thickness they had let’s say 2-3 years ago. The thinning on the front and top of my hair is extremely noticeable in my brand new passport picture compared to the one from 10 years ago- I basically have no volume whatsoever to my hair now.

Shame- I feel shame in a bunch of ways -
1) that I’m 29 and feel like I’m already balding and becoming uglier
2) that i am even concerned about my hair when i should be grateful that for the most part I'm in great health
3) that I let my health/hair get so bad totally unnoticed. The fact that someone else had to notice my goiter, and that I didn't think to ask a dr. previously about my fatigue, hair loss, etc. and that my hair might never grow back because of my incompetence makes me nauseous.

Attempted solutions:

1) no heat ever. Stopped using any heat on it about 2 years ago when I noticed how tangly and brittle it would get. I brush it smooth with a special gentle brush (tangle teezer) when wet, use a cotton t shirt to wrap it up and get it towel dried without having to rub it, and then let it air dry.

2) moisture. I use a ridiculous amount of conditioner each time I shower just to be able to detangle and run my hand through my hair. I use heavy duty moisture serums on the mid shaft and ends after showering while the hair is still damp.

3) hair/skin/nails vitamins. Just bought a jumbo tub of biotin with a couple other vitamins thrown in and will start taking daily.

4) minoxidil (rogaine). I have bought a 3 month supply, applied it once last week, and then haven’t tried it since because I’ve heard it can make hair loss worse before it gets better.

Next steps: I'm considering chopping off about 6 inches so that there is simply less daily stress to deal with - less overall length, less friction against clothing, less de-tangling to do each day. I really don't want to do this but I'm willing to if it will get me through the next few months. I am nervous that because the thinning is on the front and top, a short haircut will make the patchiness even more noticeable.

Questions for mefi:
Is it possible to de-stress my daily routine while keeping my hair long? Or do I need to chop some of the length off to preserve my daily sanity?
If so, what would a good haircut be to maximize volume and minimize visible patches?
Does anyone have experience with hair regrowth on synthroid alone? Are there other regrowth solutions? Any thoughts about going all in on the rogaine, or letting it be for now?
Any thoughts on the shame/obsession aspect?
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely get a silk pillowcase, if nothing else it will be gentler on your hair than a regular one. You can’t imagine how rough a cotton/blend pillowcase can be on hair until you make the switch.
posted by padraigin at 9:19 PM on December 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

I noticed a TON of hair loss the first three months I was on levothyroxine, and then it evened out. I basically lost my shit during that time, more below. In addition to hair loss that happens with hypothyroidism (which would explain why you noticed it before you started taking your medication 6 weeks ago), there’s also a period of time where basically your body sheds old hair once you start treating hypothyroidism, called transient increased hair loss (from The Complete Thyroid Book by Kenneth Ain and M. Sara Rosenthal, p. 48). The good news is it will stop eventually, and grow back.

It’s waaay easier said than done but you might just need to give it a bit more time, check with your doctor about your levels (although I’m guessing you have another 6 weeks to go before new labs) and look into protective daytime styles like braids and wrapping your hair at night to help with tangling. You might actually be transitioning to curly hair with the change in hormones; I did, and I found the Curly Girl subreddit really helpful in understanding what my hair needed (more protein, less moisture, to my eternal surprise).

As to the shame; it too will ease with time, or at least it did with me. I had a real meltdown about hair loss/vanity/femininity, what it meant, etc.; it was really affecting my quality of life. I’d condition my hair and handful after handful of hair would come out, it was horrifying. I really thought it would never stop, but it did, eventually. In the meantime, reading more about the thyroid (that book above is one option but I’m sure there are better/newer resources) and educating myself about how diagnoses are made and what the tests mean. Your TSH is high, which in a way is good because there’s less room for misinterpretation, but you might still want to advocate for a full thyroid panel as well as vitamin screens. It’s also worth researching the birth control and hypothyroid connection, if you’re on BC. Keep copies of those labs and track them in a spreadsheet; in my experience doctors are great at acknowledging things that fall outside the norm but less good at remembering what is the norm for YOUR body. This is good practice for later health issues, too. So—give it time, get educated and advocate, and be reassured that your hair will in all likelihood grow back. Being diagnosed is not a big deal, per s, but it’s also not NOT a big deal, especially if it’s your first systemic health thing. For me a lot of my self-identity was tied up in being someone who didn’t take medication, and I had to interrogate my feelings about that and allow them to change, maybe that speaks to you too.

Feel free to memail me if you’d like to chat, and please try to give yourself the grace and kindness you’d give a friend. I’m rooting for you.
posted by stellaluna at 9:41 PM on December 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Dealing with same (though TSH was nowhere near as bad, while insulin resistance added its own special snowflakes). Grit your teeth, you need at least one hair growth cycle for the thyroid improvement to show. I was told it can be three to six months.

Positive story: I'm three months into endocrinological treatment, two months into minoxidil 5 times a week and a prednisole+salicylic acid rub twice a week. I did see a little more hairloss a month after starting the hair treatment, but apparently it's hair that you'd lose anyway because it's already not growing right, and it was only visible on the brush, not on the head. After six weeks into hair treatment, my hair started to have more volume at the base, and now that I look at it I have like 2cm long tiny hair all over the top :)

Other things I did:
- satin pillowcase
- switch to plastic hair clips and U-shaped hairpins that don't break hair, plus relaxed updos that don't pull on the scalp anywhere
- chop off two inches to get rid of the most abused ends
- B complex vitamin with biotin
- Amla oil treatment once a week for an hour or two before washing my hair, to moisturise it thoroughly - olive oil works too, you just have to apply enough of it to cover the hair thoroughly
- horsetail shampoo, applied and left for ten minutes each time before washing off
- big handfuls of conditioner applied before slowly running the Tangle Teezer through

It took a month of this routine for my hair to stop being a tangly mess, two months for visible regrowth. Keeping it bra-strap-length made it much easier to brush and pin it in ways to show I still have hair without abusing it with too much styling goo or heat, and dry shampoo for dark hair hid my widening parting.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 9:44 PM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

How is your iron level? One of the symptoms for low iron is hair loss and hair breakage. You mentioned fatigue which is also a symptom. Yes, these are also symptoms for hypothyroid, but I want to make sure you're not missing something else.
posted by sardonyx at 10:03 PM on December 17, 2018

oh i should have updated that ask for future reference. i didn't end up cutting my hair shorter but if i had to go through it again, i would have, because it looked really scraggly for a while and made me miserable.

it took in total almost 2 years for my hair to recover fully, but my overall volume loss was enormous, maybe 2/3 of all my hair. i only had 2 sparse-looking patches but they were right at the temples and were IMO extremely noticeable; if i could do it over i would've gone for a haircut that did a better job of concealing that, if possible.

it's now 4.5 years since i asked that question and for about the last 18-24 months my hair has been growing so long, so fast, that it's actually a little alarming. i think a lot of my body's health and energy was caught up in fighting the exhausting horrors of my monstrously evil uterus.

anyway i would definitely think about cutting your hair shorter; it will not, IMO, make the hair loss more noticeable. if anything i feel like leaving mine long made it MUCH more noticeable, like a failed attempt at a combover or something. you also want it shorter when the regrowth starts coming in because otherwise you will, in fact, look like a startled dandelion with a mullet for an entire year, maybe more. my hairdresser finally snapped and was like PLEASE JUST LET ME LAYER IT FOR GOD'S SAKE and the difference was amazing.

definitely try not to obsess about it; i used to just sit on the floor and sweep up all the shed hair every day in my hands and clutch it to my bosom like a maniac and it was Not Helpful to my already overwrought emotional and mental state.

the other thing that made me crazy was the obsessive thought that everyone could tell it was happening, which was not actually the case. like people who knew me well, to whom i was constantly complaining, or people who knew me a long time, who had previous hair reference for me, could see it was happening, but to every last random passer-by on the street, who i was sure was judging me for looking like a mangy dog, had no idea that anything out of the ordinary was happening, and most likely did not notice or care in any way.

i got into the habit of tying my hair up or wearing a hairnet to bed so i would obsess less about the amount of hair left on the pillowcase, and it worked really well for matting issues too.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:24 PM on December 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

i also thought that washing it less frequently would be better for the overall loss but i don't think it was? (i mean i don't think it made a difference either way.) and also feeling grubby and dirty all the time didn't do me much good emotionally wrt the overall repulsive feeling of losing hair and being 100% certain that everyone everywhere knew and was judging.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:31 PM on December 17, 2018

Please don't feel ashamed. There's nothing wrong with you! I went to multiple doctors and was told that female hair loss is very common and can start any time after puberty. 29 is not at all abnormal. In my experience, men know that they may lose their hair, but women don't talk about this so it isn't commonly-known that they may lose their hair too.

I can't speak to the thyroid aspect of things but it sounds like you're on top of that. If thyroid issues don't completely explain your hair loss, consider going on birth control that contains anti-androgens (or better yet, see a doctor and ask about anti-androgens for female hair loss). Androgens are what attack the hair follicles (in both men and women) and some birth control pills have anti-androgens in them. Going on the pill has helped my hair tremendously.

Feel free to memail me if you'd like. Good luck!
posted by sunflower16 at 10:45 PM on December 17, 2018

This has started happening to a friend of mine and she is trying hair extensions and straightening. It works, but it requires some managing. Can you try wearing your hair up? It might be a way of trying out what it would be like to have shorter hair...
posted by xammerboy at 11:45 PM on December 17, 2018

Minoxidil is the ONLY FDA approved treatment for hair loss. It takes about four months of regular application before you'll know if it's working for you. I've been using it for years and it has really really helped. I strongly recommend you try it again.

Also, moisturising your hair is one thing, taking care of your scalp is another. My scalp is healthier and happier, and my hair sheds less, when I wash every other day, and my scalp HATES sulphate free shampoo. I also use a shampoo with salicylic acid once a week to keep my scalp happy. Hair grows from your scalp, so it's important to keep it happy.

Consider using a Wet Brush instead of the Tangle Teezer. I find it much more gentle on my very very fine, thin, breakable hair.

I'd also talk to your doctor about the hair loss. It can be hard to get doctors to take hair loss seriously, but you want to rule out other causes. The patchiness in particular makes me think you should see a dermatologist.

Hair loss is AWFUL to deal with, my heart goes out to you!
posted by nerdfish at 12:34 AM on December 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Are your ears pierced? Because wearing earrings is one of the lowest effort to results ways to perform femininity that I've found. No maintenance at all! Just put them in and take them out. The hardest part is choosing which ones to wear on any given day. Since you describe yourself as having a long face, some earrings on either side of it will help visually balance your face. I would suggest slightly larger dangly or hoop earrings in neutral metallics to make it extremely easy to wear whatever pair with whatever outfit. They will sort of take the place of long hair in terms of facial framing and decoration, if you decide to cut it short. And if you decide to keep the length, earrings look very nice with hair that's been put up - instead of "i am hiding my hair in this bun" it becomes "i put my hair back because I want you to see my earrings."
posted by Mizu at 1:11 AM on December 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

I just wanted to offer a tiny suggestion based on one tiny piece of what you wrote.

I am self conscious about some of my features (pale, long face, weak chin, high forehead, light eyebrows/eyelashes) that make me look sort of bland, and I feel my long hair helps make up for that.

Me too! To all of the above! One thing that helps me A LOT is to dye my eyebrows and eyelashes; it looks a lot more natural than makeup, doesn't have to be applied every day and can be totally transformative for your face. There are some minor risks, but you can do it yourself at home or go to a salon to have it done (I do the former and have never had any problems, though it takes some practice). I also use lash and brow serum, because having darker AND fuller brows & lashes provides so much structure to my pale, washed out face. Way more than my hair, actually.

Please don't feel guilty for being distressed. This internet stranger is pulling for you and wishing you all the best.
posted by azzurra at 3:54 AM on December 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

It takes a while, months sometimes, for your hair to grow again after low thyroid. Mine took about six months, so be patient.
posted by chocolatetiara at 8:07 AM on December 18, 2018

Yes, try Rogain again. My mother suffered from the same type of hair loss, and it does take a while, but be patient! Her hair looks really good now. Though be warned, if you stop using it, the regrown hair will fall out again, so it's a bit of a commitment.

In the meantime, maybe look into lace front wigs? Or other styles, if they suit you. It doesn't damage your hair like extensions which drag on the existing follicles, and you can find nice ones for not too much money -- there are a bunch of beauty Youtubers who try on less expensive wigs and rate them for realism. The other advantage is you never have to worry about styling your hair! This was super common back in the 50s when bouffant styles took ages to do and maintain, so wigs were A Thing. No one is going to judge you -- probably no one will notice or care anyway.
posted by ananci at 10:11 AM on December 18, 2018

I had the same issues from hypothyroid and PCOS. The best thing I ever did for my self-esteem was start wearing wigs. I LOVE them and my joy went through the roof.

Memail me and I'll share my favorite wig site! :)
posted by heathrowga at 10:19 AM on December 18, 2018

So one thing to remember: hair grows on a long cycle, so loss/regrowth due to health/stress is a slow thing.

In addition to thyroid issues, women with PCOS often have hormonal hair stuff happen. Also, it's possible to lose a lot of hair immediately after a physical stressor like a surgery, or even childbirth. Bariatric surgery patients tend to experience it a lot so that may be a useful resource for you as well.

Basically, hair grows, goes to sleep, then falls out, as part of the normal course of things. Normally your follicles are all on different patterns so you lose a couple hairs every day and no big. Sometimes physical stuff makes a bunch of your follicles all go into the same phase at once and then you lose hair more than normal or faster than normal, but once the stressor is removed they gradually go back to normal... but it takes a couple cycles.

(This is also why laser hair removal has to be done multiple times - they have to zap the hairs that weren't active the last time.)
posted by oblique red at 10:32 AM on December 19, 2018

Girl I feel you.

I had long, envied hair until I was 31. it was my feature. Then, of course, it got fucked by steroid stuff and I had to make peace with a new hair identify.

That peace has been GLORIOUS. I cut it off to shortest lenth yet about two weeks ago and I feel like a sexier better me. Do I miss the femme safety of long hair sometimes? yes. But you know what else works to give me that feeling? Make up (esp red lipstick), exercise, a good bra, etc. And short hair is way easier to keep detangled and healthy and it has volume and it's just fun.

My main recommendation is to give your mind a break. Listen or read Mindy Kaling's "why not me" like RIGHT NOW and I Promise you will feel a little better. She talks about beauty standards, wanting attention from men, how celebrities use hair and makeup, etc. It is a delightful distraction that cheered me up recently because she is someone who feels confident enough to assume she can have nice things despite not fitting into standard cookie cutter celebrity mold. She wanted good tv hair, so she wears extensions. Problem solved, who cares. She has lots of lady charisma and I found it both soothing and inspiring to listen to when I was having a crisis of confidence.

Hope you find something that works for you too!
posted by skrozidile at 6:54 PM on December 20, 2018

Hi everyone- what a difference a few weeks can make. I’m the OP and I thank you all so much for your input.

I decided to continue with the rogaine (no results yet but that’s expected for the first 3-6 mo), continue taking biotin, I switched to a silk pillowcase, I’m making an appt to switch to anti-androgen birth control, and I chopped most of my hair off!

The haircut was by far the most empowering and drastic change. I went from daily stress and sadness and sooooo much time sucked by haircare to a fun new cut that feels thick and full and fresh. It’s a short stacked bob and looks great. 10/10 would recommend a new haircut to anyone with thinning/balding.

Obviously my shame/emotions around it all have dissipated a lot to the point where I can now post this as myself. Very grateful for all the encouragement and support!
posted by seemoorglass at 5:46 AM on December 31, 2018

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