So what does it mean to be a woman losing hair? It’s not supposed to happen, that’s certain. It may be easier for men. Not that it is less agonizing, but at least with men, we know it’s going to happen. we know that every decade about 10% of men join the ranks of those with hair loss. There is even a fashion statement for men: Bald is Beautiful. There are plenty of male celebrities (Patrick Stewart, Jason Statham, Bruce Willis), who are seen as sexy in their hairless state. And yes, sometimes there are insensitive comedians who make bald jokes but they have become less frequent.
What happens when a woman is losing hair? It is hardly ever talked about. Women don’t bring it up with each other for fear of embarrassing the person who is losing their hair. Women generally want to help and make things better, so they may indirectly suggest alternative ways to style hair such as wearing short hair, hair extensions or even wigs. So it is really difficult to bring up hair loss as a woman. I have noticed that whenever I go to a hair salon, the thinning hair at the top of my head and at my part is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. The hair stylist will determinedly re arrange some thin, sparse strands while we both pretend that she is actually achieving coverage in such a visible area of my head. And the bright lights overhead are reflected in the thinning areas of my scalp which can really make me squirm. It has gotten so that I am deathly afraid of spontaneous pictures where a bright glow on my head will draw attention to my bare scalp. And I think that having dark hair makes it worse because the contrast with the scalp seems to be more obvious.
To be an Indian woman who is losing hair may be even a double blow. Sure, there are many Indian women all over the world who sport all kinds of hairstyles, including the really short Jamie Leigh Curtis look, but the truth is that the ideal is quite different. The Bollywood starlets tend to have long, thick, luxurious, shiny black hair that they can put up in myriad elegant up do’s to complement their high fashion, glamorous outfits. Although this sounds incredibly stereotypical, I am going to risk offense by saying that Indians, much like those from other Eastern cultures, can be a little blunt when they meet you at someone’s house or at a noisy catering hall. “Oh my god, what happened to you? You used to have such beautiful hair. Where did it all go? Don’t worry, you are probably stressed and it will come back, just wait and see. My aunt (substitute sister, mother, husband’s aunt, cousin’s neighbor) had this same problem and all her hair came back after about 6 months. I will get you some homemade (root oil, herbal oll, sandalwood soap, dry unidentifiable roots that you soak overnight, or freshly blended lentil paste) that I heard works perfectly. You just have to promise to put it in your hair 4 times a day. Religiously!!”
This is exactly the conversation that I have had to try to avoid on numerous occasions.
Not sure if this has been studied enough but it has been my observation that Indian women seem to have hair loss more often than those of other backgrounds. To add insult to injury, there is also a significant percentage of women that tend to have visible, coarse facial and body hair. That is just an injustice of Nature. To have not enough hair on your head and persistent, difficult to remove hair on your face and body can be quite exasperating.
For now, your only choice as an Indian woman with facial hair is to get laser hair removal from a qualified specialist who has the kind of laser that is meant for darker skin so you don’t get burned. Or you could go with plucking, waxing or threading. As for the top of the head, I have been to so many Indian parties where I have admired the hair styles of the ladies present, only to catch them re adjusting their clip on hair extensions in a mirror as they walk by.
We are lucky to be living in an age where there is now a scientific, evidence based process that is available to anyone with hair loss, male or female. And it really works. It involves a well- known substance called ACell which has been used for decades on the battle front and among vets for optimal wound healing. It is made from pig bladder tissue from an acellular matrix which heals by reactivating stem cells and leaves no scar. The world famous Dr. Gary Hitzig, who has been working in and researching hair loss for over 30 years, seized upon the idea of trying ACell in the setting of hair loss. He combined the ACell with platelet rich plasma (PRP) to see if the living hair cells on the scalp could be cloned. For more advanced cases, he combined the ACell treatment with hair transplants.
The results have been quite exciting. Within the first 6 months of the injections, Dr. Hitzig states that all of his patients have experienced significant hair growth that provides excellent coverage.
Indian women, like all women, now have a solution at their fingertips that can erase the embarrassment and give them the option of pursuing their own Bollywood starlet dreams.
Sudha Prasad, MD