by Beth Orenstein
Hair loss has many possible causes, including genetics, an underactive thyroid, cancer treatments, or medications for other health conditions. And for many people, hair loss (alopecia) or thinning hair can result in a loss of self-esteem and cause depression, anxiety, and other emotional issues.
Why is hair loss so devastating to men and women? It’s mostly cultural, physicians say. Almost every society in the world associates luxurious hair with youth, beauty, and good health. “For centuries, humans have adorned themselves in a variety of ways — tattooing, nail cosmetics, and most universally, hairstyles of all sorts,” says Robert T. Brodell, MD, professor of internal medicine of the dermatology section at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Warren, Ohio. “For many people, their hair is what makes them feel beautiful.” When you lose your hair — for whatever reason, it can be devastating, says Dr. Brodell.
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Shelly Friedman, DO, a hair transplant surgeon in Scottsdale, Ariz., and founding president of the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery, says women associate their hair with their sexuality, sensuality, and beauty. Mention hair, and for many people it conjures up images of women known for magnificent, flowing locks: Lady Godiva, the Breck girl, Farrah Fawcett, and Cheryl Tiegs, to name just a few.
When a woman loses her hair or has thinning hair, she believes she is no longer attractive. Hair is also a key part of the male psyche, Friedman says. To men, their hair represents their virility and, like women, when they experience conditions that cause hair loss, a bald spot, or thinning hair, they believe they aren’t as manly or attractive any more.
Hair is also associated with power and has been since biblical times. Samson, a Herculean figure, tells Delilah he will lose his strength when he loses his hair. Whatever the cause of your hair loss, the key to dealing with the emotional side of thinning hair and bald spots is having the right attitude. “Tell yourself you’re not the hair. You’re more than that,” Friedman advises.
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How to Cope With Hair Loss
Positive ways of dealing with the emotional side of hair loss include:
Reminding yourself that hair loss itself is not life-threatening. It may not be pleasant and it can be unfortunate, but you can live with thinning hair or a bald spot, Brodell says. Hair loss is only as challenging as you think it is.
Putting that bald spot in perspective. Your true friends and family will like you for yourself and not for how much hair you have on your head. When it comes to sexuality, you have many other attributes to excite your partner.
Working with beauty professionals to find a hairstyle that suits you. You may want to find a wig, hat, or a head scarf that complements your sense of fashion. If your hair is thinning, it’s best to keep it short rather than try to hide bald spots with obvious comb-overs.
Considering talk therapy. If the emotional impact of hair loss is getting in the way of living your life, get help from a mental health professional. “Psychologists and psychiatrists make a living trying to get people to talk through and understand their problems and then devise ways to cope,” Brodell says. “When this is not successful, sometimes because brain chemicals are having deleterious effects, antidepressant drugs may help.”
Realizing that your hair may grow back. “If your hair loss is related to chemotherapy, it will most likely grow back,” Friedman says. Many other conditions that cause hair loss are also temporary.
Looking to the future. Pharmaceutical companies are looking for treatments that will help fight hair loss, Friedman says.
While hair loss or thinning hair can seem devastating, you can take steps to put the condition in perspective. Determine that losing your hair won’t get you down, and focus your attention on ways to feel more positive about your appearance.