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Coping With The Pain of Hair Loss

Thinning hair can take a toll on a woman's self-esteem.

WebMD Feature

Hair. It's been called our crowning glory, a symbol of our youth, and in some cultures it even represents fertility. For women all around the world, it's also an expression of beauty, confidence, and personal style.

Unfortunately, for a growing number of women -- up to 30 million in the United States who suffer with hair loss -- the words "bad hair day" take on a whole new and much more serious meaning.

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Alopecia Areata

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"Hair loss not only robs a woman of her sense of style, but oftentimes her sense of self-esteem and her security -- it can be very devastating," says Michael Reed, MD, a New York University Medical Center dermatologist who specializes in female pattern hair loss.

Whether your loss is the result of the aging process, hair damage, trauma, illness, or a genetic form of balding known as female pattern hair loss, the good news is there are a variety of medical and natural treatments that can help.

On the downside, Reed says it's clear that most treatments take a significant amount of time before results can be seen -- often up to a year or more. And it is during this time, he says, the period of waiting and "not knowing" if a treatment will work that most women find it difficult to cope with hair loss.

Hair Loss, Loss of Self-Esteem

"Suddenly, hair becomes the most important part of their appearance and even their personality -- it's not only the first thing they notice about other women, it's the only thing -- and it can end up causing a great deal of anxiety," Reed tells WebMD.

This, say other experts, can be especially true, if a woman has relied on her looks as her calling card, or even if it represents a good portion of her identity.

"If a woman is tied up in her physicality, if her sense of self-worth and self-identity are defined by her physical self, then hair loss is going to have a much more traumatic effect than it would on a woman whose persona is much more wrapped around her intellect," says psychotherapist Lauren Howard, CSW, a specialist in women's mental health issues and an active participant in the Alopecia Areata Foundation.

If you are someone whose looks have played an important role in your identity, Howard says there's nothing wrong with that and you shouldn't compound your problems by feeling guilty that you care so much about your hair.

"If you are concerned about your appearance, don't feel shallow about it, or ashamed of it; give yourself permission to care and to feel bad about your hair loss, then get a handle on the situation and do something about it," says Howard.

Psychiatrist Shari Lusskin, MD, holds a similar philosophy and says women with hair loss should not be embarrassed about feeling bad.

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