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.
The most common cause of hair loss in both men and women is genetic. In fact, heredity accounts for 95% of all the cases of alopecia (baldness) in this country. The remaining 5% of the cases can be due to a number of things including diet, stress, illness, or medications.
Factors that can cause hair loss include:
Medications, vitamins, or minerals. Drugs used to treat high blood pressure, heart problems, depression, or gout; chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer patients; and...
"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.