CQA Interview: Jennifer*

Editor’s note: This is an unusual post for Curly Q&A, and it is one that I’ve spent considerable time contemplating. I aim to walk the thin line between helping men and women to accept their natural selves, and unwittingly convincing them that there is something wrong with them. My natural inclination is to do as little as possible to alter my appearance, while still appreciating it, which was the entire basis of this blog. Despite this, I’ve become increasingly aware of some major hair-related phobias streaming through the curly-headed minds of the strong women around me — the foremost being thinning hair. We’ve all heard about men’s hair loss, and it is much more socially acceptable — not completely of course, but more-so — than women’s hair thinning, and it’s generally equated with middle-age or older. The fact is that many of us will notice our hair thinning by our late 20’s to early 30’s. This can be a consequence of genes, stress, pregnancies, surgeries, and more.

The interview below was conducted with a young woman who noticed this happening on her own head in her mid-20’s, and she decided to do something about it. Below the interview you will also see a few tricks to help with the appearance of thinning hair. My advice is to fuss with your hair as little as possible, including coloring and straightening, and if you feel that thinning locks present a serious problem for you, it’s not unreasonable to seek the advice of a professional. Above all though, do not be ashamed — it’s absolutely, completely and totally normal!

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For starters, become acquainted with your hair and how it grows.

Curly Q&A: First of all, thank you for granting me this sensitive interview. Would you mind telling me how old you are right now?

Jennifer: I am 31 years old.

CQA: When did you first notice that your hair might be thinning, and how did it make you feel?

J: In high school I had very thick hair that took forever to straighten.  When I was 25 years old I began to notice that the shape of my hairline was changing — I was seeing a recession above my temples on both sides, as well as in the middle of my forehead. It became very noticeable to me when I straightened my hair that it was thinning.

CQA: What did you do to confirm whether your hair actually was thinning?

J: I decided to reach out to a male friend who worked at a hair restorative center to ask his opinion. He had gotten hair implants a few times, and offered to take a look for me. He said that my hairline looked normal to him, and that I should put it out of my mind, especially since stress actually will cause hair to fall out. I decided to stop thinking about it, and it didn’t really consume my thoughts again until 3-4 years later.

CQA: Why did it resurface?

J: It seemed to be getting worse, so I kind of freaked out and decided to see a dermatologist, which ended up being the best and the worst thing I had done up to that point for my hair. She was very cold to me, and when she delivered the news that her visual inspection caused concern, I broke down crying hysterically. The dermatologist went on to explain that the first step would be to do a blood test to see how my levels of iron, vitamin B6, and thyroid function were. She said that one possible solution, if I were lacking in any of these areas, would be to try adding more vitamins to my diet. If the blood tests came back normal, I could request a scalp biopsy to rule out alopecia.

CQA: What were the results?

J: My blood tests showed no vitamin deficiencies, but I still decided to supplement my diet with gelatin pills and more meat because I read that these things could help. I then requested the scalp biopsy so I could find out once and for all what was going on. The dermatologist harvested a small sample from my scalp, which (she claimed) “was the most obvious,” and took a patch of skin about 1″ in diameter. About 5 days later, she left a voicemail for me telling me that I do show signs of Androgenic Alopecia, the most common type of hair loss in women, which is a result of higher levels of a particular male hormone in the body. Immediately I broke down crying and shortly after I went into a depression. I spent all of my spare time researching female hair loss on the internet, and would even find myself staring at the scalps of other people to look at their follicles. I began to notice many women who also showed signs of hair loss and realized this was more common than I thought.

CQA: Did you have anyone to support you?

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Before (left) and after (right) using Rogaine.

J: I called my male friend who had experience in this, and asked to speak with his doctor. I really did not connect with the dermatologist that I saw originally and wanted to talk to someone that I felt like I could trust, and who was on my side. I began seeing a trichologist who worked at a hair restoration center, and felt better immediately. He sat down and listened to me, and spoke to me about options. He also explained that the findings from my scalp biopsy was more a matter of opinion than fact since it’s not an exact science. There are parts of the scalp that will naturally exhibit smaller hair follicles, and that’s what they are looking for under the microscope to confirm you have alopecia. The main thing to consider was that if I did have alopecia, and any follicles closed up entirely, there is no way to re-open them. Through the use of topical medicines like Rogaine, though, hair follicles can be expanded to allow thicker strands to grow in, giving the appearance of more hair. I think that’s the biggest misconception about Rogaine; people think that it regrows hair, but it doesn’t. It helps you keep what you have and make the hair grow stronger and thicker. That’s why if you think you are definitely losing hair, it’s better to start using Rogaine sooner than later, because once the follicles close you can’t re-open them.

CQA: Interesting, I didn’t know that that’s how Rogaine works. Did you notice a difference?

J: I’ve been using it for 4 months, in addition to the gelatin pills and additional protein in my diet, and I have noticed an enormous difference. At first I was losing hair at a very alarming and very embarrassing rate, since Rogaine works by shedding thin hairs at first and then re-growing thicker ones. My friend doesn’t think that the Rogaine is the only thing to credit since it doesn’t usually work as quickly as it has for me. Reduced stress has probably played a large role.

CQA: How have you felt physically, with all of these changes?

J: The gelatin pills upset my stomach, so I cut back to one a day instead of two. I think I may have gained weight because of this as well, but I can’t be sure. The doctor assured me that there are no serious side effects of Rogaine, and told me that it was originally used in pill form as a heart medicine for women, so you may get lower blood pressure as a side effect, but they also noticed that women taking it were starting to grow facial hair! So, as I said before, it won’t create new hair follicles or re-open closed ones, but if you grow a little hair somewhere other than on top of your head, it will probably get thicker there. On the plus side, my eyebrows look great!

CQA: Wow, this has been such an educational conversation, I feel like I was with you through it all! Thank you so much. Are there any final words of warning or encouragement that you’d like to share?

J: Yes. I want to say that if any of this resonates with you, go ahead and do the tests and talk to doctors. And if it turns out that you do have alopecia, give yourself a few days to dwell on it. If it’s upsetting, let yourself feel upset. But then, after a few days or a week, STOP. I was finding myself becoming obsessed, staring at random people on my commute and in meetings at work — it was too much! It turns into a type of madness. The doctor’s last words of advice were to stop stressing out, because that was going to counter any steps we were taking to remedy my hair loss. I gave myself 5 months to try all of the things I mentioned: diet, vitamins, and Rogaine; and promised that I wouldn’t think any more about it during that time. It’s been 4 months and I’ve made such amazing strides! I’ve even been getting compliments on how full my hair looks. If I stop using the Rogaine I’d likely go back to the same problem as before, but I will re-visit that when I need to. In the meantime, it just feels like a huge weight has been lifted.

* Participant’s name has been altered to protect her identity.

Tricky Tips for Fuller-Looking Hair

As promised, here are some quick tips if you feel like your hair is thinner than it used to be, but like me, are not worried about long-term effects. It helps to look at your mother’s and father’s hair and to compare notes. My mother’s hair thinned in the same areas as mine has at 30 years old, but it hasn’t gotten any worse, so I’m not worried. If I ever feel like I should be concerned, though, I won’t hesitate to visit a specialist!

1) Put a dime-sized dab of conditioner on the tips of your fingers and massage it into your scalp. Use more if scalp feels especially dry. This will “fill out” the area between follicles a bit more, and ruffling the cuticles at the roots will make them look more voluminous as well. It’s also good scalp care.

2) Spray or sprinkle some dry shampoo on your scalp, only at the roots. Let it sit for a few seconds, and then ruffle hair at the roots. Do not rustle or apply to the middle or ends of hair strands.

3) Supplement buns with those silly donut things, they are easy to use and really work!

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4) Pin bangs to the side. This works best if you have shorter layers in front, but it can also work with longer hair. Instead of pulling all hair straight back into a pony or bun, take an inch-wide section of hair and bobby pin it to the side along your hairline with the least amount of coverage. Take the rest of the hair and put it up as usual.

5) Accept it! If it’s not causing any problems and you’ve never noticed hair loss before this post, guess what? You’re normal. If you have noticed it before and are getting worried, guess what? You’re also normal! We all have different genetic make-up and we’ve won a genetic lottery of sorts by getting a chance to live life at all. Focus on what matters most, and don’t stress the rest!

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Winter Shminter: Curls in the Cooler Months

Image courtesy of Etsy.

Image courtesy of Etsy.

Now that the cooler temps and dry air are upon us, at least those of us who live in 4-season climates and are currently experiencing fall’s entree to winter, you will start to notice a few small changes in your hair. Here’s how to deal.

  1. It will look a bit more flat and lackluster. Air – Humidity = less frizz, which takes away the added volume in most curly hair. I say most, because the porous quality of our hair is unique. Typically, the tighter the curls, the more porous the hair. Though, if you’re one of those who are blessed with lots of hair strands, it probably won’t look all that much different. Hair is also a bit shinier without added frizz, so that’s nice.
  2. Artificial heat is also drying, and damaging. Now that it will be too cool to breeze out of the house in the morning with still-wet air-drying hair, you will be tempted to use your blow dryer. May I caution you to use this as little a10favorite-jack-o-lanterns possible? The drying effects will mean that you need to do more deep conditioning and oil treatments, which we all know by now is expensive. A better solution, if you can stand it, is to wash hair at night, let it air dry for about an hour, and then sleep with your hair fanned out above your head and over your pillow. It sounds counter-intuitive to sleep on wet hair, but try it. The hair being lifted at the roots and drying horizontally gives added volume and the hair dries disruption-free in its gel caste, leading to smooth, shiny, defined curls.
  3. You will need less product. Now that we’re not fighting frizz on a daily basis, use less product than you do in the summer. This does not apply to conditioner — your hair always needs conditioner. In the fall and winter months, my styling routine is basically this: Condition heavily, wash out most of it, turn head upside down and scrunch in a dime-sized amount of Deva Curl Angell, get out of the shower, dry it gently with a hair towel, and rake a small dab of a finishing product through hair for added protection against the elements. This can be a creme or another type of gel. I like to mix products, it tends to work better than using a lot of one product.
  4. If you’re growing your hair out — it will look weird. This is just what I am currently experiencing, so I’m sharing it with you. I decided last spring to grow out my bangs, so I’m just letting the whole mess grow out on its own to see how long it can get before I hate it. Right now it’s lying pretty limp and lifeless, but when I use dry shampoo at the roots, it looks pretty magnificent. The main thing that annoys me is the long ringlets that have grown to about 12+ inches (in ringlet form) and make it look like I just have a few rat tails hanging down rather than a full bounty of locks. If you’re comfortable with cutting it yourself, you can take one of these longer curls, split it in half or in three sections, and snip off an inch from one of the sections. Making them slightly different lengths can separate the curls and add volume. Remember: Less is more when self-cutting (bad joke). Take off an inch or less at a time. There’s nothing worse than lopping off 5 inches without having realized; and you can always go back for more.
  5. Condition, Condition, Condition!!! I can not stress this enough. Curly hair needs a lot of conditioning. Try to work in one mask or oil treatment a week, especially in these cooler temps. If hair feels dry, leave some conditioner on your ends. *You do not need to buy leave-in conditioner!* Use the stuff you use in the shower. This applies especially to longer-haired peeps. If hair is shorter, scalp oils have less traveling to do to make it to your ends. If your hair is long, it needs some help in that department. Always wash out deep conditioning masks and oils with equal parts lemon juice and conditioner. It’s the best cleanser out there.

Now bundle up and get ready for scarves, sweaters, and hot cocoa! It’s right around the corner…

CQA Interview: Emily

cqa-emilyCurly Q&A: What was the hardest thing about having curly hair when you were young? Any funny or meaningful memories?
Emily: I’d say the hardest thing about having curly hair when you are young is accepting its beauty and rarity. When you are young, you’re more absorbed by being accepted, so you try to look like every other Tom, Dick and Harry. Curly hair is like a relationship — you need know how to work it so that it looks good and maintains its health. When you are younger you are less aware of how to style it, as this comes with time and experience.

The funniest memory was in high school when people tried to stick things in my curls – having big hair back then was like being an extraterrestrial.

CQA: Have you ever felt that having curly hair was a hindrance, either socially or professionally?
E: I like my hair big and frizzy! In today’s finely groomed society, there are times when you think, “Why can’t I look like I’ve walked out of the Golden Globes, rather than a Crufts dog show?” Then you soon realize that these people are all following the media’s dictatorship. At the end of the day, these people are all wearing the same pair of dentures, sporting Brazilian blow outs, skyscraper heels, and Victoria Beckham couture (if they are lucky). There’s not much more to it — which brings me back to my point above about being different.

I believe that you can tell a lot about a person’s personality through the way they style their hair! Boring is out.

CQA: What products do you use?
E: I try to take the best care of my hair as possible in the time I have – which is not a great deal. I recently discovered a fantastic hair balm – Aesop: Violet Leaf Hair Balm! It’s great for the days that your hair needs extra hydration.

lentmud2cCQA: I know that you’ve had curly hair extensions; did you like them?
E: My experience wasn’t great. I bought two more packs of real hair than I should have, and it was weaved into my real hair. It was unmanageable and impossible to tame — it was like brushing out a horse’s mane. I would recommend investing the time to grow your real hair out.

CQA: Do you have any tips or suggestions for someone who is considering curly hair extensions?
E: Be clued up on where you go to get them, what kind of extensions you will be getting, the process, and the type and amount of hair being used.

Curly Q&A on Facebook

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There are so many things that I want to say on a regular basis, and not everything is worthy of a full blog post. In light of that, Curly Q&A has entered the 21st century and joined Facebook! Please like my page and keep up on everything new that I and my curly friends have tried, seen, smelled, used, learned, visited; all in relation to wonderful curly hair. I’m a busy bee living in the greatest city in the world and I travel a lot and get to meet all kinds of people, so there’s always something new to share. Go ahead, give us a like, you won’t be disappointed!

Hair and Body Image

curly-heart-mdIt’s been so long since I’ve written a heartfelt post, so here it goes. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately pondering the issue of body image. I’ve been speaking to friends and reading a lot of articles, and have started following the Body Image Movement on Facebook. I am bringing this up in the context of a curly hair blog because I feel, personally, that our opinions of ourselves are so inextricably linked to what others seem to see in us and our appearance. What does our curly hair say about us? What do our wide hips say about us? What we see in popular culture, clothing ads, magazines, etc. has an undeniable effect on how we see ourselves.

I read an interesting article in May 2013’s Allure about body shapes throughout time, and they discussed the idea of a “period body” (not what you’re thinking, gross!) that represents the physical ideals of the time. In the Roaring ’20’s, it was considered attractive to sport a waif-like physique and small chest. In the post-Depression era immediately afterwards, it was en vogue to have larger hips and a curvier body. Throughout human history, sociologists have agreed that in a time when food and resources are scarce, it is a sign of wealth and well-being to have some extra meat on your bones. Conversely, when there is a bounty of sustenance, restraint is a valued commodity and those who are very thin represent the higher class. In the Suzie Homemaker period of the 1950’s, a woman was valued for her wide hips and large breasts; outward signs of a mother and homemaker. As women entered the professional class and went to work in what were once male-oriented jobs, a more boyish physique was considered appropriate.

Due to the prevalence of body image issues and dysmorphic disorders that are rampant among women and girls (btw, men don’t escape this either) of all ages, we have to question what is at the root of it all. Of course we want to feel attractive and desirable to our chosen mating pool, but there is definitely a degree of competition among women. I see it every day walking up and down 5th Ave in New York City, near my office. Ads in every storefront proffer aspirational images of bony women in loose, drapey clothing. Women hailing cabs on street corners are so thin that I often find myself looking twice and wondering how on Earth it is possible to have those legs after puberty.

Full disclosure: I, myself, have struggled with a mild degree of body image disorder. I am thin, due to genetics and my height, but there is always someone thinner. There is always someone with a “better” and a more petite bone structure. No matter how smart you are there is always someone smarter, and no matter how fit you are, there is always someone fitter. It’s the way of the world. I believe in setting myself up for success, so I asked myself how to escape this constant comparison envy and reach for something attainable that will make me happiest with myself?

The first step of my self-liberation — which I am still and will probably always be working on because I am human — came with setting my hair free. I used to straighten it all the time; had dreams of naturally straight, full hair. I’d lament its inability to grow past my shoulders because I was constantly blow-frying it. When I read Lorraine Massey’s quote from Curly Girl, “It’s your head that needs straightening, not your hair!” I knew that I had found my mantra. What did straight hair do for me that my natural curls did not? I knew that more men seemed to find me attractive when I had straight hair. I knew that curly hair was often viewed as child-like and messy.

My belief, based on a lot of reading on the subject, is that the assumption that curly hair is unprofessional and inappropriate for today’s professional woman has racist and prejudiced roots. Super-curly hair has primarily existed on the heads of African and Jewish people and their descendents. Straight, lank, light-colored hair was found on the wispy Eastern European goddesses who embodied the elegant high-society look for most of the last century. For a culture that values a body type that is straight and without curves, it makes sense that the same would be expected of one’s hair.

I love my hair as it is. I have accepted that it is curly by nature, and I’ve nurtured it into becoming the kick-ass spiral-y mane that it is today. It doesn’t take much work; certainly less than straightening it did. I now think that I look much more attractive with curly hair than I do with straight, and I feel more like myself. The first step to baring my true identity was to rock out with my curls out. Now if I can learn to accept my curves with the same fervor, and continue to exercise and eat well for my own health and not to try to mold my body to today’s ideal, I’ll be in pretty great shape.

More importantly — if I can convince just a few of the fabulous women in my life to do the same, we’ll be unstoppable.

Related reading:

 

Let’s Talk Follicles

As if you’d ever need a reason to become forever devoted to maintaining your gorgeous curly mane (ha!), you may be interested to know that there is no known non-surgical way to permanently straighten your hair. Some of us have tried various techniques, and I’ve heard friends say, post-keratin/chemical straightening, that they have found that their hair has grown out much less curly. Some even turn straight, God forbid!

The truth of the matter is, your hair is curly because your hair follicle, which is grown in a tiny sac beneath your scalp, is oval-shaped. The curlier the hair, the more oval-y (?) the follicle is. Case and point, here is the cross-section of a piece of African American hair (right). This is the extreme, a wavy or loosely curly hair follicle would be much more circular.

Conversely, if you have stick-straight hair, your hair follicle is a circle. As the hair grows down your back, the shape of the follicle determines whether it spirals down or hangs straight. Take a look at this Asian hair follicle (left).

Now, the health-conscious reader may wonder to themselves as to what chemical reaction could possibly cause permanent hair relaxing, if this is indeed possible. It’s quite alarming that a hair treatment might affect the shape of the hair that grows from a fixed-shape follicle in our scalps. Other factors may also be affecting it, like any big life event that changes your body as a whole, such as aging, a major surgery or — pregnancy! This is why many of us notice that our hair changes after having kids. I say, learn to love it and always keep your hair well-hydrated with monthly if not weekly oil treatments. Dehydration is one of the biggest reasons that curly tops become unhappy with their natural locks.

It’s science, really.