Hair. Is. Everything! Fleabag star Phoebe Waller-Bridge spoke for women everywhere when she said these words to her hairdresser in the episode where he carelessly chops off great lengths of it. She told him: ‘It’s the difference between a good day and a bad day!’
I could have hugged her, if I wasn’t otherwise occupied trying to rearrange my thinning and seemingly ungrowable fringe into something that didn’t make me look like Rod Stewart circa 1982 — not exactly a confidence-inspiring look for a beauty editor.
Like me, more women than ever before are struggling with hair loss. Remarkably, 90 per cent of those seeking treatment are women, according to new figures out this week from the London Centre for Trichology, with stress and perimenopause the prime culprits.
For the past six years, I have been blindsided by both. My mother died very suddenly, but as the family breadwinner I ploughed on. I was in my late 40s; my oestrogen levels — a major factor in luscious and youthful growth — were having their last hurrah.
UK-based beauty experts reveal the treatments they use for their thinning hair, including Victoria Woodhall who is editorial director of beauty website Get The Gloss. Pictured: Elle Macpherson and Victoria
Hair loss also seemed fated — both my mother and grandmother had thinning hairlines.
Working in the glamorous and image-driven world of beauty and wellbeing, my self-confidence receded with my hairline. I would quiz supermodels and actresses about their beauty routines. Reviewing the obligatory post-interview selfie, it was never their height or cheekbones I’d envy, it was always their hair. There’s a picture of me with Elle Macpherson, in which I’m draped in her honeyed locks, asking whether she had any to spare.
It was time to call on all the experts in my little black book.
‘Hair is really emotive for women. It signifies health, femininity and fertility,’ says dermatologist Justine Hextall of the Tarrant Street Clinic in Arundel, West Sussex.
‘Hair loss is terrifying. Women think: “If my hair is thinning now, will I end up with no hair?’
Justine had seen compelling studies for the injectable treatment PRP (platelet-rich plasma, where your own blood plasma is injected into your scalp) and gave me two sessions of this six weeks apart to regenerate my follicles.
It took about three months to notice the fine hair at my hairline wasn’t breaking as much, but I couldn’t afford the £600 to have this annually.
What else works? Nowadays, I always shampoo using a scalp massager brush (Tropic hair Massager, £8, tropicskincare.com), which stimulates the follicles and gives really great root volume.
Two tweakments in particular have been game-changing when it comes to hiding my hair loss. Surprisingly, having my eyebrows microbladed, (where subtle hair-strokes are tattooed on) by Suman Jalaf at Suman Brows (suman brows.com) made them look instantly fuller, framing my face in a way my hair no longer could.
I’d never been one for Botox, but having tiny dots of Viscoderm filler injected into my prominent forehead lines by Dr Sophie Shotter (illuminateskinclinic.co.uk) every six months, means I’m no longer pulling my fragile, easily-broken fringe down to cover it.
My hair will never get back to what it used to be — that’s an inevitable consequence of the perimenopause for me — but drawing on all the brilliant expertise the beauty world has to offer has given me back my confidence.
Victoria Woodhall, 53, is editorial director of beauty website Get The Gloss
AT LAST I CAN WEAR A CENTRE PARTING
Emma Gunavardhana, 43, former beauty editor of OK! magazine and host of the UK’s top-rated health and beauty podcast The Emma Guns Show:
As a child, I had very thick hair, but when I hit puberty all that changed. My hair was thinner, lacked volume and — horrifyingly — there were patches of hair loss around my hairline.
By the time I’d figured out the reason — the hormonal condition polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which was diagnosed when I was 17 — I’d learned various tricks to disguise it.
Emma Gunavardhana, 43, who is the former beauty editor of OK!, said her hair loss began to get worse while suffering from anxiety and depression in 2015. Pictured: Emma before
I’d use mousse and Velcro rollers and spend hours coaxing some sort of volume into it.
Then, aged 23 I started working as a beauty journalist for OK! magazine, where I was surrounded by women with amazing hair.
And it wasn’t just the celebrities I interviewed. I’d go to product launches and be envious as I watched other women bounce in blow-dry first.
In 2015, my hair loss began to get worse. I was suffering from anxiety and depression and the stress was really taking its toll.
I thought I could hide my hair’s increasing patchiness with product, but then I went to Berlin in 2017 to interview actress Jessica Alba. We were being filmed, and just as the make-up artist had finished doing my make-up, she loaded a brush with brown eyeshadow and started painting my scalp. I was mortified.
That made me realise other people were definitely noticing. For 18 months I used products by Nioxin (£20-£50, amazon.co.uk), which feed the hair a healthy cocktail of ingredients, meaning it definitely feels thicker, even if there’s not more of it. I also tried Aveda’s Invati range (£15-£47 johnlewis.com) which again made what I had look thicker. However, the real turning point was just over a year ago when I had a consultation with a trichologist, who diagnosed androgenic alopecia.
Emma was diagnosed with androgenic alopecia by a trichologist, and says her hair has become thicker since receiving expert help. Pictured: Emma after
This means your hair follicles are sensitive to androgens (male hormones) and shrink until they stop producing hair altogether. Stress can exacerbate it.
No shampoo can unshrink a follicle which is sensitive to androgens. That’s why I’m evangelical about telling people with hair loss issues to seek expert help.
Twice a day, I use drops of minoxidil, a topically applied drug for hair loss, and today my hairline is noticeably thicker. Before, I’d always wear a side parting to disguise where I was losing hair, but since I’ve started seeing results I’ve gone to a more exposed centre parting.
It may seem a small thing, but for me it’s like being able to wear skinny jeans again after losing a lot of weight. I do it because I can.
MY CROWN GLOWED LIKE A BEACON
Amelia Jean Jones, 33, a former beauty editor, Women’s Health magazine’, says:
When I was 26 my father passed away after a four-year battle with cancer. I expected grief to affect the way I looked, from red-rimmed eyes to weight loss, but I thought that, along with the ferocious emotional pain, these visual signs of loss would diminish.
I went back to work straight away as a beauty writer and subsequently beauty editor on Women’s Health magazine, and sure enough, as life started to return to normal, my appearance did, too. Apart from the large gap that appeared along my hair parting.
Amelia Jean Jones, 33, (pictured) who is a former beauty editor for Women’s Health magazine, noticed her hair loss after the passing of her father
I’m a beauty writer — I need to keep up my glossy, polished persona, so I didn’t tell anyone at work what was happening. Instead, I started to try out all the ground-breaking hair-care products that arrived in the office.
I tried to part my hair to cover the gaps on my scalp, but having dark hair and fair skin meant my growing crown seemed to glow like an ugly beacon.
At 5ft 2in I felt as if people were constantly peering down onto it, and I was particularly self-conscious on escalators or at beauty events where other editors might be standing behind me.
Amelia (pictured) admits she worries about her daughter also suffering hair loss
When the editor suggested a feature on hair thinning, I eagerly volunteered to see a trichologist.
She explained I was suffering female-pattern hair loss, which largely happens to women with a genetic history of it.
That made sense, as both my mum and grandmother have always had very thin hair.
Rather than the hair follicle going into a resting phase after growing, it dies and sheds more rapidly than it can be replaced.
There’s no cure, but it can be slowed with prescription drugs or expensive treatments such as a transplant or plasma therapy.
However, I’ve discovered two things that help.
First, Revitalash Volume Enhancing Foam (£159, revitalash.co.uk) which makes my hair look thicker. I also use the ghd Glide Hot Brush (£139, ghdhair.com) which helps me create volume and cover any gaps.
Hair loss has had a serious impact on my confidence, and now I’m a mum, I worry about my baby daughter experiencing the same thing. You can’t fight genetics, but I hope to teach her that the volume of your hair shouldn’t equate to your self-worth.
I THOUGHT IT ONLY AFFECTED MEN
Lucia Ferrari, 49, former beauty editor, Harper’s Bazaar. She says:
My hair started to look different two years ago. My ponytail was nowhere near as swishy as it had been, and I remember my colourist saying: ‘Oh Lucia, it’s just not what it used to be!’
Since my nickname at school had been Crystal (the frizzy-haired girl in cartoon Crystal Tipps And Alistair not Dynasty’s Krystle Carrington) I didn’t mind a bit of thinning, but when I started to see more and more in the shower, it felt traumatic.
Lines and wrinkles are inevitable, but I always considered hair loss a male thing. Plus, as a beauty journalist, looking your best is more or less a professional requirement.
Lucia Ferrari, 49, who is former beauty editor of Harper’s Bazaar, was recommended Omacor and told to watch her carb intake after visiting trichologist Anabel Kingsley. Pictured: Lucia mid-treatment
I felt embarrassed every time I met a new hair stylist and had to explain the strange shelf at the back of my head where the top layer of hair had snapped off. Think Friar Tuck bob, but without the bald patch. Yet.
I knew I had to take action.
My first port of call was the Philip Kingsley Trichology clinic in Mayfair, whose many famous clients have included Cate Blanchett and Mick Jagger.
Trichologist Anabel Kingsley explained that there are two types of hair loss in women. ‘The first is all-over shedding, which can be traumatic but thankfully not long-lasting. The second is related to excess testosterone. Some forms of HRT have even been shown to make this worse.’
Blood tests established mine wasn’t hormonal but was probably stress-related, and exacerbated by over bleaching. My weekly blow-dry appointment hadn’t helped either.
I was recommended Omacor, a high-dose Omega 3 supplement to help increase hair thickness plus a daily supplement of hair-growth boosting vitamin D.
Anabel told me to watch my carb intake, explaining: ‘If you don’t eat enough, the body hijacks your protein intake for its energy source and your hair suffers.’
I was also advised to use a series of in-clinic scalp treatments, a weekly scalp mask to use at home and the Philip Kingsley Elasticizer pre-shampoo treatment to strengthen my hair. This started adding the oomph back as soon as I began using it.
A consultation with Anabel costs £345 and the scalp treatments are £95, but I was happy to pay to start seeing an improvement so quickly.
Creative Director of John Frieda salons, Zoe Irwin, was next on my list for a lesson on blow-drying hair using the cool setting, which is crucial for protecting it.
Zoe also introduced me to the Manta hairbrush (£25, mantahair.com) to minimise hair loss. Every bristle swivels 360 degrees so there is zero tugging.
I moved away from a full head of bleached highlights to tinted highlights and some balayage painted on the ends. It took a while to get used to being less blonde, but the improvement in volume is worth it.
I’ve often been told sulphates and silicones in hair products leach moisture and can make it snap off. A typical shampoo is 15 per cent sulphates and is drying for middle-aged hair. So now I use sulphate and silicone-free ranges (my favourites are Centred, Rahua and Living Proof, £22-£30, all at cultbeauty.co.uk).
Ironically, lockdown has helped. Forgoing my weekly salon blow-dry has meant less heat damage and bigger, swishier hair.
I was delighted when a friend I met for a walk last week said: ‘You’ve got your mane back.’