As an adult, in some small way, I’ve probably always had an issue with hair loss. In 2018, I was under a lot of work-related stress. I remember that back then, a space that was nearly the size of a quarter in diameter cleared out completely. Luckily, while on the job, I hid my hairless territory via a hairstyle involving a faux ponytail. But before that time, that section of my head had been a trouble spot for years.
My real rude awakening came a little more recently.
Over the last several years, I’d been rocking crochet braids. For the uninitiated, this is a style where you cornrow your hair, then use a latch hook to attach extensions to your head.
Unfortunately, while styling my hair this way, I’d made a major faux pas. At the beginning of my braid journey, I was vigilant about washing or soaking my braiding hair in a mix of conditioner and water.
Just FYI: In case you’re reading this and don’t know, braiding extensions are often made with chemicals that can cause your scalp to itch severely. Via YouTube, I quickly learned about the importance of washing extensions, or soaking or soak them in an apple cider vinegar and water mixture before using them. Doing this dilutes harmful chemicals and eliminates the itching.
But over time, I didn’t always bother with this ritual. Today, I feel like this is an awful thing to admit, and perhaps a bit of a dangerous practice. Especially considering the way my scalp responded. In hindsight, I wonder if braid extensions’ chemicals can be blamed for more than just physical discomfort.
And while I’m informing people, let me share this reminder: If you wear braided styles, wash your extensions! I don’t care how expensive they may be, or how good a brand’s Instagram account may look. One of my most aggravating crochet-braid experiences came after I used one of the most popular crochet hair brands available.
The look they provide is stunning, and if my hair grows back, who knows? I might even use their products in the future. (Is that horrible for me to admit? Maybe.) But they’re absolutely not getting anywhere near my head without a thorough soaking.
Where was I? Oh yes! The story of my hair’s demise!
Facing the Truth
Between 2020 and 2021, when I wasn’t wearing braids, I tried twisting my natural hair. Back then, it was about shoulder length. In the back of my mind, I had a pretty liberating motivation for my new hairstyle: I wanted to cultivate a set of locs. But a key problem put me off of following through. After one twisting session, I looked in the mirror. I remember feeling around the roots of my twists. Across my entire scalp, there was a disturbing difference in my hair’s thickness.
From just above my ears, down, I couldn’t ask for thicker hair. No one could. The lower back of my head was—and is—extremely fertile ground.
But the front and crown of my head told a different story. The twists in this region were about 50% thinner than the others. I didn’t know why. But I knew it was a problem. I twisted my hair once or twice after that, and noticed the same results.
Flash forward to the latter half of 2021. I decided to face the truth. I bought clippers and cut my hair. The end result was short—no more than 1 or 2 inches long. And in spite of a normal front-facing look in selfies, the sight of my scalp had me worried.
I could mess around with combing and brushing techniques all I wanted. But my hair was thinning. And it was obvious.
By December, I’d had enough, and on New Year’s Eve, aka my cousin’s birthday (Hey, M!), I decided to act.
I took out the clippers that I’d bought for my previous haircut, and I shaved my head.
Since that day, the shortest guard on my clippers has become my very best friend.
During the first half of this year, every couple of weeks, I clipped my hair. Later on, this spring, I was on the verge of giving myself a buzz every week. Sometime in the summer, though, I paused. I let my hair grow out.
I’m not quite sure of why. I think one part of me was feeling regretful over this new segment of my routine. Another part of me could hear the echoes of my ancestors telling me, “Your hair is your crowning glory…”
Eventually, the urge to investigate became stronger than my sense of denial. I needed to face the reason for my disappearing mane.
Earlier in the year a family member had encouraged me to see a doctor about my hair’s demise. I made an appointment, but I was nervous. In the past, I’ve sat across from medical professionals who have dismissed my concerns about odd symptoms. But my current doctor replaced my old one years ago, and I haven’t seen him very often.
Thankfully, in spite of my doubts, deep down I felt empowered. With my last cut several weeks in the distance, the evidence I needed to prove my case was growing, or should I say not growing, out of my head.
Once in my doctor’s office, I found myself relived to get to the point. “I’m losing my hair…” I said, and showed him my scalp.
“People get alopecia for a few different reasons…” I sighed, thankful to be taken seriously.
As a first step in exploring the roots (!) of my problem, he arranged for me to have some blood tests. Time will tell if they reveal anything.
After months of casual speculation, my doctor’s attitude was refreshing. Hearing him use actual terminology for what I was going through made me feel validated and, in a sense, vindicated. All along, deep down, I knew I had alopecia. (From what I understand, if you’re losing your hair, this condition doesn’t go by any other name.)
But the reason that I have it remains a mystery.
From what I’ve seen of both sides of my family, the older women all have healthy heads of hair. Therefore, I don’t think it’s hereditary.
The main thing I’m wondering right now is how long I’ll have to put up with this. Is my alopecia something I will need to live with the rest of my life, or do I have a treatable version of this condition?
As I said, steps are being taken to investigate. All I can do now is be patient.