Fashion & Beauty

Hair Brained

June 19, 2022

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By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at valeriemonroe.substack.com.

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at https://valeriemonroe.substack.com.

A FEW READERS have requested a post about thinning hair, which got me thinking about hair in general. I remember sitting in an airport a couple of years ago waiting for a flight, fascinated by the parade of creative ways one might fashion the wildly diverse kinds of keratin protein that grow from our scalps. I mean, hair! It’s fun! And it’s important! For lots of reasons.

Before I get to the thinning issue, I want to mention an aspect of hair I was recently reminded of when I visited the Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures. (Get there if you can!) The exhibit is like a high-end flea market: lots to look at without an overriding theme except . . . treasures. Among the booty is a locket with a few strands of Beethoven’s hair. (Along with a handwritten, passionately annotated score I found less impressive even though it seemed to convey far more about Beethoven’s character than his hair.) According to the library’s description of the locket, people—very intrusive and greedy people, IMHO—began to cut locks of Beethoven’s hair two days before he died in 1827. Then I found this Wikipedia tidbit: A lock of Beethoven’s hair [different from the one in the library, I think], cut from his head in 1827, was auctioned in 1994 through Sotheby’s of London. Research on the hair determined that the composer’s lifelong illness was caused by lead poisoning.

Hair—attached and unattached to the head—possesses not only medically revealing information, but also magical and consoling properties cross-culturally. You may be familiar with the Victorian practice of keeping locks of hair in lockets, bracelets, and brooches as mementos of lost relatives or lovers. I think of these things as portable reliquaries (and hair keeps so much better than a finger!). If you’ve had children: Do you have a lock of their baby hair? If your children are grown and you still have this memento, is that weird? (Asking for a friend.)

Back to the more practical subject at hand: Your hair. First, why is the condition of your hair important? Because it’s one of the most visible indicators of health and sexual vitality. Long, thick, full or flowing hair—like what you might have had if you were lucky in your youth—is a signal that your insides are equally hearty, that everything in there is flowing appropriately, too. When you notice that your part has widened, or when you can see your scalp through what now resembles a veil rather than a fur coat, that sinking feeling in your gut is hard-wired recognition that, in the Darwinian sense, you’re past your expiration date. In other words, we might recoil from a balding woman not just because she looks unfamiliar; it’s because she looks diminished.

Hold on to your hat before you read this disheartening statistic: Fifty percent of postmenopausal women have noticeable thinning of the hair on their scalp. After age 50, approximately the same number of men and women suffer from thinning. The reason is most likely loss of estrogen, which is protective of hair. You shed hair naturally every day, but the loss is considered significant if you start seeing thinning behind the hairline or a widening part.

The first thing to do if you notice thinning is to see a doctor, who can determine whether it’s the result of a correctable condition (for example, an overactive or underactive thyroid or low iron levels) or the side effect of a medication (such as for high blood pressure or depression). If there’s no underlying cause except age, you can try minoxidil (Rogaine) 5 percent. Thinning hair has a shorter anagen (growth) phase than normal; that phase typically shortens as we get older. Minoxidil extends the growth phase. Apply it to the scalp at least once a day; if in three months you see no difference in thickness, it’s not going to be effective. Minoxidil is a chronic maintenance therapy, meaning if you stop using it, it stops working. I have a couple of (female) friends who’ve used it and are happy with the results. There are several other treatments for thinning hair—depending on the cause—that have a decent track record, including prescription finasteride and platelet-rich plasma therapy. That’s why, if you feel your issue is extreme, you want to see a doctor who specializes in hair loss. Finally, if the issue isn’t extreme, there’s another non-prescription product I might recommend.

When I was beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, we did an experiment with several staffers (a few women and one man) who were unhappy with their thinning hair or receding hairline. They used Hårklinikken Hair Regrowth Program every evening for several weeks and—startling to all of us—each one noticed a resurgence of hair growth. Though I don’t know how it works because the company’s spokespeople were tight-lipped, I believe their system is worth a look. You can book a consultation online at www.harklinikken.com.

As for styling, don’t overload thinning hair with product, because that will weigh it down. Overcompensating—trying to create too much volume—results in wispy-looking, cotton-candy hair, so opt for a sleek style. And avoid parting your hair in the center; an uneven side part makes hair look fuller. Using a volumizing shampoo and conditioner can also help mimic fullness, as can coloring your hair, which thickens strands.

Ask Val

Yes, you, in the aisle, having a violent mood swing?

Q:Since I hit my 40s, my hair has become more brittle and frizzier. Is it because I’m perimenopausal?

A:Way back when I was perimenopausal, as opposed to menopausal, which you have to be before you can graduate, as I proudly have, to postmenopausal . . . Wait a minute, what was the question?

Oh, your hair. I started to say I liked blaming everything on perimenopause: my moodiness, my cocker spaniel’s moodiness, the state of my complexion, whatever. But perimenopause is not a likely culprit here. (Other unlikely but plausible causes are hypothyroidism and a protein, vitamin, biotin, or zinc deficiency.) Low humidity and dry heat suck moisture out of the hair, making it brittle. As we age, our scalp can become drier, which can make hair drier, too; and when hair loses its pigment, turning gray or white, its texture often becomes frizzier. Your hair needs moisture, and the best way to restore it is withmoisturizing shampooandconditioning treatments.

 

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