At the age of 46, one of my friends experienced alopecia, a disturbing and premature form of hair loss. Gradually, her hairline mimicked that of a balding man.
Distraught, she self-diagnosed her condition, male pattern baldness, and sought the advice of a self-proclaimed expert who worked at one of those hair-job emporiums advertised on Saturday morning infomercials.
He took advantage of her naiveté and desperation, suggesting a hair transplant. The procedure, advertised as one of the affordable options, strained her budget anyway.
The appointment presented additional insults. Without warning, the salon replaced the scheduled doctor with a man who appeared to be an unlicensed trainee. He ended up working under the supervision of another unidentified person who breached the private session unannounced.
The hair specialist began stabbing her scalp with needles to administer a local anesthetic. Complaining of severe pain, my friend begged him to lighten his touch. But rather than demonstrate any compassion whenever she grimaced and yelped, “It hurts,” he responded with a callous “No, it doesn’t!”
She later suffered unexpected post-operative complications — a sore, throbbing scalp and temporary loss of the tiny new strands. The staff reluctantly revealed the expectation that regrowth wouldn’t commence for several weeks, so she practiced a daily ritual of examining her scalp for evidence.
To this day, she is uncertain whether the transplants worked at all.
Later came tattooing along the front edges of her hair to simulate a more flattering hairline. But the pricey tattoos hurt, took a lot of time, required repeat visits, and produced only a slight enhancement.
But wait — there’s more!
What followed were appointments with internists (to ascertain her hair loss was unrelated to hormone conditions such as thyroid dysfunction), dermatologists (to eliminate the possibility of skin or follicular disease), and a geneticist (to see whether her ancestry held the key.) The geneticists’ results were as inconclusive as they were expensive.
She continued to slog through other quicksand pits along this journey.
Overtightened braids intended to augment the hair generated erosive alopecia instead — in other words, the surrounding areas exposed more scalp. She abandoned both the option and the hairdresser.
These nightmare scenarios occur more often than you might think. Many black females seek treatment within a lucrative industry designed to profit from their customers’ prolonged struggles.
So what causes the high frequency of hair loss?
While genetics may play a role, the extraordinary pressures experienced among the black female demographic undoubtedly contribute to the problem, as exemplified by one woman whose hair fell out in tufts until she completed a lengthy stress management program.
A focus on research addressing black hair and skin’s unique characteristics, combined with ethnic sensitivity training, would make a palpable difference in customer care and possibly generate more successful outcomes.
If you’re wondering why my friend avoided hairpieces, especially the natural hair extensions, they were expensive. Cheaper options would have made her look like she borrowed her style from the head of a doll.
Hairstylists typically charge $400 for a four- to six-hour professional weave that lasts only a few months before a necessary readjustment.
But because my friend lives in the South, where summer temperatures typically hover in the 90s for days, the heat buildup beneath her wig can be miserable despite thinner netting now used in its construction. Other side effects include irritation from an occasional scalp rash.
After I provided her with lessons learned from personal experience using the holistic research I had at my disposal — including dietary changes, supplements, and meditations — she noticed an incremental improvement in overall hair volume. The sparse areas, however, remained unaffected.
But take heart from this saga’s outcome: She has rediscovered both her peace and a fantastic flair for wearing a wardrobe of wig and scarf styles.
And when she is home alone, she lets those follicles breathe freely. She is lovely anyway and confident in an identity that never depended on the keratinized protein layer covering her head.
In conclusion, combatting hair loss can feel like running the ultimate gauntlet. You would be wise and comforted to adopt my friend’s philosophy of appreciating her beauty as the sum of her internal and external qualities.
Bad hair days (and eras) happen, but they never mitigate our intrinsic value and shouldn’t compromise our self-assurance.
After all, some bald women manage to look and feel gorgeous.