I have a lot of hair — a lot. I can’t wear normal sized barrettes. My barrettes have to be at least 6 inches to fit it all in. I’ve burst more than one headband under its weight. It is freaking thick. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose there are worse problems than having too much hair. My head is never cold and I save a lot of money on hats. But I spend more on high volume bathing caps when I swim.
I decided to stop dealing with my hair and cut it very short a few years ago. It was fun but still took some maintenance. I had to get a trim and thinning every 6 weeks to keep it from getting unruly. Now I’ve recently decided to grow it out again, aligning with my goal of simplification as I transition away from a professional life. My hair grows outward and upward until it gets to a certain length and gravity takes over, forcing it downward. It still needs trims to keep it from looking something like Roseanne Roseannadanna from Saturday Night Live (without the frizz).
It turns out that self-isolation during a pandemic is a good time to grow-out one’s hair. That is until it starts falling out.
Pandemic shedding: I first noticed increased hair loss around early March. I know that my hair undergoes periodic shedding every few years. Still, there’s so much there that it is hardly noticeable. Not this time. By April, it was shedding everywhere. I’m not sure how to quantify hair loss rate — other than “gobs falling out every day.” My hair wasn’t breaking or damaged, but rather strands were falling out from the root. Every time I touched my hair, it seemed that another 10 or 20 strands would commit follicular suicide and end up in my hands.
What the hell was happening?
I stopped using any styling products and learned to avoid touching it. I still shampooed and added extra conditioner to keep it from snagging and sticking together. I started taking biotin and collagen supplements because things I read online suggested they would help stem the loss. By May, it was still falling out and I could feel it getting thinner. I was now getting concerned that there is some underlying health issue for my hair loss. Should I make a doctor’s appointment during the middle of a pandemic to assess why my hair is falling out?
Telogen effluvium: In June, I read a New York Times article about people exhibiting new and unusual health issues during this pandemic that aren’t directly related to having COVID-19. The article talks about tingling extremities, digestive problems, and skin rashes that are related to stress and lifestyle changes incurred over the past months. And then, way at the bottom of the article, there is a brief mention of an uptick in cases of telogen effluvium — substantial hair loss during times of stress!
Specifically, telogen effluvium refers to the opening of individual hair follicles that allows the release of the hair from the scalp (at the root). Hair lost during this period often retains a white bulb at the end (mine does). The loss is spread over the scalp and not in patches. It is typically associated with trauma or hormonal changes, such as those occurring during pregnancy or menopause (I am undergoing neither). A reasonable rate of hair loss might be 50-100 hairs a day, but during a period of telogen effluvium, the rate can go higher.
Apparently, gobs higher.
Given all that has happened the past few months dealing with the pandemic’s limitations, trying to finalize work projects, increasing my workout volume, and putting things into place for retirement, I definitely have been feeling an unusual amount of angst. Transitions are hard and there’s a lot of shit to deal with right now. It makes perfect sense that I would lose parts of my mane under these circumstances.
Thankfully, telogen effluvium is temporary and typically lasts only a few months. I have already noticed a decline in the number of hairs shed and there are lots of new fine hairs coming in around the hairline. Although I complain about having too much hair, I wasn’t ready to see it go permanently. I still want to be able to fill out that high volume swim cap.
I finally pulled the plug and made an appointment to cut my pandemic hair on Monday. It’s the end of June and I’ve not had a trim since January because I was concerned about the spread of COVID, along with the hair loss. I’m not sure what to do with it at this point other than trim it back to something manageable.
Maybe my hairdresser will have more insight as to why I’m shedding like a Huskey dog in summer.