Between periods, the menopause and, well, so many other subjects, sometimes it seems as if there's an endless list of conversation topics that are deemed just too uncouth for us women to talk about openly - female hair loss included.
But with National Hair Loss Awareness Month coming up (August), a conversation about the reality of suffering from female hair loss is way overdue.
The question is: Why should a condition that affects a massive percentage of men, be so taboo for women? And, like anything, just how much worse is it when you feel completely alone with it?
It's time to speak out.
Helping to open up the conversation about female hair loss is supermodel Sara Sampaio who recently revealed her struggle with trichotillomania, a disorder that, in her case, lead to her pulling on her eyebrow hairs until they come out, leaving visible gaps.
The VS model discussed her ongoing struggle with the disorder via Instagram saying, "Mine started when I was around 15yo! It started with me pulling on my eyelashes and almost quick after it went to me pulling in my eyebrow hair! I no longer pull on my eyelashes and have been pulling on my eyebrows ever since! The episodes are worse under a lot of stress or when I'm not doing anything like watching tv or reading a book!"
Actress Kristin Davis aka SATC's Charlotte, also recently revealed her own struggles with thinning hair to WWD:
"It was very fine, like it had gone away, there was just hardly any hair there… when I tried to do something or had to go somewhere I was like, 'Where is my hair?'"
With NHS figures suggesting that around half of women over the age of 65 will experience female pattern hair loss, not to mention a whole plethora of other forms of hair loss affecting women everywhere, surely it's time to shake that taboo off once and for all and get talking.
We spoke to four women about their personal experiences and how they're giving female hair loss the finger, one day at a time...
Juliet Cooke - Alopecia
Nine months ago, whilst blow drying my hair, I noticed a small circular bald patch on my left temple. I had no idea what it was and instantly called the doctors surgery hoping to book an appointment. I was told over the phone that it sounded like I had something called Alopecia and the doctor couldn't see me for a few weeks, but there's no cure, so I wasn't an urgent case compared to others.
The first thing I did was go on the internet to see what this mysterious thing called Alopecia was, having no real idea myself. The internet was covered with photos of bald people and those destructive words printed everywhere, no cure...
The panic I felt in that moment was so overwhelming and actually indescribable. The thoughts rushing through my head wouldn't stop… "What if I lose all my hair?" "Who will ever want to look at me?" "How will I look at myself?" It went on and on.
Over the months to follow, I lost hair every day, whether it was in the shower coming out in handfuls or waking up with it all over my pillow. My parents and I tried everything to stop it, injections, steroid creams, immunologists, trichologists, dermatologists… a never-ending stream of appointments which always resulted with the same answer - I had Alopecia, no one knew why, what it was from or how I could stop it.
There was only one thing to do in my mind and that was to keep a smile on my face and pretend it wasn't happening. Putting on a front is one of the easiest things to do, I had done plenty of times in the past so why not now. Unfortunately, there's only so much you can mask before the emotion comes pouring out at the seams, and it did.
The day I started to lose my eyebrows was the day I lost all hope. I hit rock bottom. I couldn't get up in the mornings or show my face in public. It wasn't that I was crying every day, because I honestly didn't have the energy or even care enough to do that. I just felt totally flat. I couldn't see a way out of the big black hole and I'm not sure at that moment in time if I really cared enough about myself to even try. Alopecia is not only a physical condition but it massively affects your mental state as well. Depression is another thing people rarely speak about, but it's finally getting the media attention it so greatly deserves.
One day, about 2 months ago, I made the decision to turn my life around and get myself back on track. I was sitting at my family's holiday cottage in Strangford and the sun was glimmering on the lough and in through the window and it felt like for the first time I had energy and even a little hope. I decided it was time to share my journey with everyone so I didn't have to hide anymore.
I FINALLY FOUND THE COURAGE TO BEAT ALOPECIA TO THE PUNCH AND I SHAVED MY HEAD, TAKING BACK THE CONTROL THE CONDITION HAD STOLEN AWAY FROM ME.
I sat down, switched on my iPad and started to talk, explaining to people what I had personally been going through, what Alopecia was, showing them my hidden bald patches, and then sang a song as music had helped me through the toughest of times. I posted it on Facebook before really thinking. I had never been a public person, but for some reason, there was no doubt in my mind that my act of self-help had to be done in a very public way. We are all different, and this was my way of dealing with it.
I finally found the courage to beat Alopecia to the punch and I shaved my head, taking back the control the condition had stolen away from me. They say stress causes Alopecia, but let's be honest losing your hair causes stress and there's only one way to stop that cycle.
Emily May Armstrong - Trichotillomania
I'm Emily, a 24 year old PhD student living in Glasgow studying plant science and I've been living with Trich for 15 years.
Trichotillomania is a compulsive body-focused-repetitive-disorder, a sub-type of OCD. It's characterised by a compulsion to pull, or remove hair; most commonly from the head, but it can also involve eyelashes, eyebrows, or pubic hair.
I was first diagnosed with Trich when I was nine years old, when I suddenly lost all the hair from my head. I'm 24 now, and although it gets worse in peaks and troughs, you're never really free from the urge. Or, you just pick up bad habits, like smoking, to get through it.
Trich is under-researched in the UK, with the NHS pretty pushed for resources to try and treat it. I was referred to CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) when I was 10, which just made me more anxious and depressed. Trying to identify Trich-triggers is incredibly difficult; they can be emotional, physical, situational and differ vastly between individuals. For me, currently it's mostly when I come up against confusing stuff in my PhD research; anxiety and stress also induce it.
Trich is mostly considered untreatable; there's not enough research into the mental, or neurophysiological mechanisms of action to really underpin the cause. I suspect it works in a similar way to any other addiction; a stimulus like a small amount of pain induces a dopamine response, a pleasurable feeling. After a while, your physiological urge for the dopamine hit overpowers your reasoning to stop.
The most isolating part of Trich is trying as hard as you can to stop, you don't want to do it, but you just can't. It'd be like asking an alcoholic to quit drinking, if they had wine bottles attached to their hands 24/7. It feels impossible sometimes.
I'm in a rough patch with Trich at the moment; missing about half of my hair. Luckily I've 'trained' myself to go for less noticeable areas, meaning for the most part you can't tell from most angles, or unless you're really looking.
It's a massive self-esteem destroyer, I know I'm guilty of isolating myself from friends when I'm feeling especially vulnerable, turning down nights out and otherwise enjoyable social events. It's a vicious cycle, you feel depressed, you lose your hair. You've lost your hair, so you feel depressed. I've been suicidal over it before, no doubt about that.
IT'D BE LIKE ASKING AN ALCOHOLIC TO QUIT DRINKING, IF THEY HAD WINE BOTTLES ATTACHED TO THEIR HANDS 24/7. IT FEELS IMPOSSIBLE SOMETIMES.
I've never worn a wig, the remaining hair I do have is thick and really curly so it tends to hide things for me. I feel if it significantly progressed and I couldn't control it any more, then I almost definitely would. The high quality ones are very expensive though, which is a barrier for a lot of sufferers. I'm considering shaving my hair at the moment; but I know it'd be impossible for me not to pull the re-growth entirely.
Women's hair loss is still so taboo because the socio-economic system we exist under puts unwarranted and unnecessary 'value' on physical appearance and social status, regardless of gender. Until we can liberate ourselves from this patriarchal and repressive system profiting from our insecurity, it will always be a taboo to stand out from 'the normal', which contributes to a lot of mental health problems across the board.
I'm trying to embrace my differences; I've got a long way to go.
Hannah Robinson - Hair Loss As A Result Of Polycistic Ovary Syndrome
I started to lose my hair when I was about 13 years old.
I didn't notice at first as it was a gradual thinning, but once I realised I was losing my thick, red-golden hair, it was devastating. I had always taken my hair for granted, and had received compliments my whole life for it. Suddenly I was a teenager with hair loss, which makes an already difficult period of life even harder.
I found out I have PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome) coupled with insulin resistance, which were the causes of the hair loss. This was over 12 years ago and unfortunately for me not much was known about the condition, which affects so many women. All the GPs and specialists I saw were middle aged men, who were dismissive and often clueless about what was going on. I was told there was really not much to be done, and put on the pill which was supposed to balance things out. At one point I was even told not to worry over something as trivial as hair loss.
It was hard going through my teenage years with very thin hair. I never had any bald spots but at times it was so thin you could see my scalp easily, and if I wore my hair loose it looked like only a few wispy strands.
Nobody seems to understand how it makes you feel, what a negative impact it has on your self-esteem and confidence. When somebody has 'a bad hair day' they mean the whole day is a bad day - that's how it feels every day as somebody with hair loss. All my friends would be styling their hair and dressing up for nights out and I would be panicking about how to make myself not look like I was balding.
AT ONE POINT I WAS EVEN TOLD NOT TO WORRY OVER SOMETHING AS TRIVIAL AS HAIR LOSS.
Thick hair is a sign of youth, health and vitality - it's something everyone strives for. We're bombarded with adverts for hair thickening products, so to have such thin hair, you feel unattractive, unhealthy, and abnormal, especially when all your friends have thick hair.
Thick hair and femininity are intrinsically linked. Cutting your hair off or shaving your head as a women is seen as a rebellious, daring move, or plain crazy (remember Britney's meltdown?). But think of all the attractive male celebrities with bald or shaved heads. Thinning hair is seen as a masculine trait, so when a woman suffers from it, it can make you feel less of a woman.
I personally love short hair on women, I cut my own hair very short a couple of times. But it's hard to shake off that feeling that somehow you've failed as a woman, because you don't have luscious flowing locks. The amount of times I've had guys ask me if I was a lesbian when I had short hair just illustrates the fact that we live in a world where people judge even your sexuality by what your hair looks like!
My hair has become slightly thicker in recent years due to trying out some other medications, and I have recently started using Regaine foam for women. I've had to come to terms with the fact I will never have thick hair, but it still gets me down now and then, especially when I go through periods of stress and it thins again. I found that about 6 months after I was hospitalised whilst travelling in Africa, and after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal (I was a volunteer there at the time) my hair suddenly thinned again, which is apparently common after traumatic events.
Your hair is such a part of your identity that it's difficult not to be affected negatively by losing it. Mine also changed colour as it thinned so I'm no longer the red-head I once was. It's good to know that it's being talked about more now, and hopefully the stigma around being a woman with hair loss will gradually disappear.