In my journey to regrow my edges, I have been doing a number of things that are supposed to aid in restoring my hairline, including getting PRP (plasma-rich platelet) injections, applying Rogaine 5% topical foam minoxidil daily, washing my hair once a week, steaming and spritzing my hair with a nourishing mist every other day. But I realized that I’d skipped one of the most important steps in the process; the one that I should have started with. It was time to get a scalp analysis.
I went to see scalp therapist, stylist and certified trichologist Bridgette Hill at Paul Labrecque Salon and Skincare Spa in Midtown Manhattan. Trichologists specialize in the science of the structure and function of the hair and scalp. They look at elements like fibers, possible scalp disease, and diagnose the cause of hair loss (note: dermatologists can be trichologists but not all trichologists are dermatologists).
My visit was eye opening for a number of reasons, but mainly because Hill did a scope to take a closer look at my scalp in order to better understand the condition of it, my follicles and my hair fibers.
“Hair care is really scalp care,” she said as she moved the scope around my scalp. “It’s not sexy. And the beauty industry wants sexy. They didn’t make money dealing with the hair care part or the scalp care. So there were many different levels that forced the industry to ignore it because there was really no benefit. That has changed because [hair loss] is becoming more of an epidemic across race, gender, economic [background] and lifestyle.”
Seeing my hair fibers and scalp through a scope brought some perspective to my treatment process. For one, I found out that my hairline was inflamed, which is bad for blood flow and can affect your scalp analysis. When I went to see Hill I was wearing a headband wig combination that was creating pressure along the hairline.
Hill was able to show me what the scalp looks like when it’s inflamed from pressure versus when it’s allowed to breathe and let blood flow. My constant wig wearing is not helping with growth. I also found out that I have wispy little hairs trying to push through follicles that I couldn’t see with my naked eye. It’s called miniaturization. The bad news is that miniaturization is a negative and typically means future hair loss. The good news is that my follicles are still active, and if I treat them right, we can reverse the damage and further loss.
“Miniaturization is when we know that that follicle is being compromised. It can be compromised because of inflammation. It could be compromised if you’re ill. It could be compromised because of genetics, whatever that is,” Hill told me.
“But the good thing is, they exist. Meaning that that’s a hair follicle, nothing’s coming out of it, but I still see that little speck. I probably can get a hair or something out of it. Every time you see these little brown specks, those are follicles that just may need to be revved up.”
Most people have anywhere from two to five hair fibers coming from each follicle, depending on how thick or thin the hair is. I had on average two; my hair being on the thinner side. But my fears that my edges wouldn’t grow back at all were quelled. I was worried about keratinization, which happens when the hair is completely gone and it does not come back after miniaturization. It turns into scaly, baby soft skin just like Whitney Eaddy, the growth guru, told me months ago. I was relieved.
As someone who has suffered severe blood loss from fibroids, Hill also advised that I get my ferritin levels checked. Ferritin is a blood protein that contains iron, so low ferritin levels may mean iron deficiency. She noticed that my hair was very brittle even in areas of the scalp that were very healthy, which indicated to her that there was in internal issue causing hair damage. It could also be a catalyst for the hairline loss (in addition to my traction alopecia).
I didn’t need to get a ferritin check to tell her that my iron levels were low (my Gyne had put me on iron supplements almost a year ago because of my abnormally low blood levels). But just mentioning this opened my eyes to the fact that my fibroids could essentially be affecting my hair health in ways that I never considered.
As a beauty editor I’m exploring topics like this all of the time. And I have access to experts that the average woman might not. So I asked Hill, what should a woman do when she starts noticing hair loss and she’s unsure of the cause or she’s started treatment and it’s going slowly. These are her three tips:
- First look at your health. You need a blood workup. You need to consider every medication you’re on. Think about prescriptions you’re on. Think about hormonal issues. Start with the internal first.
- Second, seek out a certified trichologist or a dermatologist that specializes in hair loss for women of African descent. You want a good team. Having a stylist and dermatologist along with a trichologist and general doctor ensures that you’re tackling it from every angle with a team that understands your hair and works together. “It’s not like I’m the answer. I’m just one part of the solution,” she said.
- And finally, have patience with the process. There is no instant fix. Hill said, “When you are creating that anxiety you’re elevating your cortisol levels and you’re taking your body way back. It’s not doing your hair any good and it’s not doing your scalp any good.”
At the end of the day, seeing my scalp close up and having a professional explain what I was seeing was a big part of understanding how to treat my particular hair loss. Hill was able to show me things I was never able to see at home in my bathroom mirror. I found out things I didn’t know, and corrected misconceptions that I had about my own hair.
But the biggest thing I took away from the scalp analysis was that there’s hope. I’m one step closer to treating my particular hair loss properly because I now know what I’m working with. Whether you have follicles that can be reenergized, or your follicles are completely closed, it will help inform how you proceed with your treatment process.