“I always thought thinning hair was only for men. But I’m a 45-year-old female and I’m alarmed at how much hair I am losing, and fast. You can see my scalp when I pull my hair back or up! I’ve heard of postpartum hair loss for women, but I have no kids. I’m under a lot of stress at work — who isn’t? — and my parents both need caregiving right now. Is all that literally making my hair fall out?” — Distressed by the hair in my hairbrush
This is a huge issue, and one we don’t talk about enough. Half of women will experience significant hair loss at some point in their lives; this compares to about 80 per cent of men. All genders suffer equally from the distress this causes.
“Hair is identity, for everyone, but especially for women,” says Aaron O’Bryan, the Toronto celebrity hairdresser who specializes in hair-loss issues. “Losing your hair is quite traumatic. You don’t feel like yourself.” O’Bryan has made helping out with this problem his mission, from his salon in Cabbagetown, called The Cellar Salon, to the specialty line of plant-based volumizing shampoos and conditioners he has created, called AOB Products, which was backed by Arlene Dickinson after O’Bryan’s recent appearance on Dragon’s Den.
O’Bryan is public about his own hair loss journey (he has had three hair transplants, and also uses a replacement system, about which more later). “I’ve tried absolutely everything!” he says, and he isn’t kidding. But first, he will send you to the doctor. “Get yourself checked out. If anything is going on in your body — hormonal levels, thyroid, iron — you can have hair loss.” He points out that if the body is going through change, the hair is the last thing to get any of the nutrients we ingest.
Stress is indeed a major factor, he says. “Major life changes, moving house, changing your job, that can cause hair loss.” Menopause can often be a factor for measurable hair loss in women. Plus, you need to check for scalp-specific problems, such as alopecia. “And talk to your hair dresser. They have a lot of knowledge for how to help you cope, and cover up if you have to, once you’ve ruled out medical issues.”
Not all types of hair loss are permanent, so there are things you can do, O’Bryan says. He recommends Viviscal supplements. The ingestible pills promote thicker, fuller hair and reduce hair shedding in women. Fun fact: Did you know we lose 50 to 100 hairs every day and that is when we are not experiencing hair loss? “Viviscal takes about six months for you to notice results,” says O’Bryan.
The brand has done some 25 years of research on the subject of hair loss; the active ingredient is a marine complex called AminoMar C, developed by a Swedish scientist in the early 1980s. We checked in with dermatologist Dr. Julia Carroll, of Toronto’s Compass Dermatology, for a medical doctor’s opinion on the supplement and its studies. “I routinely recommend Viviscal Pro to my patients. I think they have good clinical studies.” In general, she explains, it is difficult to do studies on hair loss as there are so many variables and you can’t do a “split scalp” study because it’s ingested. “However, I do think there is good evidence to support its use as part of a multi-pronged approach to hair loss.”
For covering up, O’Bryan is also a fan of Toppik, a spray-on hair fibre. But don’t fear Rudy Giuliani streaks: “It doesn’t run, it sets with a spray and stays until you wash it out.” This would be good, he says, to “fill in” gap areas where the scalp shows through that our reader is concerned about when she puts her hair up.
As for specialty volumizing shampoos and conditioners, such as his own line, or the one from Viviscal, O’Bryan says they do work, to an extent. “They don’t grow hair. But they plump up the hair you have, and invigorate the scalp, because more blood flow can create stronger and fuller hair.”
He says if you want to take it further, go to a scalp doctor. Dermatologists will deal with scalp issues. Or you can go to a trichologist, who is not a doctor but rather someone at a med-spa that specializes in the scalp. They will, he says, analyze your hair with a scope and deal with any buildup problems that might be blocking hair growth. They may steam your scalp, exfoliate, or even offer PRP (which stands for platelet-rich plasma treatments, a.k.a. the vampire blood procedure, wherein your own blood is removed and concentrated to increase the proportion of platelets and injected back in), something that, yes, O’Bryan has tried. He has also tried the light therapy caps you can buy online, and is positive about them. “I repeat, I’ve tried everything!” he says.
If your hair loss does end up being permanent, he has a solution for that. Women can also get hair transplants, he notes. But if that doesn’t fix the problem, he himself uses Lord Hair, a hair system for both men and women available online from the U.S. “You take it to the hairdresser to put into place properly and naturally. I use it myself. I also do it for clients at my salon and there are a few other nuggets around town who will put it on for you, a process that needs to be repeated every month or so. “It is basically a New Age toupee; it looks completely real with a high-definition, natural-looking hairline (if applied by a professional). You can shower, swim.”
This isn’t a solution for people undergoing chemotherapy, he says, because in that case, you don’t want to block hair regrowth after treatment has ended. O’Bryan has some great ideas about how to deal with chemo-related hair loss, but that is a column for a different day.
O’Bryan is basically the Toronto MacGyver of hair loss solutions. His cheerful and tireless approach to what is such a painful problem for so many has inspired me to start being much more conscientious with my own scalp now before problems occur down the line. I hope he has inspired our reader to stop fretting about hair loss and take action instead.
Shop the Advice
These products can help you improve or disguise thinning hair
AOB Volume Shampoo, $32, chatters.ca SHOP HERE
Toronto celebrity hair stylist Aaron O’Bryan’s own line of volumizing products stars this shampoo, to add body, stimulate and repair hair. All plant-based.
AOB Volume Conditioner (Leave In/Rinse Out), $32, chatters.ca SHOP HERE
Also plant-based, the phyto bioactive ingredients in the conditioner build the hair shaft density through the delivery of proteins, sugars, amino acids and keratin making the hair strong, adding fullness, while controlling frizz and detangling. Leave it in to protect from styling damage.
Viviscal supplements + shampoo and conditioner, $129, walmart.ca SHOP HERE
The key proprietary ingredient in Viviscal supplements, a marine complex, has been tested for a quarter century; the product is supported by nine clinical studies. It also contains biotin, Vitamin C and iron. While you are waiting the six months for the effects of fuller, thicker hair to kick in, try using the line’s Gorgeous Growth shampoo and conditioner, which will help make hair look plumper and is gentle to protect against loss from styling breakage, and help extend the hair’s growth cycle.
Toppik Hair Building Fibre Starter Set, $50, toppik.ca SHOP HERE
Fill in thinning areas with the keratin hair fibre spray using the hairline optimizer, with irregular teeth designed to make the hairline look more natural. Resistant to wind, rain and sweat; available in nine shades.
Blissy silk pillowcase, $103 ($67 for Black Friday), blissy.com SHOP HERE
If hair breakage is causing your thinner hair, a silk pillowcase allows hair to glide around as you toss and turn, rather than tangle up and break.
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