Spangler’s TikTok about losing hair to chemo received countless heartfelt comments from strangers who were eager to share her pain. But some people left comments that said something to the effect of: It’s just hair. Spangler does her best to ignore these comments. “Most people who say that,” she points out, “have hair.”
“I hear that all the time,” says Dr. Goh. She sees women of all ages in her office, including plenty of women in their 20s and 30s. More than anything, she says, they’re anxious. “A lot of people have preexisting anxiety, but it is exacerbated by the hair loss, or sometimes just brought on by the hair loss,” she says. “I think it just speaks to what hair means to people, because anxiety is a social issue—it’s an issue of how you feel in terms of your role in society. And I think hair is a big part of our social well-being.” The visual trickery of social media and celebrity styling doesn’t help. Most of us know that celebrities have personal trainers, makeup artists, dental work, and stylists. “What people don’t realize is that all these celebrities, like the Kardashians, they’re all wearing wigs!” says Brown. To add insult to the injury of hair loss, most of us are comparing our hair to hair that isn’t even growing out of a head.
Your hair loss could be the result of extreme stress. It could be an underlying problem. Or it could be a combination of multiple things. “The most important thing is to try to keep calm, and make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist,” says Dr. Goh. Dermatologists are usually associated with skin, so you may not know that they are trained to treat issues related to skin, hair, and nails. A dermatologist will do things like examine your scalp and test your blood—things you and Google can’t do together. It’s important, says Dr. Goh, to set up an appointment, even if you can get one that’s months in advance. Cicatricial alopecia, the scarring form of hair loss, is irreversible and treatment is time-sensitive. And for many women their anxiety is reduced by talking to a professional who can walk through treatment plans. “We talk about what the process is, what’s going on, and they feel better just by understanding,” says Dr. Goh.
When you’re losing hair, panic-buying everything in sight feels like the easiest step. But you may be missing one simple drugstore buy. “Honestly, anybody that’s experiencing hair loss should give topical minoxidil a try,” says Liu. “Because here’s the thing: It is the only FDA-approved treatment—the only well-researched product that has shown to regrow hair.” Minoxidil is the generic form of Rogaine, and Liu compares it to tretinoin, or Retin-A—one of the only medications that has been shown to have an effect on aging skin.
Retin-A and its nonprescription alternative, retinol, have been enthusiastically embraced by the beauty community. Rogaine, which is heavily associated with and marketed toward men, has not. Even though, as Dr. Goh points out, “it’s the only thing that has strong scientific evidence that it helps.” The direct-to-consumer company Hers is trying to change minoxidil’s public image—it has enlisted J.Lo as a spokesmodel. “I don’t necessarily say, ‘Just start minoxidil right away,’ but I think if it’s been going on for some time,” says Dr. Goh. “If there’s one thing you should try, I think it should be minoxidil. A lot of people come in and say, ‘I’ve tried everything! Everything!’ And I ask if they’ve tried minoxidil, and they say no. And I laugh because it’s the only thing that’s FDA approved, and it’s the only thing they haven’t tried.”