For many women, hair represents their femininity and, if anything goes wrong with it, their self-esteem can be deeply affected.
* Nomsa Khumalo (not her real name), 55, says her hair has been her great asset from a very young age.
“Because of my profession as a nurse, I made sure that my hair was neat and tidy at all times that’s what we were taught at nursing school. As we always had to keep our hair neat, most of us developed a culture of always tying it,” she recalled.
But as Khumalo grew older she noticed that her hair line was receding. At the age of 45, her hair loss was so bad that it started to leave bald patches on certain parts of her head.
“I had just taken off my weave when I noticed some of the patches. I didn’t pay much attention as I thought it was a temporary thing. But I noticed that my hairline was looking a bit shiny and there was no sign or hair growth. A friend advised me to cut my hair and I did. But now it’s been more than 10 years and my hair is not growing accordingly,” says Khumalo.
According to hair expert Dr Adolf Klenk, extreme stress, crash diets and ageing are among the top 10 causes of hair loss in women.
“Research shows that women with high stress levels are 11 times more likely to experience hair loss than those without stress. The studies also show that losing hair contributes to anxiety and impacts on self-esteem,” he said.
A study published in the BMJ titled “The psychological impact of alopecia” suggests there is an important link between hair and identity, especially for women.
The study shows that about 40% of women with alopecia have had marital problems as a consequence, and about 63% claim to have had career-related problems. The extent of alopecia is one of the predictors of psychological distress.
Khumalo says she has never seen a dermatologist about her hair loss but has tried all kinds of topical treatments she has heard about from other people and her hair dresser.
She says she was devastated to realise that she was losing her hair.
"I felt like I was not a real woman. I started covering it up as I didn’t want other people to look at me. I didn’t want to show my hair in public because I felt like people were looking at my hair, not me.”
She resorted to wearing a wig and head wraps to avoid stares.