My Hair Loss Journey and How I Got it Back
I can grow my hair fast. Not on my head though, but everywhere else it just won’t stop growing! I have had a lifelong struggle with this head of hair, super thick and oily when I was young, fried with bleach in high school, and patchy bald spots in my twenties. It’s only these past 6 years that I’ve finally got a handle on my scalp and what it needs.
I am mixed with my mom being from Italy and my dad being from the Philippines. I get my thick curls from mom and my wispy edges from dad. I never really knew what to do with my hair and neither did my mom. I’d go to school with a half up half down ponytail and a clip-on bow and come back home looking like lightning hit me. Frizz standing straight up, despite my oily shine on the rest of my hair.
In grade school, I’d wait for the bus in the mornings and the Black girls would sometimes be running late. Their moms and grandmas would be out there with them finishing their braided ends and edges. Those are the women that taught my mom about shea butter and scalp scrubs.
I did sleep in braids, and my hair got long. Really long! I’d sit on it by mistake sometimes. I did wear braids to school once, just three on one side and the rest out. One girl said it looked like I had poop in my hair since it was so dark and thick. I never wore braids to school after that.
With the length comes the weight, and my curls started to become waves. I was never happy with my hair, it was so thick the one time I got a short haircut everyone said I looked like a china doll. This was before hair stylists knew how to thin out my ends I guess. I grew up in a pretty diverse part of our town, but the downtown businesses and the kids I went to school with were mostly white.
Putting the Damage On
Once I got to junior high I started bleaching my hair. Not in a cute barbie blonde way, but a grunge splotchy type way. I got my first job in vintage clothing and was getting paid in cash at the end of every day. A whole $20! So I started to experiment with my look. I loved that job, there was very minimal oversight and eventually, I started working for the tee-shirt store at the front of the building. Manic Panic bleach kits and red and purple shades were my go-to products. I got crunchy quick, and the dye could rub off on my pillowcases. Once I tried to get a blue shade but failed to get my hair to lift to nearly white and ended up looking like Oscar from Sesame Street.
I curled, straightened and blew out my hair during these years. Heat tools were just as addictive as bleaching. There should be a scientific study! I don’t know why but lightening my hair was a ritual I definitely enjoyed. I knew no one was going to bother me in the bathroom, and I often did it when my parents were working so I didn’t get interrupted.
College Stress! My Only Friend
I switched over to box dye and grew out my colors to get back to my natural tone. It was also a financial choice and a time commitment choice. I worked through college and took out no loans. I look back and really have no idea how I did it. I initially didn’t intend to go to college, I participated in a trade school program through my high school so I had a state certification to print right out of senior year. I had one teacher who said I should go to college, and it took me aback since no one ever sincerely believed I could do anything beyond what I was already doing.
My daily schedule during my college years was consistent. I’d wake up at 3 am and get the train to Riverhead to print for Long Island’s largest printing firm. I’d stop and clean up at around 9 am and catch the train back the other way to Farmingdale. I’d be in classes 3 days a week instead of 4 but I had very long days. From 10:30 am until 10:30 pm on Thursdays. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I’d have my ‘light’ days from 10:30 am until 3:30 pm. In the evenings I worked a customer service desk at a retail clothing store, otherwise known as the fifth ring of Hell. Most evenings I’d get home around 10 or 11 pm. Sunday was my only day off, I’d usually sleep the whole day.
A combination of a poor diet and stress made my skin a wreck and my hair became thinner. One night I was clipping my split ends and parted my hair to one side and found a bald spot! Not like I burnt myself with the blow dryer. It was perfectly smooth and a long oval. I had no healthcare, I actually went without seeing a doctor from age 17 to 28. I was just very aware of it and parted my hair back the way I usually did. I was super sensitive about it, and it definitely had an impact on my self-image. I was only 23!
I changed over to a mostly vegetable fruit and protein diet. My hair and skin got better. I also shrunk from a size 14 to a 4 within a year. My weight loss was drastic. So much so that my mother suggested that I get tested for thyroid disorder. I laughed, still working two jobs that did not offer benefits without an unrealistic deductible.
Where I am Now
Leaving Long Island and moving to Upstate NY to live a more frugal lifestyle and start my own business improved my health drastically. My move also coincided with the Affordable Care Act, and I was finally able to see a doctor for the first time in over a decade. Yes, I did get diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. It is a condition that mimics both hypo and hyperthyroid disorders. My symptoms seemed to bounce back and forth between both diagnoses.
Over the past ten years, I have teetered between coloring at home and professional salon color. I used Olaplex while bleaching from home with actual beauty supplies. Schwarzkopf products used to be my favorite repair masques and box hair dyes. I still love their shampoo and conditioners. I did use castor oil and coconut oil to coat my cuticles.
What I’m doing now is letting my roots grow out to their darkest. I color my ends with Overtone shades, I go between ginger reds and golden browns to have some fun with it. Since my ends are so damaged it took a few applications to get the hair to hold color. I exfoliate my scalp once every other week, I try not to shampoo too much. In the winter it is way easier to not wash your hair. Since it’s the end of summer I have been washing twice a week at most. I also moisturize my scalp with “The Mane Choice” Multivitamin scalp Growth Oil. It’s mostly soybean and castor oil. After I shampoo I often comb a small amount of Jamaican black castor oil strengthen and restore leave-in conditioner by the brand Shea Moisture.
I’m so glad I got to share my story. It is hard for women especially to experience hair loss at a young age. There is light at the end of the tunnel! I’m especially grateful to Black Girls who are actually magicians in the beauty and hair care industries. I love supporting Shea Moisture brand products by Sundial Brands LLC and Overtone because they are both made here in the USA.