I made the decision to go natural six years ago, after years of relaxers, keratin treatments, and constantly flat ironing my hair. It was what seemed like the peak of the natural hair movement and, truthfully, my only real option: In the year preceding my decision to go natural, I’d begun losing my hair.
Every time I washed my hair, it seemed like the amount of fallen hair multiplied. I spent countless hours during the day brushing broken strands from my shoulders. As the days passed, my scalp became more and more visible. I’d always had a healthy head of hair, so I told myself it had to be the heat and the chemicals. I’d heard stories of women with fragile, limp, thinning hair who were rewarded with thick, full manes after going natural and truly believed it would be my saving grace.
I went cold turkey, canceling my weekly appointment at a local Dominican salon and packing away my flat irons. After years of only thinking of myself as beautiful when I had straight hair, looking at my transitioning texture in the mirror every morning was a blow to my self-esteem. The go-to hairstyles I’d come to count on no longer worked with my new texture, which wasn’t really straight or curly. I soon discovered a bun could mask my texture and any balding areas, so I began wearing it on the crown of my head every day like a school uniform.
To say it was a difficult adjustment is an understatement, but my dedication began to pay off. In just a few months, my hair looked fuller, there seemed to be less breakage, and the curls I detested as a child began to return. My scalp was still fairly noticeable, but I believed my hair would become thicker if I remained dedicated to my natural hair care routine.
Fast forward three years and my hair was thinning at a faster rate than ever before. After spending what seemed like thousands of dollars on hair products and vitamins promising to give me the mane of my dreams, I was despondent. Going natural seemed to work so well for everyone else, why wasn’t it working for me? I panicked. A few family members had been diagnosed with alopecia areata—sudden and unexplained hair loss—and I began to wonder if losing my hair was my fate. Would I lose all of my hair before turning 27? How would I tell my boyfriend of four years that his girlfriend was about to lose all of her hair? Would he still find me beautiful? I was too young to lose my hair!
I made appointments with doctors and dermatologists who told me to cut back on heat styling, give up tight hairstyles, and eat more protein, but none of them bothered to run any blood work or even take a look at my scalp. While I asked about the possibility of having alopecia areata, they assured me there was no way I had the condition. My hair loss was slow and I didn’t have the trademark round bald spots that indicate alopecia areata. Doctor after doctor assured me my hair loss was nothing more than stress and bad hair care habits, but I knew something was wrong.
After months of research, I found a licensed trichologist—a doctor who specializes in scalp and hair conditions—near home. Studying my scalp under a magnifying camera, she confirmed my suspicions: My hair was falling out and my follicles were closing. If I didn’t do something fast, I could lose all of my hair. She advised me to schedule a follow-up appointment with a dermatologist specializing in scalp conditions to confirm what she’d seen and sent me on my way.
At home, I unleashed a flood of emotion. I cried tears of relief that a specialist had finally confirmed what I knew inside all along—I was losing my hair and it had nothing to do with the way I treated it. There were tears of fear at the truth that my hair was falling out. My hopes that going natural would return my hair to its former glory were over. Would my hair ever grow back?
To confirm the diagnosis, the dermatologist cut out a small piece of my scalp using a device like a single hole punch and drew blood for testing. A week later, she affirmed what the trichologist had said: I have androgenetic alopecia. Also known as female pattern hair loss, androgenetic alopecia begins with thinning at the top of the head and works its way out.
Devastated, I tried to tell myself that it was just hair. I didn’t have a terminal illness. I still had my health, a great relationship, amazing family and friends, and a job that I loved. I thought reminding myself of all the things I was lucky to have would put losing my hair into perspective, but I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the moments in my life where I planned to have flawless hair. Would my guests see my scalp as my husband and I read our vows on our wedding day? Would I even want professional pictures if my thinning hair was on display? The diagnosis sent me into a tailspin of self-pity.
My dermatologist tried to assure me that hope wasn’t lost. There is no cure for any form of alopecia, but promising treatments are available. The most common treatment is minoxidil, the active ingredient in products like Rogaine. There’s one catch: While the ingredient is effective for many people, it takes a lifetime commitment to maintain the results. There are other treatments—laser hair therapy, steroid injections, and platelet-rich plasma therapy—but they’re too expensive for my budget.
While I hunt for a treatment that works for me, I’ve mastered the art of creating hairstyles that strategically cover my bald spots. I’ve also come to rely on keratin fibers to create the illusion of hair after learning about them from my trusted hair stylist. Made from keratin protein, the fibers can either be pumped or shaken onto the head. They adhere to your existing hair to make it appear thicker and fuller. On days when I part my hair down the middle or my hairline is looking a little sparse, keratin fibers help make me feel as though I have my old head of hair back.
It’s taken me a few years, but I’ve begun to come to terms with the fact that alopecia is out of my control. If losing my hair is the worst hand I’m dealt, I’ll take it. That’s not to say it’s not still painful to deal with, however. There are days I don’t want to leave my bedroom because I’m certain everyone can see my scalp. Sometimes all it takes is one unflattering picture or offhand comment to send me spiraling.
Over the last year, several celebrities have begun speaking out about their journeys with hair loss. Hearing their stories has been so important to me because I always assumed I was the only person dealing with it and felt ashamed. Shining a spotlight on the issue helps women like me know they’re not suffering alone. The truth is almost 50 percent of women will deal with hair loss and thinning in their lifetime (while androgenetic alopecia is common, some hair loss can be triggered by illness). If it’s not happening to you, chances are good someone close to you is dealing with it.
While I’d love to have a full head of hair again, I try not to let it define me. As I plan my upcoming wedding, wondering what my hair will look like no longer reduces me to tears. I’m committed to making sure whatever hair I have left—however long I have it—is as healthy as possible.
In the past, so much of my self-worth was tied to my hair. I didn’t have perfect skin or a flawless body, but I was always able to transform my hair into something I loved. Losing that forced me to find other things I like about myself, like the way my eyes change color throughout the day—something I never noticed in all the years of wearing thick, straight bangs. Even though I’m losing my hair, I still have my intelligence and sense of humor. I’m a great friend, partner, daughter and sister, and I like to think I still give the best advice.
While a full head of hair is still on my list of top three wishes I’d ask a genie to grant, I know I’ll be fine without it. I’m just going to continue to enjoy my good hair days and, if all else fails, it’s nothing a good wig can’t fix.