By Chloe Malle, May 7, 2021
It started in the shower. I have thick, curly hair and am accustomed to shedding when washing or combing—100 strands a day is, apparently, normal. What I was not accustomed to was when, around two months after I gave birth to my son last May, seemingly thousands of hairs began leaving my head every time I shampooed. Soon it was no longer just in the shower: It was when I gently raked my hair back into a ponytail and my hand emerged with a competing ponytail of escaping strands; or when my pillowcase appeared to be covered with floating clouds of dark coils; or, God forbid, when I actually brushed it and an American Girl doll’s–worth of hair clogged the bristles. Worse still is that I began noticing patchy spots around my hairline. My scalp was newly visible and I was not pleased to see it. Was the muffin-top of residual baby weight hanging over my C-section scar, and my ballooning, milk-leaking breasts not enough aesthetic trauma to suffer? Apparently not.
I quickly discovered that this indignity was not unique to me. Other moms and my dermatologists nodded knowingly when I complained, awestruck at the new state of my hair. The shockingly common condition is called telogen effluvium, I was informed, and, according to the American Pregnancy Association, it affects 40-50% of new moms. The condition can actually afflict anyone suffering from severe sudden stress, Lars Skjøth, founder and lead researcher at the Danish hair clinic Harklinikken, tells me in his light-filled Flatiron salon. But it is particularly common among postpartum women when their estrogen levels decline and the stress hormone cortisol increases causing the hair to move from the growth, or anagen cycle, to the shedding, or telogen phase. The hair typically grows back, Skjøth assures me, clocking my panicked expression. But that regrowth can appear thinner and finer, he adds, as the hair follicle itself often shrinks—a process known as miniaturization.
Once the exclusive domain of Rogaine and male pattern baldness, the hair loss conversation has gotten a bit of a makeover in recent years, led by companies like Harklinikken, which specifically targets women’s hair loss. The opportunity for diversification has always been there: According to the American Hair Loss Association, women’s hair loss specifically accounts for nearly 40% of cases in the U.S. “When I started no one was speaking to women about this,” explains Skjøth, who launched his first clinic in Copenhagen in 1992 and who has been studying female hair loss for nearly three decades. (Harklinikken opened a U.S. flagship in New York in 2019, and currently has a 40,000 person waitlist for its customized, botanically-derived treatments).
After Skjøth picked through my hair like a mama baboon looking for fleas, I was given my own personalized “extract” along with strict and elaborate instructions to wash my hair daily, then apply the elixir with a syringe in the evenings followed by a strenuous scalp massage. It was a significant departure from my typical grooming ritual, which entails shampooing about once a week—and from the general guidance of hairstylists who often discourage daily washing to minimize dryness. But cleansing and massaging the scalp is an essential step for allowing the follicles room to grow properly, according to Skjøth and his associates, not to mention preventing scar tissue around the follicle.
Skjøth isn’t the only one to advocate for this. It turns out the scalp is a hot commodity in the beauty industry at the moment, with a raft of companies focusing on this oft-ignored skin tissue. Sarah Fotis began noticing hair loss after the birth of her son Eli in 2009, and again after suffering a stroke several years later when she turned to Pakistani scalp remedies, such as mustard seed oil, turmeric, and ginger. Fittingly, every member of the founding team of Collective Labs—the brand she launched in 2018 to focus on natural solutions for scalp care and hair growth—had suffered from hair loss due to a variety of root causes: genetics, childbirth, stress. Its Scalp Wellness Kit, which includes a detoxifying shampoo, fortifying conditioner and activating serum, aims to tackle scalp build-up and then stimulate healthy hair growth with lilac stem cells to reduce scalp irritation, and ginseng root to encourage follicle microcirculation.
As declining hair health is one of the first visible signs of vitamin-deficiency, diet is also extremely important to any regrowth strategy, says dermatologist Robin Blum, M.D., noting that many women are deficient in vitamins D and E, which are particularly important for maintaining thick, shiny strands. She recommends Nutrafol, a nutritional supplement boasting marine collagen for scalp health and saw palmetto, which decreases DHT, the hormone that shrinks hair follicles. Viviscal is similarly popular. Celebrity hair stylist Mara Roszak has recommended the capsules and vanilla-flavored powder to her clients for years, but recently started taking them herself after her own postpartum hair loss. “When my baby was about four months, I started to experience hair loss and applied the same ideas I’ve guided my clients through—cutting face framing lawyers to ‘blend’ in shorter bits around my face, moisturizing regularly,” explains Roszak. But adding Viviscal supplements to her routine made a discernible difference in just three months, she reveals. “Hair cells are the last cells to get nutrition,” adds Dr. Lamees Hamdan, the Dubai-based founder of Shiffa Skincare and DLMD, a popular liquid multivitamin that’s sold at Sephora. “That’s why for healthy hair, you really want to make sure your intake of vitamins and minerals is on the higher side of normal.” Encouraged by the sleek packaging and subtle raspberry flavor I took the DLMD multi-vitamins and after about a month, I did notice that my nails were less brittle, and my hair seemed shinier.
As I prepare to celebrate my first Mother’s Day and my son’s first birthday, I am happy to report that I can pull my hair back into a ponytail without handfuls of it coming out. Also thrilling: My scalp is no longer visible to the outside world and there is noticeable regrowth, thanks to time (most dermatologists suggest that postpartum hair loss peaks around two months and tapers off around four months, with regrowth typically beginning around six months)—and the wealth of new treatments below, now available to the legions of women fighting this very real battle. My hair is still short and stubby, but I am hopeful that it will grow back to its former frizzy, coiling glory. Now, I just need my son’s hair to grow in.
The world-renowned Danish hair loss clinic is beloved by European royalty and Hollywood stylists alike. Its Balancing Shampoo and unique active ingredients make an ideal hair growth regimen.