I was born with a lot of hair. A LOT of hair. So much hair that my mom and babysitter (aka my 3rd “grandmother”) would take a ruler and measure it because, oh by the way, it also stood straight up. It was a baby feature of mine so characteristic that I would hear stories about it repeatedly as an older child, especially as my babysitter’s memory declined. “I remember when…” she would start and I knew what was coming, gestures and all, “you first came here your hair was about THIS long and we used to measure it with a ruler -- it stood straight up like this!” I never really minded the repetitive story because she thought of it so fondly. I also knew that many babies lose that newborn hair at some point. I never did. Apparently, I saved the hair loss situation for when I was in my late thirties. Awesome.
It was 2016 (I was 38) when I really started to notice that my hair was falling out. I noticed it mostly when I would shower and run my fingers through my hair. I would also notice it shedding all over my clothes and the floor. At first I thought nothing of it because I had only had long hair again for a few years after over a decade of super short, funky hair cuts (loved my short hair!) You don’t notice these things as much with short hair, so I thought, maybe this is just something that you see more when your hair is long? I brushed it off (pun intended) for awhile, but it got to a point that I started to freak out a bit. I remember distinctly being in Thailand where I was doing my 500 hour yoga teacher training and it was hot and humid and we were sweaty all the time and my hair would incessantly be stuck on my back and my arms and my shoulders. I thought, maybe I’m just not getting enough protein? Or iron? I also had an outbreak of eczema on my eyelids on that trip, which was not new to me. I had a history of some eczema that I would get on the eyelids and often at my hairline from time to time. I ended up using a pretty strong steroid medication that was sold over the counter in Thailand (but would definitely be prescription-based here in the US) to get it to clear up.
By the time I got back from that month-long trip, I was really starting to be concerned. The eczema was gone from my eyelids, but it was now actually on my scalp. This had happened once or twice as a kid, but never this bad. To be fully transparent, there were a handful of other random symptoms that had occurred that year that I won’t get into, but I just sort of ignored them thinking that they were individually related to other things (looking at you, stress). My dad had disowned me via email the year prior and a few months after that I had a fairly severe injury to my hamstrings, so I was definitely holding a lot in my body and heart. I just assumed most of the random other symptoms were related to the emotional and physical stress I was harboring. But when my hair started falling out in clumps and my scalp was a hot mess, I couldn’t ignore it. It was the hair strand that broke the camel’s back, if you will.
And, let’s be clear, by “I couldn’t ignore it” I really mean, I panicked. I distinctly remember having a conversation with one of my closest friends where I spiraled. What if I start to get bald spots? Maybe I should just shave my head? But if I shave my head and this eczema is super bad, am I going to just have scaly patches on my bald head? I mean, I always thought that if I ever decided to shave my head that I would get a tattoo on my head, but could I even get a tattoo if I had the eczema patches? That wouldn’t look right. “Woah. Slow down,” he said. Yeah, for real. Slow down.
So with that, I went straight to functional medicine. I had never had luck with traditional dermatologists regarding my eczema situation. In fact, that medicine that I got in Thailand has been the ONLY thing that has ever cleared an outbreak for me, but the thought of relying on that didn’t sit well. My whole professional existence lies in the intersection of fitness, yoga, wellness and public health. I knew enough to realize that the actual issue had to be deeper and that I couldn’t topically treat an underlying problem. I knew there was something that had to be off with my gut microbiome or my hormones or some combination thereof. I needed to get to the root of the problem (pun again/always intended).
And, we found many issues within my body. For starters, I had a severe systemic yeast problem that needed to be cleared. I had to change my diet pretty dramatically and go through an entire protocol to rid my body of the yeast. That helped a little bit, but there were still some things I knew were off. I had a whole system of supplements, kept a lot of the anti-inflammatory dietary restrictions, had to remove my IUD and then start to work with getting my hormone levels to even out. It’s now been about 2 years and I am still working on getting it all cleared up. I still get eczema outbreaks occasionally and still have some scalp issues, but things are on the up and up. My body feels healthier, including my hair which, for the most part, stopped falling out about a year ago. Hallelujah, no tattoos on a bald, scaly head for me... at least for now!
I never really thought of my hair as something super defining, even in my awkward junior high years of perms and bangs (thanks 90’s) but, thinking back, it has often been defining in some way. From the 3-inch straight up hair as a baby, through those awkward stages and then to a long stint of being the girl with short hair and a lot of earrings, our hair can surely characterize us to the external world. I guess the lesson I was fortunate enough to learn (albeit the hard way) was that hair can also be illustrative of our internal world. Inasmuch as I want my hair to be strong for the sake of beauty, I more so want my hair to be strong for the sake of overall health.
*** Photo credits in order of appearance: 1-3 Family Photos, 4. Leila Seppa, 5. Jane Hu, 6. Glen Dandridge, 7. Glen Dandridge, 8. Emily Costopoulos
***** To read more about Shauna Harrison's health and wellness journey visit AQUIS Unfiltered.