After being on the pill for 13 years, when I decided to stop taking it, without warning, my hair completely changed.
I had been really lucky — I'd never experienced the negative side-effects some women report from taking it, until last year when I started getting a seven-day-long headache during the 'break' from the combined pill.
It was unbearable and no amount of pain medication would take the edge off, so I decided to stop taking the pill (while still taking care of contraception in other ways, of course).
Within a couple of months, I noticed my hair thinning. As someone who uses their hair like a safety blanket, I was horrified to be losing something I relied upon so much. If my hair isn't looking good, I don't feel good, full stop.
I put the shedding down to the fact that I had coloured it bright blonde for my wedding a few months before, and had also had extensions recently taken out. I'd gone through the regrowth process post-extension before and so I thought my hair would be back to normal in a matter of weeks.
But the improvement never came. My hair kept thinning, quite noticeably, and continues to now. Not just that, but the texture of it has transformed, and not in a good way. My hairdresser noticed it first a couple of months ago when she was cutting my hair. My hair had always been thin and fine, but relatively strong and never terribly frizzy. But now, my hair is flat, humidity affects it massively, it knots quickly, it loses its style straight away and it gets greasier faster than ever before.
It didn't occur to me that it was anything to do with the pill until I started to do some research. I was taking care of my hair, using masks, using good quality shampoo and conditioner and I was using heat protectors the whole time, so why was it still in this condition?
I got checked by my doctor for thyroid problems, which involves a blood test, but that came back clear. I was eating well, exercising and being generally healthy. The only major thing I could think of was the pill.
So I did some research, and I found out that sudden extreme changes in hormones, such as a sharp reduction in oestrogen, can cause hair shedding. I knew this was the case, as I had heard it anecdotally, with women who've just had a baby. Post-partum shedding is a similar issue, however, with a hormone disruption causing the hair loss.
Hair growth phases
I discovered something I never knew: hair has phases, and each hair on your head goes through the various phases at different times. Each hair follicle is independent, thankfully, otherwise all your hair would fall out at once. Instead, you only shed about 80 hairs a day if yours is a healthy head of hair.
The first phase is the Anagen Phase, where your hair is actively growing. It lasts about 3-5 years, and within that your hair grows about half an inch per month.
Then there's the Catagen Phase. This is just a transitional phase that lasts about 10 days. Lastly, the Telogen or Exogen Phase, a resting phase when your hair is released and then eventually falls out. The follicle is inactive for a few months and the whole process is repeated.
Hormone changes can affect the length of the various phases, and can also send your hair too quickly into the Telogen phase, meaning it's resting and falling out quicker.
Having said all of that, there are many other factors that can affect hair loss, and I was experiencing more than just one. Stress, age (ouch!), poor diet and too much styling can all play a role in hair loss. I put my hair through a lot of styling, and I also put my whole body through a 30th birthday recently, so that could be playing a part too as much as I don't want to admit it.
The steps I am taking to get my old hair back
So, what I've been doing to try to improve things is going back to what I know works. I have been trying to be the healthiest version of myself for the last few months to see does it help. The things I've been doing are:
- Taking a daily multi-vitamin:
One that includes zinc and iron, as well as the other vitamins women are recommended to take.
- Doing regular exercise:
It helps me feel better mentally, it helps me sleep and it helps me feel better on bad hair days to have a bit of body confidence.
- Styling less and washing it less:
In an attempt to keep hold of as many hairs as possible, I now try to wash my hair just three times a week.
- Using Nioxin's three-step hair programme:
It worked for me in the past when my hair was damaged from extensions, so I decided to try it again. Ask your salon about which one would suit you before you buy it (cos it ain't cheap!)
When I brush my hair, I use a Tangle Teezer.
- I use a heat protector spray:
before hot styling or blow-drying.
I use those plastic bobbins that reduce hair breakage.
- Treat myself:
I use a treatment at least once per week, whether that's a leave-in conditioner or a wash-out mask.
Always consult your doctor before changing, starting or stopping any contraceptive pill, likewise before taking any supplements or vitamins. If your hair loss is persistent or if you find patches, consult your doctor immediately.
Photography by Jason Lloyd Evans.