Finding Common Cause with Cis Men as a Trans Girlie-Boy and steps you can take to keep and get back your hair.
The Samson and Delilah story is a sexist allegory, but there is one supreme truth in it: our hair is our power. As a transgender person, having a full head of hair is a huge part of how I see myself, and fighting the effects of ageing as it plays out with my mane is a big part of my identity. But I am not alone, trans women are not alone…cis men and women all feel this, which is what underpins a hair-loss industry in the many billions of dollars.
Hair loss is a fact of life for those forged in the halls of testosterone. Aging also takes its toll. While your genes largely determine what form the thinning and eventual loss of hair will take, there are a great many things you can do to mitigate and in some cases, reverse the effects.
My siblings have essentially lost all of their hair—older and younger. Okay, there is an outlier. The genetic lottery and his diet have delivered a different outcome, so much so that we have all mused out loud whether he is even from the same brood! Poor fella.
Taking estrogen is a part of many a transgender person’s life, and this will help stop hair loss, and in some cases even reverse it. This path is not for the faint of heart. Dear reader, are there some men out there who are so vain about their hair that they would go on E to get back a full head of hair? I won’t rule it out. But this post is for those men who don’t want breasts, won’t be taking E, but would like to have maximum, healthy, head-hair for as long as possible.
Samson and Delilah wrestle within us
You know that old saw about the bald man having a higher sex drive? There is some truth to it. Why? Because testosterone is a leading culprit. Not directly, but through its action on the body, androgenic hormones play an active role in hair loss.
There are three main culprits: genetics, androgens, and age. While there is not much you can do about genetics, it is best to think of our genes as a “propensity to” rather than as manifest destiny. Actions we take, in other words, can slow or stop outcomes…and certainly diet, stress, general wellness are important factors in maintaining a full head of hair.
[I can’t resist a political dig at the patriarchy. The Samson and Delilah allegory tells of female treachery and perfidy…it is an update on the Eve story, and just another reminder that the “weak” sex is deceitful and conniving, and would stoop so low as to negotiate the enemy, entice the hale male to bed, and then cut his locks to sap his vitality. Well, let me tell you, life is that force. It is age and the course of life, anyone’s life that takes away your hair. And is not a sweet irony that the culprit of baldness and hair loss is quite literally a chemical form of toxic masculinity?! Is not the most delicious irony of all that in order for us to protect our youthful hair and skin, we all need to embrace our inner feminine–that divine and elegance giving substance oestrogen. Poetic, I’d say].
When hair follicles die they don’t go to heaven
If a hair follicle dies (think, has not grown hair in a very long time), it will not come back to life. If a hair follicle is still alive, intact, then it is possible to reactivate it. If there are thinning hairs, it is possible to strengthen them. What does this mean?
For certain types of hair loss, the only way to get hair back is through transplants. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t first get back to the healthiest and fullest head of hair that our genetics and bodies will allow before we ever decide to take that step.
Hair loss affects an awful lot of people
If you follow the logic above, preventing hair loss, maintaining a full head of hair, is something that should begin when you are still young. 25% of men affected by male pattern baldness begin to lose their hair before they turn 21. By the age of 35, this figure rises to 65%. By the age of 50, a full 85% of men will have notably thinner hair. To slow or prevent this outcome, it pays to start young.
Female pattern hair loss is real too, and affects 40% of women by the age of 40.
Contributors to hair loss (not all of which can be helped)
There are many culprits that have been fingered as contributing to hair loss.
- Pulling on hair: tight hats or hair-do’s which pull on the roots such as ponytails can pull on the hair follicles, causing them permanent damage.
- Vitamin deficiency
- Dieting, particularly rapid weight loss or yo-yo dieting
- Toxic substances such as the chemicals in chemo-therapy or other potent medications, such as blood pressure medicine, gout medicine, or excess levels of vitamin A
- Extreme emotional stress
- Thyroid problems and other hormonal imbalances
The Science of Hair Loss
Despite all of the potential factors which might contribute to hair loss, the action is fairly simple. The androgen hormones, responsible for the development of male sexual characteristics, and present in both sexes to varying degress, play a critical role in sex drive, energy levels, musculature and hair growth.
Hair grows from a hair follicle in three phases: anagen is the active growth phase. It lasts from 2 to 7 years. Catagenis a transition phase and lasts for a few weeks. During this phase the hair shaft moves closer to the skin’s surface, the pore opens, and the cells which have nourished the hair separate from the follicle. The telogen phase is a resting phase which lasts about three months and results in the shedding of the hair shaft. This process happens to all hair, body, head, and is a normal cycle.
The action of the androgenic hormones can have the effect of shortening the anagen phase and a lengthening of the telogen phase. Eventually, strong, healthy hairs do not grow and we are left with thinning hair, or no hair at all emerging from a follicle. Our sensitivity to this process is largely genetic, but a series of environmental and behavioural factors will either accelerate or slow this process.
Testosterone is produced in the testes and adrenal glands of men, and to a lower level in the ovaries and adrenal glands of women. Testosterone plays a key role in pattern baldness, but only affects hair follicles which are predisposed to androgenic alopecia. Our genes.
How it works
When testosterone comes into contact with a hair follicle, the presence of a particular enzyme can convert the testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is a more potent form of testosterone which binds to receptors in the hair follicles which trigger changes in their genetic activity, ultimating leading to hair loss. In other words, what causes hair loss is how sensitive our hair follicles are to the action of DHT. That is determined by our genes.
But there are things we can do to limit the level of DHT in our bodies, things we can do to prevent or reduce the action of DHT, and this can fundamentally stop this process in its tracks. In other words, genetics need not be manifest destiny, behaviour is. And while age increases our susceptibility to these factors, these behaviours can be equally effective in moderating the affects of aging on our hair.
The usual suspects
Minoxidil is the most common drug used in the treatment of pattern hair loss and is now used by both men and women. It generally works for hair that is thinning on the crown of the head—not on the sides or for a receding hair line, but it is not without its problems.
First, it doesn’t work for everyone. Second, though the original patent has now expired and there are generics, it is expensive. Third, you need to apply it diligently for several months to see if it is working, and then you need to keep it up or the effects will fade out.
Does bald mean manly?
Advances in Male Baldness Thanks to Women and Transwomen
The most potent medical solutions to male pattern baldness have been “discovered” as part of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for both menopausal women and for transgender people seeking to shift their characteristics from male presenting to female. Drugs such as finasteride and spironolactone have both been found to have powerful affects in this regard.
They are very powerful drugs, and unless there are really profound reasons for you to take them, a discussion of them is beyond the scope of this post, and really should be done with a qualified endocrinologist.
Sleeping Beauty and Scientific Advances
There have been some promising recent scientific discoveries making me optimistic that more fundamentally effective and less harmful medicines will be available to treat thinning hair. A cell called a tricophage (trico from Greek for hair) is an immune cell which produces a substance called Oncostatin-M whose action is to keep hair follicles dormant. Inhibiting the action of this substance, and its production, serves to let the hair follicles wake up, turning the hair cycle back on.
Other recent advances have shown it is possible to grow hair follicles in vitro, which opens up avenues of transplanting. 3-D printing is also a promising path.
Stress, Nutrition and Sleep
The modern lifestyle is a prime culprit in hair loss. Of course we all get stressed from time to time. We all have days where we don’t eat properly. And there are certainly nights when even the soundest sleepers don’t get a good night’s rest. On their own, and isolated in time, none of these factors matter. But when they become habit, the consequences for thinning hair is dramatic.
The good news is that behaviour and lifestyle changes that bring back a healthy sleep cycle, reduce stress, and introduce a healthy diet can reverse some or all of the effects of thinning hair caused by these factors. Up to a point. As we saw earlier, once a hair follicle has gone dormant, it tends to stay dormant.
What has worked for me? All of the above. I eat a very healthy and well-balanced diet. The aesthetician at the waxing salon asked me if I was vegan, as she noted that I had the body of a vegan—lean, toned, clean-smelling, and healthy. I am not a vegan, but I take extraordinary care in the selection, preparation, and consumption of my food.
Beauty begins from within.
I get a full night’s sleep every night. Okay, a dominatrix ordered me to go to bed at 8 every night, and although I no longer “see” her, the habit has stuck. All of my electronic devices go on “babysitting” mode at 8:00, meaning I can’t use them without consciously overriding this function (a pain in the butt)—so no phone calls, no emails, etc. And for those of you who say it is impractical because of your working environment, what you do for a living, I say, “get your shit together.” Unless you are an investment banker working on M&A deals, you have no excuse, and even then, your excuse is not tenable over the long-haul. Join the 5 am club, and you will soon see what productivity really is.
Finally, the antidote to stress for me is exercise. It works. So too do meditation and yoga, both practices which I am gradually introducing into my life.
The sibling I mentioned who is a genetic outlier? He has been vegan since he was 16, has done yoga since he was a teen, exercises regularly, meditates daily, and has a full head of healthy hair. As a more recent convert (and who evangelizes more than the convert?) to all of the disciplines of healthy living, I can absolutely say that I have more hair and look younger than I did a decade ago.
These three factors are the prime contributors. There is no substitute in life for sleep, diet, and reduced stress. The hair on our heads is just one of the many positive outcomes.
Shampoo, Hair Oil, Tonic
First, daily massage of the scalp helps to stimulate the hair follicles. Caffeine containing shampoos serve to keep the hair follicles awake and stimulated. I am reminded of the admonition to “stay with me” we give accident victims, urging them to stay awake. That’s what these products do. And remember, the goal is to not let your hair follicles fall asleep in the first place, because once they do it is very hard to wake them up again.
I am not a shill for any brand, but there are many shampoos out there which contain caffeine or biotin or other ingredients that may or may not help. There is no concrete evidence that these products work, and at least in the US, there is little restraint on label claims, so be skeptical. That said, there is no reason not to hedge your bets.
What do I do? I massage organic, all natural, cold pressed hemp seed oil into my scalp every morning before showering. I do it right when I get up and leave it in for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. It washes out with no problems, the scalp massage does me good, and it feels good. The very high levels of Omega 3, 6, and 9 nutrients in hemp oil and the massage both work to increase blood circulation in the scalp, which in turn supports active and healthy hair follicles.
In life, sometimes we have to take the good with the bad. Hemp oil is also thought to increase male libido and testosterone production, which is why this girlieboy avoids it in my diet…but if you are a man, and happy to be manly, then hemp oil makes a delicious salad oil.
Substances that work
There are many substances that have been plausibly linked to the blocking of DHT. These include vitamins A, C, E; biotin; minerals such as manganese, iron, and selenium; fish oil, and flaxseed oil. Saw palmetto is a plant that has had demonstrable effects on reversing hair loss. Ayurvedic medicine has included hair treatments that have been shown to work in blind studies as effectively as minoxidil.
There is no magic bullet.
But there are substances which have been shown to work, have been used in traditional medicine for millennia, and are natural, non-invasive, bioactive compounds which do work.
The Big 3
If you want to focus on keeping a full head of hair, there are three things which are more important than others. Block DHT, increase blood circulation, and stimulate keratin production and hair follicle growth.
Biotin, or vitamin B7, has been proven to increase keratin production and to stimulate hair follicle growth. You can get biotin in your diet by eating right. Foods which contain high levels of biotin include peanuts, almonds, walnuts, organ meats, soy, and egg yolks, sweet potatoes, and to a lesser extent in legumes, beets and beet greens, onions, berries and oily fish like salmon, sardines, and herring.
Foods and herbs that block DHT include saw palmetto, green tea, giant dodder, pumpkin seeds, as well as foods rich in lycopene like tomatoes, carrots, watermelon, and mangoes.
Ways to increase circulation in the scalp include both massage, the use of topical oils such as hemp oil as suggested, but also foods…Garlic, onions, parsley, mushrooms, spinach, chicken and other birds, brown rice, cinnamon, pomegranate, citrus fruits, dark chocolate (this girl’s best friend), ginger.
Hydration and Tea
We should all know that drinking water, quite a lot of it, is critical to maintaining health and well-being. I met a young witch not so long ago who shared with me the revelatory (to me), but rather obvious notion that teas contains bioactive compounds, and rather than just hydrating with water, which is essentially neutral, we should be hydrating with herb-infused waters or “teas”. She went on to describe various herbs and their actions, and how she has made this the cornerstone of daily nutrition and hydration. Smart.
Daily healthy-head-of-hair tea
I drink at least one litre of this tea several days each week. I have been doing it for several weeks. The compounds that the tea contains have allowed me to ditch a bevy of supplements, and the results are visible in both my skin and in my hair.
I brew my herbal tea first thing in the morning, using loose leaf teas and a strainer, and steep it directly in the container I will drink it from, a 1 litre glass bottle with a leak-proof lid. I let the tea steep a long time, from 40 minutes to an hour, and then drink it once it has cooled down.
Recipe for a Full-Head-of-Hair Tea
|Hair and Nails|
|Stop balding, stimulate head hair growth. Block DHT and stimulate hair follicle growth|
|Common Name||Latin Name||Quantity|
|Alfalfa leaf||Medicago sativa||1x|
|Nettle leaf||Urtica dioica||1x|
|Oat straw||Avena sativa||4x|
|Dandelion root||Taraxacum officinale||2x|
|Orange peel||Citrus sinensis||3x|
|Licorice root||Glycyrrhiza glabra||1x|
|Saw Palmetto||Serenoa repens||3x|
|Hibiscus flower||Hibiscus sabdariffa||2x|
|Spikenard root or Jatamansi||Nardostachys grandiflora||2x|
|Brahmi root||Bacopa monnieri||1x|
|Brewing Instructions||Tasting Notes|
|Steep 1 heaping tablespoon in one litre of just-boiled water for 40 minutes to one hour. Strain, and let cool.||An earthy and pleasant brew.|
An important disclaimer on supplements
Those who are in my inner circle have noticed a period of my life where I bought and took every supplement under the sun. As with all things for an addictive personality, that went out of control. I really didn’t realise it until I could no longer see my counter top, and found that I was regularly taking from a range of over 100 supplements.
Thankfully, that phase is over, and I am phasing them out or ditching them altogether. Why? Well, for one reason, we can get all we need from a proper diet—as long as you eat right, eat organic, eat local, eat consciously and healthily, you can get all that you need the way your body really needs it. Eating it rather than taking it in pill form is a better way for your body to get what it needs—enhanced absorption, improved action.
More importantly, supplements can contain all kinds of nasties. Additives, caking agents, bulking agents, heavy metals, contaminants…the list goes on. Supplements are the wild west of nutrition fads and not only do you get what you pay for, but you also can get a whole bunch of other things you neither want nor need.
Ditch the supplements. Change your diet. Grow your hair!