My preface to the process was a nightstick fracture of my left arm and surgery to fix it by internal fixation with a titanium plate and 7 screws. My story is the general anaesthetic causing my hair to shed out to the extreme and dealing with self-image issues during the process.
My ending is short. I cut it. As my hair shortened due to the shedding and knotting and tangling and texture loss I couldn’t fight it anymore with only one usable arm to deal with untangling it - I had enough. I had it cut. It’s shorter now than it has been since I transitioned from the relaxer over 10 years ago.
When natural, tightly coiled afro hair sheds, the hair has a hard time separating itself. If you don’t remove the shed hair within a reasonable time, it will make its way down.... or halfway down another hair shaft or maybe to the end, then coil and knot itself around. It will soon be joined by lots of other shed hairs which create more knots and confusion, eventually causing big knots and tangled balls of shed hair to appear throughout your hair which you will most likely need to cut off or spend hours working through to get out. This is why it is important that if you wear natural hair, you remove the shed hair on a regular basis, either by finger combing, regular combing or brushing the hair.
So what happened to me? A large portion of my follicles were sent into an artificial mass shedding phase (telogen effluvium) by the general anaesthetic and as a result, my hair instantly knotted up, clumped into tangled mats and lost its coiled texture.
For a while I toyed with shaving my head – wearing a wig, trying extensions or weave. But I did something else. After going through the process of the fear of losing my hair, I decided to experience it fully and see what I could do to make the process easier, then share what happens with you.
My 10 Best Tips for anyone experiencing excessive shedding
1. Be diligent in removing shed hair. Remove it as often as possible by gently using your fingers from the ends up when your hair is wet if possible. You can also use a carding-type comb such as the “Tangle Teezer” or something with short and flexible bristles to remove the hair that has shed.
2. Don’t comb or brush from the roots. As you move up your hair, hold the hair closest to the scalp with one hand tightly, so you don’t start pulling hair out at the roots of weakened follicles.
3. Don’t use excessive protein conditioners. Although protein does protect damaged hair, it can cause excessive breakage which you don’t need right now.
4. Always cover your hair when outdoors for long periods, especially if you will be in direct sunlight.
5. Don’t be afraid to cut. In fact, do cut. Often. This will help release the shed hair and stop tangling.
6. Keep your scalp moisturized. I am using Jamaica Black Castor Oil and Lavender.
7. Keep your ends oiled – keep them slippery.
8. If you had long hair before your shedding event, you can have long hair again eventually. Be patient. In the meantime, learn to enjoy having short hair. Try different styles which you could not wear when your hair was long. You may be amazed at how you can accentuate your face by wearing striking jewelry. And enjoy not having hair on your neck for once!
9. Don’t spend a lot of time looking at your hair and obsessing. Leave it alone.
10. Now is the time to make sure you are taking a multivitamin and drinking a lot of water. Eat seasonal fruits and veggies, limit your alcohol and coffee (oh the horror!) intake and get a LOT of exercise to encourage your body to heal from the inside.
If you are going through hair loss, remember you are not alone. Nappturality has an alopecia forum where we can all discuss what works, what to try and how to get through what can be a difficult phase for any woman.
It is important to understand that most forms of traumatic shedding will right themselves in time, as your follicles restart their growth cycles. You may or not experience drastic thinning and baldness. Chances are if your hair is extremely dense like mine, you will notice more of a loss of length more than a loss of density during the process. If you have sparse hair to begin with, you will experience more of a visual loss of hair and may need to consider wearing an enhancement to get through your event. No matter the cause of telogen effluvium, the cure is almost always, time.