Image: Zoe’s naturally curly hair B.B. (Before Baby). via Instagram/@zotheysay
Last May, Zoe Foster Blake found herself with one beautiful bouncing baby… and hair that was significantly less bouncy than it once was.
The Go-To Skincare founder says since she had her son Sonny, her naturally curly hair has become “straight (but not the good straight – limp straight), thin, lank.” It’s also not cooperating with the styling products she usually swears by.
“For a while I was in denial. I couldn’t believe that my curly hair had just racked off forever. No more waves. No more bounce. No more texture… babies are completely worth it, but it is annoying,” she writes on her website Zo They Say. (For the record, we think her current bob looks amazing.)
At first, Foster Blake thought the Keratin straightening treatment she had last year was the likely culprit, but during an appointment at Edwards and Co she learned it was actually down to the effect of pregnancy on hormone levels. Ahh, hormones; is there anything they won't put their mark on?
If it's any comfort, she's not alone in this.
"It's very common and normal for females to experience changes in thickness and texture of hair during pregnancy, but as well in puberty and menopause," says Dr Jodie Silleri, Cosmetic Physician and General Practitioner with Melbourne's enRich Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Center.
Each of these life events affects the balance of female hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) and male hormones (generally referred to as androgens) present in all of our bodies. This influences the growth cycle of our hair, and therefore its quality and quantity.
Here's the hairy truth about how it all works:
When a woman is pregnant, her levels of oestrogen and, in particular, progesterone increase. Often the immediate result of this is lusciously thick Blake Lively-esque hair (hurrah!)
"The hair basically stays on the head longer because there's a delay in the normal shedding process. The hormones tend to extend the resting phase of the hair cycle," Dr Silleri explains. In other words, you shift from the normal rate of hair loss, which is roughly 100 strands per day. (Post continues after gallery.)
There can also be dramatic changes to your hair type and texture. You could find it feels oilier or dryer than usual, or like Zoe Foster Blake, your curls could straighten out and vice versa. This depends on the precise hormonal balance
"The exact mechanics of that isn't necessarily clear, but it is obvious that hormones are playing a role. Things like whether you have curly or straight hair comes from our genetics, however, the end result is often a combination of genetics and environmental factors," Dr Silleri says.
If you're concerned about the way pregnancy has changed your hair, fear not: generally, it's not a permanent alteration. (Post continues after video.)
In the post-partum period, the pregnancy hormones normalise and recalibrate; often, this means you'll experience a higher level of hair loss than you're used to. Again, don't freak out. "It will generally normalise of its own accord," Dr Silleri says.
When it comes to menopause, the main catalyst for hair changes is a marked drop in oestrogen levels. This means your hair won't grow as long or thick as it was before.
"The other thing we see is the androgen levels can increase, and that triggers thinning of the hair on the scalp, and you can also get extra facial hair and body hair, which no one likes," Dr Silleri explains.
Unlike pregnancy, the hormonal changes of menopause will last for the rest of your life, meaning any effects on hair are longer-lasting. Understandably, this can be concerning for women and prompt them to look into treatment options.
"Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can improve menopause-related hair changes, but we generally only start it if the quality of life during menopause without hormone therapy is significantly reduced as there are obviously risks," Dr Silleri says.
There are other medications that can be taken to manage androgen levels, as well as hair treatments. Dr Silleri says enRich offers a treatment called platelet-rich plasma therapy, which involves plasma extracted from a woman's blood being injected back into her scalp.
Platelets within this can release growth factors, which can stimulate the hair follicles and potentially thicken things up again.
Although many of us are long past puberty, the memory of its many effects will linger 'til the very end. The pimples! Dramatic moods! Crazy hair! What a wild ride it was.
In girls, puberty prompts an increase in both female hormones, but it's oestrogen that really hogs the spotlight. This is what triggers the development of secondary sexual characteristics, like breasts and pubic hair. But the effects don't end there.
"Often in puberty, the hormone balance overshoots and so you can get more androgens. That causes the acne, the oily skin, oily hair and facial hair," Dr Silleri explains. Often, doctors will prescribe the contraceptive pill to women going through puberty, as it can help to balance things out.
Have you ever experienced changes to your hair due to hormones? What were they?