Divorce, the death of a spouse, heavy smoking and drinking can all increase the likelihood that a woman will lose her hair, according to a new study presented this week at the annual conference of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

 

The study, which examined 84 sets of female identical twins, belies the long-held belief that age and genetics are the most relevant factors to hair loss or alopecia. Instead, the study found that a major factor was stress due to change in marital status. Unhealthy lifestyle was found to be the second highest factor.

 

"Never before has the role of some of these contributors to hair loss been documented," said the study's co-author, Bahman Guyuron, in a prepared statement. "While genetics remain a strong predictor of some types of hair loss, introducing certain stressful or unhealthy factors into a person's life can result in more hair loss."

 

Why use twins for this study? Guyuron said that this allowed them to rule out genetic factors for balding. "Identical twins are genetically programmed to experience similar patterns of aging and hair loss. If one twin loses more hair than the other, it is related to external factors."

 

The study also found that women who had a larger level of weekly alcohol consumption lost more hair along the fronts of their heads. Smoking, meanwhile, was more likely to cause hair loss along the temples.

 

Guyuron also presented a second study — conducted on 66 sets of male twins — that showed men tend to lose their hair due to smoking, sun exposure, hypertension and lack of exercise, among other factors.

 

Losing a sense of identity

Hair loss can be a traumatic experience for many women. The Sacramento Bee recently interviewed several women who were losing their hair and found that if often affected their sense of identity. "It was very traumatic," Kristy DeVaney told the paper. "I kept thinking, 'What do people think of me? What do I think of myself? I'm an ugly bald person.' It's probably the worst thing I've ever been through." DeVaney lost her hair after a negative reaction to the antibiotic minocycline.

 

But some women have been inspired by their hair loss. Sandra Dubose Gibson shocked the audience of the Mrs. Black North Carolina competition by revealing that she was bald. She went on to win the pageant and is now touring the state to inspire other women who suffer from alopecia. Dubose Gibson also has a website and documentary about her hair loss called "Project Liberation: My Alopecia Experience." Here, she talks about her film and September's Alopecia Awareness Month:

 

 

Another woman, actress and stand-up comic Georgia Van Cuylenburg, also aims to inspire with another new documentary, "Baby Let Your Hair Hang Down," which opened recently at a film festival in Florida. She told the Miami Herald that the loss of her hair — from the autoimmune condition alopecia areata — cost her work at first. Now she says she is comfortable with her bald head.  

 

Here's the trailer for "Baby Let Your Hair Hang Down."