When you think about hair loss, you don’t often associate it with children or teens. But Alessia Cara, a 20-year-old singer from Canada, recently got real about her embarrassing struggle with the condition, which started in “late elementary school, early high school,” she wrote in an essay for Glamour.
Cara wrote that she was teased by her peers for having “frizzy” hair, so she started straightening her brunette curls. Not long after, she said, “I started losing my hair in chunks in the shower. It was one of the scariest things. It got to the point where it was visibly gone.”
According to the American Hair Loss Association, hair loss is responsible for about 3 percent of pediatric office visits. Though that statistic sounds low, seeing even one child lose locks can be difficult — even devastating — for both the child and his or her parents.
But there are a handful of common conditions and catalysts that cause thinning hair in children, according to the American Hair Loss Association. These include fungal infections or trauma, either accidental or due to self-inflicted hair-picking, or trichotillomania. There’s also a more stubborn condition called telogen effluvium, which can be the result of anything from surgery to prolonged stress.
Leonora Doclis, senior hair-loss specialist at the Belgravia Centre, tells Yahoo Beauty that one of the most common causes of sudden hair loss is alopecia areata, “an autoimmune disorder where the body turns against the hair follicles. The precise causes are unknown but triggers are thought to include sudden shock or trauma, hormones and there is a possible genetic element too.”
Believe it or not, it could also be female-pattern baldness. “Signs of genetic hair loss — most often male- or female-pattern baldness — can start to appear any time following puberty, so some teenagers may notice thinning hair or a receding hairline,” Doclis says. She notes that alopecia areata is temporary, and pattern baldness is treatable in young people but not until they’re 16 years old.
Hair loss can be especially distressing to women, like Cara, who account for a whopping 40 percent of people battling the condition. Women are also more likely to seek treatment, according to the Belgravia Centre.
Cara didn’t indicate whether she sought medical treatment for her hair loss, but she did tell Lipstick.com she was “constantly looking for hairstyles to hide the bald spots. And I didn’t know why it was happening. I just kept thinking, Why am I so young and having to deal with this?” As if her own insecurities were not enough, the singer remembers other students in her high school taunting her about her bald patches, she said, “because people are mean in high school.”
Doclis advises, “As soon as anyone notices their child is experiencing hair loss, they should seek professional help so that they get a diagnosis quickly. “Children under the age of 16 should see their GP, who can discuss suitable options, whilst those who are 16 or over can visit a hair-loss specialist and have a personalized hair-loss treatment plan drawn up featuring clinically proven medications and hair-growth boosters to help them regrow their hair.”
Now a self-assured celebrity on the rise, Cara makes it her mission to spread a message of self-love through her music and public appearances. Her single “Scars to Your Beautiful” was inspired by her hair-loss struggle (she says she still has patches of missing hair, but she has “learned how to accept it”). But the song is also an ode to anyone who is struggling with insecurities about their looks.
“The girl I am talking about [in the song], it’s me, it’s you — it’s every girl who has struggled with feeling not good enough,” Cara told Lipstick.com. “I want to talk about all the different extremes that girls go through to feel beautiful.”
But the singer doesn’t just preach — she walks the walk too. Cara is committed to going makeup-free to every interview she does about the song. “How could I be preaching a song about being yourself and being beautiful and perfect the way you are — and have a full face of makeup?” she said in the interview.
Still, Cara has nothing against wearing makeup. In fact, she gives a shout-out to Kylie Jenner’s coveted Kylie Lip Kits. But she wants anyone who will listen to know they are beautiful however they choose to present themselves. “I just want to tell people there isn’t only one way to look,” she writes in Glamour. “You can be natural. You can have a full face of makeup. You can be skinny or fat or short or tall. There is no definition for beautiful. There is no right or wrong way. Just be yourself.”