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Could a medical issue be causing your thinning brows?
Fashion & Beauty
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Today’s Featured Comment

Sparse brows after 50 may be a symptom of an underlying health issue. In the VN Beauty Guide Great Hair After 50, author Lois Joy Johnson quotes New York City dermatologist Dr. Fredric Brandt who says that “sparse brows or half-brows with missing tails are often a sign of thyroid issues.” So if your eyebrows are thinning, the first thing you’ll want to do is have your endocrinologist check for a medical reason for the hair loss.

VN member MUM is a case in point. Five years ago, at age 57, MUM discovered that she had hypothyroid (slow thyroid). “I am now on medication and my eyebrows have come back to life – so much so that I need to pluck them regularly! My advice [to women with thinning eyebrows] go to the doctor and get your TSH levels checked.”

VN blogger Dr. Dorree Lynn adds, “Start with a blood test to check your hormone levels first, then see what other type of professional may help you.” Prescription medications are only one option. “Sometimes, a good nutritionist can prescribe supplements that help. Diet and exercise have also been known to help as well.”

[This advice was originally posted in this conversation. ~ Eds.]

Barb DePree MD
Loss of Desire Is Real
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The conversation about women’s sexual health that ramped up with FDA hearings in October has continued, sometimes with heat, sometimes with light. For the first time I can remember, the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health, of which I’m a member, responded directly to a New York Times op ed piece, calling it false and demeaning (The New York Times published a number of responses this weekend).

I’m grateful to my colleagues who are setting the record straight.

As a practicing physician, I have conversations every day with women who are navigating changes in and challenges to the intimacy they want.

Some women have no problem wanting sex. They may encounter pain with intercourse, diminished capacity, or more difficulty experiencing orgasm. As a doctor, I have plenty of treatments options I can recommend and see what works best. Many of the options are neither prescription-only nor pharmaceutical: moisturizers and lubricants, dilators, and vibrators can do a lot. If those don’t work, there are some drugs that could.

Other women, though, come to me because while they love their partners, they no longer get the sexual urge. They find it difficult to respond when their partners initiate. If I close my eyes, I can see their faces, hear the grief in their voices. They’ve told me about their own sense of loss, of incompleteness; they’ve told me their concerns about the unintended messages their partners are receiving; they’ve told me about their fears for their relationships.

And of course I do the obvious assessments, ask them the obvious questions, make the obvious suggestions. I check their overall health to see if there’s an underlying condition that could explain their loss. I check out—and ask them about—medications they’re taking, which sometimes have unintended consequences. I probe for signs of depression. I inquire about their relationships, alert to any clue that one may not be healthy.

And sometimes, I do find an underlying cause. I’m able to treat a medical problem, make a referral for counseling, provide compassion to a woman who acknowledges that a relationship is over.

But other times, there’s no apparent reason for a loss of desire. And for those women, it doesn’t occur to me to say “Nothing is wrong with your sex drive,” which is what the New York Times op ed piece asserted. If nothing were wrong, they wouldn’t be in my office, asking—sometimes pleading—for help.

There’s not a lot in my toolkit to respond to those women. And I’d like some options, because I think women deserve them (check out #womendeserve on Twitter for more discussion). There have been very few silver bullets in my line of work—solutions that work all the time for every woman. I don’t expect that. I do firmly believe that women—with support from their health care providers—can make decisions about what might help them and the trade-offs that affect their quality of life.

Each woman can decide. For herself. From among options not limited by lack of priority or double standards at the FDA. And not limited by the opinions, however well-intentioned, of other women or men.


Flower Bear
From My Heart To My Plate
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For the last year or so I have been working on becoming a vegan. I use the phrase “working on becoming” because this isn’t something one does on a whim. This is an extreme change in lifestyle and beliefs, and I knew that if I just dove into it, I would be overwhelmed and feeling like I was denying myself in the same way that starting a new wonder diet leaves us feeling deprived after a few days. Becoming a vegan is about more than just what is on your plate. It is also about what is in your heart.

I find it curious, now that I think about it, that my interest in going vegan began to surface about the same time  I discovered my love of gardening. If this isn’t all a masterful example of synchronicity, I don’t know what is. It is only in the last year, however, that I have taken the time to really do my homework. I have spent countless hours on YouTube watching haunting videos and reading the latest books and research on the subject. I’ve perused every online vegan recipe site I could find.

Yes, there is some measure of feeling like I have to give things up, especially things I am fond of. I do love a nice serving of grilled salmon, a yummy, cheesy egg dish, and my all time favorite – ice cream. So I am still looking for ways to satisfy the desire for those taste experiences, but like anything else, if we want to create new habits, it takes time. Rome wasn’t the only thing not built in a day. A lifetime of beliefs and traditions wrapped around food aren’t changed over night. We were all raised with: “Eat your meat, drink your milk.” My religious upbringing, such as it was,  never asked me to think of animals as thinking, feeling, sentient beings. You just did what you were told because that was the way it was done.

For those that might be asking what changed my mind about eating animals and the products they produce, I won’t go into lured details about the unthinkable cruelty that goes on at factory farms, or the health benefits of eating a plant based diet. If you want the gruesome details, go on over to Netflix or YouTube and take a look at some of the documentaries (Forks Over Knives, Food, Inc.) or read the New York Times article about what goes on at factory farms. All I will say is that it is my wish that no other living thing should have to suffer or die for my benefit when there is another way. I may not be able to change the world, but I can change my participation in it. Evolution didn’t stop with Darwin. As my mentor, Louise Hay, is always saying, a belief is only a thought that you think over and over … and thoughts can be changes.

And so it is.



Barb DePree MD
Madwomen through the Holidays
Health & Fitness
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I recently read a book review recounting one woman’s harrowing passage through perimenopause. The Madwoman in the Volvo is a graphic and humorous account of emotional upheaval, distress, seismic life changes, and finally, the author is cast gently upon the slightly less fraught shores of menopause. Perhaps sadder (or more thoughtful), probably wiser, and definitely optimistic about the future.

So, in response to this season, which is guaranteed to nudge all but the most stoic among us off the ledge, I have two messages for all of us hot-flashing, sleep-deprived, hormonal gals.

If you feel as though you’re losing your mind, you aren’t alone. Hear that? You are not alone. In fact, you are legion—there are many of us.

Google “crazy menopausal women.” Read the forums. Check out the articles here on Vibrant Nation. Take heart. You’re in abundant, albeit somewhat unhinged, company.

There are, in fact, a silent (or, more likely, howling) army of women who feel just like you. I recall the patient who was referred to me by her new therapist, who had refused to treat her until she got her hormones straightened out. (Previously, she had been told to see a therapist by the police.)

I recall a close friend, the very picture of motherly benevolence, who hissed in my ear, “If that kid doesn’t stop yammering at me, I’m going to tape her mouth shut.” She was referring to her sweet but talkative adolescent daughter. I was shocked. A few years later, I was feeling like that myself.

You can assess your lifestyle and experiment with healthy change. You can eat kale and take vitamin B12 and black cohosh. You can meditate and do yoga. You can stop smoking and reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake. You will feel healthier, and your symptoms might become more tolerable. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a big advocate of healthy lifestyle choices.

But, if you, like many other women, continue to feel like you’re hanging on to sanity with bloodied fingernails, and those you love are suffering right along with you, by all means see your doctor and find out what pharmaceutical options might help you.

I read an article in the New York Times Magazine by Cynthia Gorney, a woman with access to all the current research on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and an enviable journalistic pedigree. Here’s what she has to say about her decision to go back on HRT:

I would like to be able to tell you that I weighed these matters thoughtfully, comparing my risks and benefits and bearing in mind the daunting influence of a drug industry that stands to profit handsomely from the medicalizing of normal female aging. But that would be nonsense, of course. I was too crazy. I went straight to the pharmacy and took everything they gave me.

Perimenopause—the hormonal roller-coaster years preceding menopause—can be a long and bumpy ride. It usually begins somewhere between 45 and 55, but can start much earlier. These are the years of unpredictably cresting and crashing hormones, when the crazies come out in all their glory. This stage can last from 2 to 10 years.

Menopause officially beings in the thirteenth month (one year) after your last period.

Which doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. Many women still have hot flashes and emotional turbulence. But life should slowly settle down as your body adjusts to its new, post-hormonal self.

So, that’s my second mid-holiday message: You aren’t crazy, and eventually you’ll be okay. Wiser, maybe more self-actualized, and really, really okay.

With that, best wishes for sailing through the rest of the holiday season and into the new year. And as the Madwoman in the Volvo said, “Have some cake, for God’s sake.”

Lois Joy Johnson
Best hairstyles for fine hair or thin hair: Stay ahead of hair loss with strategic cuts, styling tricks and color
Fashion & Beauty
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Before we get specific about the best cuts and color solutions for fine, thinning hair, you need to know that hair loss doctors do not expect you to stop coloring your hair (if you do) or resist using heat to style it. What they do suggest is being strategic about chemical processing and styling:

  • You might consider downsizing your color routine from double process with highlights to just highlights or going closer to your natural color.
  • You may want to give up a few inches (do you really need stringy hair hanging down your back?) to get extra fullness and volume.
  • But ditch the tight ponytails and cornrows — that kind of traction is non-negotiable.
  • Hair loss specialist Dr. Catherine A. Orentreich of the Orentreich Medical Group in New York City adds, “If you get a salon straightening treatment, opt for the Brazilian keratin one, not the Japanese method, which is more destructive to the hair shaft.”

Hair basics
Let’s get a few basics straight about hair. Hair is dead — the part that is alive is under your scalp in the follicle. The hair that we style and color — the hair shaft — is made up of a protein called keratin. The outer layer of the hair shaft is called the cuticle and when that is smooth, resilient and strong, your hair looks healthy. The cuticle covers the inner cortex and medulla of the hair and is composed of layers that overlap like a tiered skirt.

When you blow-dry your hair in a certain way and add a styling product, the layers of the cuticle get fluffed up instead of being smooth — and your hair appears fuller. There’s one pro I’ve worked with for years who knows this topic cold: celebrity hair (and makeup) artist Jim Crawford, who specializes in women over 50. His clients include Helen Mirren, Susan Sarandon, Cybill Shepherd, Isabella Rossellini, Valerie Bertinelli, Shirley MacLaine and Christine Baranski – all known for their trademark hair. Jim insists that most celebs do not have great hair. “You always see them after pros have worked to transform their thin, fragile, chemically fried hair.

Most bring hairpieces matched to their hair to the set or ask me to bring them along. Thinning hair, bald spots and receding hairlines can be camouflaged – trust me, I do it all the time.” Crawford relies on one of these four basic cuts to create the illusion of more hair and hide sparse areas. At least one will work for you.

The four best cuts to flatter thin hair

  • A short, classic bob
    This blunt, chic, chin-length cut is a foolproof disguise for hair that has all-over thinning and/or skimpy areas at the crown or back or the head. You can add full side-swept bangs to camouflage a skimpy hairline. It’s low-maintenance and can get blown up easily for a fuller look with a blow-out and styling lotion. It’s versatile and can be worn on or off the face. Inspirations: Jackie O, Cybill Shepherd, Kim Cattrall, Christine Baranski, Anna Wintour, Ellen Barkin.
  • A short, choppy bob
    Add irregular length layers and pieces for a fuller look. The tousled, shaggy look can give the effect of more hair and texture. It’s especially valuable for women wanting to camouflage thinning at the crown or back of the head. Inspirations: Meg Ryan, Diane Sawyer, Glenn Close, Helen Mirren.
  • A mid-length, shoulder-grazing cut angled in long layers around the face
    This length is as long as a woman with thin hair should go, but it has the feel of longer hair. Have your hairdresser remove all weight from the ends so the hair moves. Inspirations: Susan Sarandon, Sharon Stone, Iman, Jaclyn Smith, Suzanne Somers.
  • A short, layered crop with bangs
    This look is gamine in spirit but sophisticated and still sexy. If you have a great neck, fairly crisp jaw-line and your thinning is most obvious along the front hairline this cut can be an ally. Inspirations: Annette Bening, Judy Dench, Shirley MacLaine.

Once you have the right cut for you, there are two more secrets to building in fullness:

  • Using the right blow-dry technique
  • Choosing the right texture styling product.

Professional styling secrets for thin hair
Here are Jim Crawford’s behind-the scenes styling tricks:

  • Quickly rough dry your hair with your blow-dryer on a high heat setting using your hands and fingers to lift and move the hair. You want to be fast as possible and not use any brushes.
  • Your goal is to eliminate 80 % of the water in your hair before applying styling product. The reason? If you leave water in your hair when you apply volumizers, the result is diluted.
  • Don’t worry at this point about frizz or perfection, just get it nearly dry.
  • Then spray on a styling lotion or a mousse to build in body. These formulas are light, non-greasy and provide just enough lift and texture. You must avoid all waxes, gels, pastes, polishers, styling creams, shine boosting mists and silicone serums. They will weigh your hair down, make it oily and revealing sparse areas. Even if the label on one of these seven products says volumizing or for fine thin hair or body-boosting, ignore them — they are not for you.
  • Finish the look by continuing to rough dry once the styling spray or mousse is in you hair. Then just polish the ends with a round or flat brush as a final step in your blow-out.
  • An alternative finish is to continue to blow dry using your hands to direct the hair in the direction you want it to go. When your hair is totally dry, very lightly and quickly run a flat iron or a barrel iron from mid-hair shaft to ends only. Don’t run the iron over and over through the hair or linger over a spot.

Hair color tricks for thin hair
“Women feel more comfortable now discussing thinning hair issues with their colorist and hair stylist,” says New York City color guru Beth Minardi of Minardi Salon. “You need to take charge of the problem from a medical and cosmetic standpoint to really get an effective result. Think of each strand of hair as a fiber. At twenty it was like a stand of yarn, by 50 it’s more like thread.”

  • Use permanent color to thicken hair.
    Thinning hair can be improved by using a permanent hair color which penetrates the outer cuticle of the hair and swells the hair shaft. Minardi urges women to “Take advantage of the thickening benefits of permanent color. It fattens each individual hair so cumulatively your hair feels thicker.”
  • Variations in tone create depth.
    Some women experiencing thinning hair decide this is the moment to go blonde or if they are already blonde to go lighter. A big mistake, according to Minardi: “If you go too blonde when your hair is thinning, your hair will look transparent and sparseness at the scalp actually will become more visible. Instead, go for variations in blonde tones with a dark blonde or even light brown base and lighter brighter shades on top to create depth and the illusion of more hair. Brunettes should do their variation aiming for a tone on tone multi-color effect too, keeping the darkest color at the scalp as your base. A solid allover color will reveal any thinning or sparse areas while a multi-color look adds camouflage and creates the illusion of thicker hair.”
  • Color-camouflage a thin hairline.
    How about the sparse or thinning hairline area where color seems to grab more quickly? As Minardi explains, ” Brunettes with thin hairlines usually notice their color going darker-nearly black in that area and here’s why: color grabs more easily where your hair is thinnest. Highlighting around the hairline in brown on brown shades to vary the color helps in this instance. If you’re a brunette who colors her hair at home, go a shade lighter than you think.”