As Fallon in the TV soap opera Dynasty, Pamela Sue Martin was one of the Eighties’ fashion leaders, noted for her padded shoulders and big hair.
On screen the actress – who was also in The Poseidon Adventure and starred as Nancy Drew in The Hardy Boys/ Nancy Drew Mysteries – appeared glamorous.
But the reality was very different.
Pamela Sue, now 54, had severe hair loss that almost left her bald. Her head of flowing locks was a wig.
Last year her hair was thinning and she feared she might be about to lose it all again.
“For the past few years,” she says, “I’d been saying to my best friend: ‘Look at my hair – it’s falling out.’ She assured me she couldn’t see any difference, but I was really worried.”
Pamela Sue inherited thin hair from her father.
“My hair was always thin, but at some points in my life, such as when I was working on Dynasty, it got more severe,” she says.
“It started gradually: my hairline started receding, then I got thin patches across my scalp. It was quite traumatic.
“What made things worse was that it was the era of big hair. The Dynasty producers insisted I wear a wig when I started the show in 1981.
“I put up with this for a while, but a few months later I saw a picture of myself on a magazine cover. The wig made me look like a country and western star. I refused to wear it any more.”
Pamela Sue’s hair regrew, but it fell out again whenever she was stressed.
“Dealing with fame when I was young was really hard,” she confides.
“I arrived in Hollywood as a teenager and was soon given parts in movies.
“I found it hard to cope with everything. It was physically debilitating, and I became thin and stressed. I reacted emotionally, which then affected my body.”
Pamela Sue’s three divorces – in 1980, 1984 and 1998 – also took their toll.
“After I had my son, who is now 16, I went almost completely bald,” she says.
“Fortunately, I was not working in front of the cameras at the time and stayed out of the limelight looking after him.
“After a few months, my hair grew back without treatment, but I was worried that I might have been permanently bald.
“I was deeply embarrassed about my hair loss.
“Now, however, I’m upfront about it. Many women suffer in silence.
“The problem is that information about hair loss is centered around men.”
Yet hair loss is equally common among both sexes. Millions of women – perhaps as many as six out of ten – suffer from thinning hair at some point during their life.
Female balding is usually less apparent than male balding, as it tends to cause thinning hair across the entire scalp, rather than the monk-like tonsure pattern of baldness which affects men. Men are also more likely to go completely bald.
The average hair grows six inches a year and is shed after four years. Normally, we lose around 70 hairs a day, but genetic make up, hormonal changes and stress can lead to telogen effluvium (excessive hair loss).
Women often experience hair loss after childbirth. During pregnancy the rise in oestrogen halts the normal amount of hair falling out.
Then, around two months after the birth, oestrogen levels drop and the hair that should have been lost during pregnancy falls out all at once. The hair usually thickens again about five months later, when oestrogen levels balance out.
The menopause is another trigger.
As oestrogen levels drop, the amount of androgens (male hormones) rise, causing the hair follicles to produce thinner hair. Sometimes the hair follicles stop producing hair altogether.
This type of baldness (androgen related balding) is the main cause of male hair loss; it affects about 50 per cent of men.
Studies suggest that an equal proportion of women may be affected, and in post menopausal women this figure could be as high as 75 per cent. Stress at any point in a woman’s life, however, can trigger the production of androgens, and consequently thinner hair and hair loss.
Diet is also important. Premenopausal women may suffer hair loss due to low levels of iron and vitamin B12, which are needed to make hair cells. Zinc helps absorb other vitamins and minerals needed in the production of these cells.
People with a low Body Mass Index (under 18.5) may also suffer from hair loss as they are less likely to be consuming enough vitamins and minerals. This applies to those with eating disorders, too.
Even if anorexics and bulimics put on weight, their hair may not regrow as – some experts believe – diet-induced hair loss may precipitate genetic hair loss.
The only medication licensed in the UK for female balding is minoxidil, which comes in liquid form. It was developed to lower high blood pressure but was found also to boost hair growth. Minoxidil has helped around 60 per cent women, but it must be taken all the time.
Last year Italian researchers found that a drug called finasteride, which is already available in the UK for male balding, seemed to help 62 per cent of the women who took it.
The drug blocks the effect of male androgen hormones. However, research is still in its early stages.
But Pamela Sue didn’t want medication.
“In the U.S. doctors want to give you drugs for everything,” she says. “But I hate the idea of filling my body with drugs. I’ve always tried to avoid them, even aspirin.”
As a younger women, she was fortunate her hair grew back each time, but as she approached the menopause she became increasingly worried about hair loss due to hormonal changes.
Last September, advised by a friend, she started taking Nourkrin®, a natural supplement made from marine extracts, silica and vitamin C. A recent independent study found it could increase hair growth by 45 per cent in six months.
Within four months of taking it, Pamela Sue noticed a difference.
“I began taking Nourkrin® with an open mind,” she says, “as I’m not usually that into supplements. I take vitamins as an act of faith rather than out of a conviction that they work.”
She continues: “A male friend began taking Nourkrin® at the same time and we got excited comparing each other’s hair.
“After about four months I looked in the mirror and could see all this new hair growing around my temple. Ten months on, my hair is much thicker than it’s been for ages. The supplement has really helped.”
Hair loss wasn’t her only stress-related problem.
“During Dynasty, I was washed out and developed pneumonia,” she says.
“I had a fever and a chesty cough. I had to go to hospital and take antibiotics. I recovered, but whenever I am stressed, I now get pneumonia. I developed it shortly after I left the show in 1984 and again when my son was two.”
At the peak of her fame, Pamela Sue also suffered from interstitial cystitis, which left her in agony and forced her to leave Dynasty.
Unlike normal cystitis, which is caused by an infection, the cause of interstitial cystitis is not fully understood. A substance in the urine may inhibit the growth of cells in the bladder wall, leading to irritation and frequent urges to go the loo.
“This triggered my interest in alternative health,” Pamela Sue explains.
“None of the treatments GPs gave me worked, so I saw a naturopath.”
Naturopathy relies on herbs and foods to stimulate the body’s healing abilities.
She was given a herbal supplement called kava kava, to calm her bladder and body. (Kava kava is banned in the UK following fears that it might damage the liver.)
“I took it twice a day, left Hollywood and tried to live a more balanced life in the countryside,” she says.
Now writing her autobiography, Pamela Sue is energetic and healthy, partly, she thinks, because she has given up Hollywood life.
“I tend to worry about the minutiae of life. But living in the mountains of Idaho and having retreated from fame, I am more in tune with life. I eat healthily, don’t drink alcohol and practice yoga.
“I try to live holistically and avoid conventional medicine. If I got hit by a truck, I would want to go to hospital, but if something is bothering me I will see my naturopath.
“A naturopath once told me you should never take antibiotics except if you have pneumonia, a kidney infection or some other serious illness. That’s my philosophy, too.”
• For more details visit www.nourkrin.co.uk.