For those suffering from thinning hair, it might seem like thick locks are in the past, but several solutions can help.
If you have experienced thinning hair, you know what a struggle it can be to keep your locks on your head—and not your hairbrush. But you’re not alone, since hair loss is more common than you probably think. More than two-thirds of American men will experience some degree of hair loss, according to the American Hair Loss Association, and male pattern baldness, aka androgenetic alopecia, is responsible for 95 percent of hair loss in men.
You may be surprised to hear that women are heavily affected too. Half of all women will suffer hair loss at some point, and 40 percent will experience female pattern hair loss by the age of about 40. “The chances of a woman experiencing hair loss at some point in her life are unfortunately very high, and I think the statistics are underrepresentative, as women tend to be very quiet and embarrassed about it,” reveals Dr. Sophia Kogan, chief medical officer of Nutrafol and integrative hair loss specialist.
While both women and men experience hair loss, they do so differently. “They are both related to hormones, but they differ in the way they manifest,” explains Maria Halasz, CEO of Évolis. “Men who are sensitive to the testosterone-driven hormone DHT tend to start losing hair in their 20s or early 30s. By the time they reach 40, they normally have excessive hair loss on the forehead and crown. In women, levels of the hormone estrogen start dropping from the age of 25. It becomes more pronounced around the age of 40 and then most pronounced during the premenopausal period.” Women tend to lose hair diffusely all over the upper head, and there is a marked change in the quality of hair. They also notice that their hair will not grow as long as it once did.
While genetics obviously plays a large role, it’s crucial to understand that lifestyle has a big impact too. “What we know now is that hair loss is multifactorial,” says Kogan. “In addition to any genetic predisposition we may have, environmental factors like psycho-emotional stress, inflammation, free radicals, aging, external toxins and hormonal changes all play a role. Taking an early proactive approach is important as it’s a lot easier to prevent than to restore.” Follow the simple steps below to minimize hair loss.
1. Slash stress
It’s no secret that anxiety can take a toll on your health, but you may not have known that it can affect your hairline too. “I strongly believe that the overwhelmingly elevated and chronic levels of stress today contribute significantly to the growing number of people thinning earlier,” states Kogan. “We are stretched thinner than ever, and our bodies aren’t accustomed to it. During stress, the body usually pulls all resources away from hair and nails to focus them inward, on vital organs. When that happens suddenly, like if we are chased by a lion or a bear, we then see it in sudden hair shedding. The stress subsides and hair should grow back—that’s the way we adapted. However, when the stress is chronic, the lions and bears turn into bosses, traffic and kids who don’t go away, and we continue to subject our bodies to stress.” Studies show that hair follicles are highly sensitive to stress hormones, which push them into regression.
To help beat stress, blow off steam at the gym regularly or hit the yoga studio to get into a Zen state. Still feeling overwhelmed? Try a meditation app, or simply do some deep breathing exercises when you’re tense at work.
2. Eat right
The old adage “you are what you eat” applies here. “Diet can impact hair loss, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies can contribute and affect the quality of hair,” Halasz says. “Hair loss is a complex condition, and there is no magic ingredient or food that can solve it on its own.” To keep your strands as strong as possible, load up on colorful fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin B; quality proteins like lean meats; and zinc, which is found in Shiitake mushrooms, spinach, sundried tomatoes, peas, lentil sprouts and beef. “However, none of these will stop hormone-related hair loss,” notes Halasz.
3. No roughhousing
You might think vigorously towel drying your hair might speed up the process, but it’s actually damaging by causing breakage. The same goes for tight ponytails with rubber bands and heat styling with straighteners or curlers. And never, ever brush hair when it’s wet, when it’s especially prone to breakage. “We also contribute by processing and styling too much,” Kogan points out. “Blowouts are so accessible that we can get them daily. The new thing is to have a good hair day every day. All of these contribute to some level of inflammation and free radicals in the scalp. We don’t give our hair or our scalp a rest; I think it’s important to do that.” To maintain maximum fullness and quality, limit damage. Bleaching or coloring generally should be done as infrequently as possible.
4. Shop right
Be careful when buying hair products. “A gentle shampoo and a nourishing conditioner are essential,” Halasz says. “However, hair science has moved on since the baby shampoo, and today it is important to look for two ingredient categories: ingredients that address the hair root (or the biology of the hair) and that address the quality of the hair.” For hair biology boosters, look for FGF5 blockers, such as Évolis Reverse products ($27.50–$110, evolisprofessional.com), which extend the growth phase of the hair cycle and therefore result in reduced hair loss and more hair growth. Other ingredients to look for include antioxidants, such as green tea and mangosteen; they reduce inflammation of the scalp from pollution. These two groups will give your hair the optimum chance to grow. For products that protect the hair after it has grown out, you want moisture-retaining ingredients, such as baobab, and volumizing agents, such as polymers.
“The main thing to remember with products is to choose ones that have the least amounts of chemicals that can cause hair loss,” Kogan says. Steer clear of harmful ingredients including parabens, which are hormone disruptors; sulfates like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which are detergents that are irritating, strip off too much natural oil, and according to studies, cause inflammation of the skin; synthetic fragrances, as they are usually harsh chemicals that often cause irritation and dermatitis; and polyethylene glycol or PEG, which may be harmful to your health.
5. Go topical
The only topical treatment that has been approved by the FDA for hair loss is minoxidil, aka Rogaine. “However, there are some pitfalls with this medication,” cautions Kogan. “If it works, it works well, but if it doesn’t, it just doesn’t, and it comes with a few potential side effects. Once someone starts using it, they can’t really stop because the follicles get used to the synthetic chemical, and once removed, the hairs that stayed fall out in an expected period of shedding. It also frequently causes scalp irritation, and women don’t like to use it as it’s messy. It can also cause lightheadedness and hair growth in unwanted areas.” For a natural alternative, massage essential oils like rosemary, peppermint and thyme into the scalp at night. Essential oils are very potent, so they should be mixed with carrier oils before being applied.
6. Fight flakes
Those little white flakes aren’t just annoying—dandruff can actually contribute to hair loss. When dandruff builds up on the scalp, it can lead you to scratch your scalp, causing inflammation, which in turn causes shedding. The new Dove Dermacare Scalp Pure Daily Care ($5, target.com) gently fights flakes with zinc pyrithione in a formula that’s gentle enough for every day use.
7. Pop a pill
A daily natural vitamin supplement can help, especially those that target hair growth, like biotin or Nutrafol ($88, nutrafol.com). “Nutrafol is not a simple hair vitamin,” Kogan says. “It was formulated with specific ingredients that target the underlying causes of poor hair health and hair loss. There are two formulations that were engineered separately for men and for women.”
8. See your stylist
The right cut can help disguise thinning hair. “If you have fine or thin hair, it is best to stay away from long lengths and focus on styles that are a bit shorter,” advises Susan Roberts Cooper, master colorist and certified trichologist. Women can opt for a long bob, aka the trendy lob, which is basically textured layers cut shoulder length or slightly shorter. For men, keep it nice, short and neat. “Trying to keep the long look only accentuates your thin areas,” Cooper says. “It is OK to have slightly shorter hair while you are transforming your hair. Your hair will look healthier and in some cases even fuller.”
Avoid clean parts since they can highlight thin spots, and try to build up volume along the roots. A dry shampoo, such as Garnier Fructis Pure Clean Dry Shampoo with Citrus Extract ($3.49, Target.com) will do the trick. “Or instead of teasing or back-combing the hair to create that lift, try a volumizing mousse or serum on towel-dried hair, and then dry with the cold-shot dryer feature while holding the layers away from the scalp,” Cooper says. “Using this method to create volume will be nicer to your hair follicles.”
Photo credit: 123RF, progressman