Thinning Hair 101: Why Does It Happen And The Best Ways To Treat It

June 24, 2015 by Lisa Fogarty
shefinds | beauty

From the time many of us are little girls, we are surrounded by symbols of beauty. Long, flowing locks are arguably the most pervasive–think Rapunzel, Barbie, and every Disney princess ever created.

With so much emphasis on thick hair, it’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that hair loss is a very real problem among women and can occur any time after puberty. I remember the exact moment clumps of hair began falling out in my hands in the shower about seven months after I gave birth to my daughter. I almost began crying. If a gorgeous infant hadn’t been napping in the next room, I might have thrown on jeans and ran to the nearest bar for a shot of whiskey. I heard about postpartum hair loss, but when it happens to you–when loose strands clog your shower and can be found on your pillow every morning–it is nothing short of shocking and scary.

So why do so many of us deal with thinning hair at some point in our lives and is there anything we can do to prevent and treat it? We asked leading hair and skin experts to break it down.

Why Do Some Women Experience Thinning Hair?

Your genes have almost everything to do with it. “There are a number reasons that women can have thinning hair,” says Dr. Sejal Shah of Smarter Skin Dermatology. “The most common cause in women, as it is in men, is hereditary hair loss also known as androgenetic alopecia or female pattern hair loss.  The gene can be inherited from either your mother or father’s side of the family.  An interplay of genes, hormones, and age likely lead to its development.” Shah adds, “Hereditary hair loss can really affect a woman anytime after puberty but more women notice thinning as they get older and the incidence does tend to go up more around menopause. I have several patients in their teens and early 20s who are affected.”

For those of us whose parents have full heads of hair, we’re not entirely in the clear. There are other factors that contribute to thinning hair, according to David E. Bank, founder and director of The Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery. “Stress is often a key factor in thinning hair or hair loss. As the blood vessels begin to constrict, it deprives hair follicles of the oxygen, minerals and vitamins it needs for healthy hair growth,” Bank says. “Vitamins are depleted under stress because the body burns more energy and directs the vitamins and nutrients to those body parts that it needs for survival like the heart, lungs, and brain. For that reason and under those conditions, the scalp will not get the benefit of these essential nutrients.”

Dr. Doris Day of Day Dermatology & Aesthetics reminds us that there is a difference between hair loss and damaged hair, which includes shedding, split ends, and breakage. “Other types of hair loss include Telogen Effluvium (temporary hair loss), which can be triggered by hormonal changes after pregnancy and other major stresses such as crash dieting and certain medications,” Day says. “Unlike hereditary hair loss, this condition is a temporary hair shedding rather than permanent hair loss, and hair will typically grow back on its own within three to four months.”

Bank says it’s important to remember that we are supposed to lose about 100 hairs a day. “My simple test to see if a person’s hair loss is normal is that I gently tug on a small section of hair–if fewer than five hairs come out in my fingers with each tug, the hair loss is within the normal range,” Bank explains. “If I conclude that someone is actually experiencing hair loss or thinning hair, then I determine the cause–pregnancy or menopause, low iron or thyroid levels, certain medications or diet, or if it’s genetic, and subsequently, the appropriate course of action to treat.”

Can Women Prevent Their Hair From Thinning?

Don’t stop taking your vitamins after you read this, but I’m sorry to report that there is really no way to prevent hereditary hair loss, according to Shah, who adds that it is best to start treatments as soon as you notice thinning.

“All living cells require vitamins and minerals for optimal growth. Hair is no exception,” Bank says. “Supplement or eating more foods with vitamin B, C, D silica, biotin, amino acids are particularly important for the maintenance of healthy hair. And, they are also particularly important in the formation of the keratin protein that forms hair. Biotin has been known for years to help hair and nails grow. Vitamin D also can lead to thicker hair. Vitamin C helps collagen formation. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.”

To help prevent hair loss caused by stress, Bank recommends taking at least 2.5 milligrams of Biotin orally each day. “Products that contain B5 Panthenol will help strengthen the hair shaft and plump up hair by building up the cuticle from within,” Bank says.

One product to try: Nioxin Diamax Treatment, which was created to help increase the diameter of each strand of hair.

What Can Women With Thinning Hair Do To Treat It?

Shah lists five treatments that are either effective or gaining in popularity:

1. Minoxidil (Rogaine) remains the mainstay of treatment for hereditary hair loss in women.

2. Low level laser therapy has also been shown to be effective.

3. Finasteride (Propecia), which is an oral medication, is not approved for use in women.  However, some women do benefit from anti-androgen medications, such as spironolactone or oral contraceptives.  It is important to note that these medications are not FDA-approved for hair loss  and their use for hair loss is considered off-label.

4. Platelet rich plasma (PRP) is a newer treatment available for hair loss that delivers growth factors to the hair follicles to stimulate hair growth.

5. Hair transplant is also an option in some women.

Since copper deficiency is associated with hair loss, Shah says it is possible that copper can have a positive effect on hair, though this has yet to be well-studied or documented. Truth Vitality Advanced Complex & True Volume Shampoo contains copper peptide complex known for its ability to promote new hair growth.

How Can Women With Thin Hair Give It The Appearance Of Fullness?

Celebrity Stylist Jill Crosby recommends avoiding long hair if you are experiencing hair loss. “You want to cut to your weight line, which will give a fuller appearance,” Crosby says. “Layered cuts work well for women with thin or thinning hair. Whether your hair is curly, wavy, or straight, layers create dimension. Ask your stylist for subtle layers that frame your face to add volume and lift to your look.”

Matrix Celebrity Stylist George Papanikolas adds that bobs and lobs are the best choice as they give the most fullness.  He also recommends using a volumizing Shampoo and conditioner like MATRIX Biolage VOLUMEBLOOM Shampoo & Conditioner to give limp, lifeless hair voluminous body. “Also, oils like Black Jamaican castor oil and coconut oil plumps hair and moisturizes hair follicles,” he says.

Crosby’s at-home gems include Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray , Oribe Maximista Thickening Spray, Blow Pro No Crunch Volumizing Mousse, and Kevin Murphy Session Spray.

Another stylist trick: fake volume using hair color. “Keep highlights to a minimum and make sure they are strategically placed around the face and your natural part,” Papanikolas says. “Adding a base color also swells the cuticle making hair feel thicker.”

For more beauty tips, check out Charcoal is having a major beauty moment — Here’s why and The only undereye concealer you need in your makeup bag.


Lisa Fogarty is a lifestyle writer and reporter based in New York who covers health, wellness, relationships, sex, beauty, and parenting.

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