The Real Truth About Thinning Hair

Aly Walansky


thinning hair


We all see hair in our brush or in our shower drain. But how much loss is normal, and when should we begin to worry we may have a problem? Thinning hair is more common than most of us know, and there are many potential causes that could be behind it. The good news is, there’s also a lot that we can do to try to remedy it.

Stress is often a key factor in thinning hair or hair loss–as blood vessels begin to constrict, it deprives hair follicles of the oxygen, minerals and vitamins it needs for healthy hair growth. “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,” says Dr. David E. Bank, a dermatologist, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, author of Beautiful Skin: Every Woman’s Guide to Looking Her Best at Any Age and Founder and Director of The Center For Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery in Mt. Kisco, NY. “To help prevent stress causing hair loss, I recommend taking at least 2.5 milligrams of Biotin orally each day. Biotin is a water soluble vitamin, which means that what you don’t use, you excrete and this is essential for hair and nail growth,” says Bank. Also, using products that contain B5 Panthenol will help strengthen the hair shaft and plump up hair by building up the cuticle from within.

During menopause, one symptom women often experience is their hair thinning or falling out. “The decreased estrogen levels, which result in an imbalance of testosterone, causes hair loss,” says Dr. Bank. Hair can also become drier as estrogen levels drop so try to use mild shampoos and conditioners to treat dry, brittle hair and avoid chemical treatments that can further weaken your hair.

Crash diets.
The stress of rapid weight fluctuations can cause hairs to go into one of the 3 growth phases simultaneously instead of cycling independently as usual. “This is called telogen effluvium,” says Rebecca Kazin, MD, FAAD; a dermatologist at the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery and faculty member of the Johns Hopkins Department of Dermatology. This isn’t an instant effect of a crash diet; you’ll likely notice the most shedding 2-3 months after the stressful event.

“Repeatedly pulling hair back applies chronic tension on roots that can lead to traction alopecia,” says Dr. Kazin. Use soft hair ties, and go easy on high or tight styles.

Autoimmune conditions.
Symptoms of conditions like lupus might include hair loss, says Dr. Kazin. If you suspect that something like this might be up, it’s best to see your doctor right away.

Thyroid disorder.
Having an under or overactive thyroid leads to hormonal imbalances that can lead to thinning strands, says Dr. Kazin. Again: see your doctor right away if you suspect a thyroid issue!

Do you check the labels on your prescriptions? You should. “Some medications, like those for adult acne or cholesterol, may interfere with optimal hair growth, leading to loss,” says Dr. Kazin.

Don’t panic!
Remember, it’s normal to lose about 100 hairs per day, so just because you’re losing some strands, it doesn’t automatically mean you have a problem. “My simple test to see if a person’s hair loss is normal is that I gently tug on a small section of hair,” says Dr. Bank. “If fewer than five hairs come out in my fingers with each tug, the hair loss is within the normal range. If I conclude that someone is actually experiencing hair loss or thinning hair, then I determine the cause, and subsequently the appropriate course of action to treat,” he tells us.

Prevention and rehabilitation.
No matter the cause, be extra nice to your hair while you coax it back to its natural brilliance. Give your hair some TLC and use a natural bristle brush. Plastic or artificial brushes can be aggressive with your hair and scalp. A natural brush will help limit damage, says Dr. Kazin. Also, switch your blow dryer to a cooler setting (heat is extremely damaging to hair). It might take longer to dry and style your hair, but it will prevent harm.

Most importantly, never skip the conditioning step. “Conditioners help restore the natural oils that are removed from the hair and scalp during the washing process. A nourishing conditioner will help soften and strengthen your hair. Use protein based formulas, and stay away from sulfates,” says Dr. Kazin.

If your thinning hair is caused by stress, addressing the problem from the inside is your best bet for follicular rehabilitation. Consider adding leafy vegetables and eggs to your diet. “It’s been shown that diets rich in calcium and iron can help reduce or prevent hair loss. Be sure to also include proteins in your diet because hair is rich in protein,” says Dr. Kazin.