Thinning Hair: How To Treat Your Concern
Thinning hair can effect both men and women of all ages. While causes can vary from health issues to diseases, genetics to stress, many people will experience hair thinning at some point in their life. Although it can be frustrating, there are many treatments available to improve and sometimes reverse hair thinning.
Published: January 27, 2021
Last updated: February 18, 2022
Content Reviewed by AEDIT Medical Advisory Board
One of the most widespread symptoms of aging, especially in males, is thinning hair or hair loss. Graying hair can easily be dyed, but there is no quick-fix for thinning hair. For some people, hair loss begins at the onset of aging, while others hold onto that part of their youthful appearance for much longer. Others experience thinning hair or hair loss due to an underlying illness, as a side-effect of medication, as a result of hormonal changes or weight loss, as a symptom of stress, or as a byproduct of nutrient deficiency. There are a number of reasons why hair thinning happens, but be reassured that thinning hair is not always irreversible. More ways of reversing thinning hair are being developed as our knowledge of the body and of science both increase.
Thinning Hair in Men
Normal hair thinning and hair loss can begin prior to your 20s, but usually it is not a noticeable condition until you are older. Therefore, it is commonly considered a side-effect of aging, and while that is often true, it may not be something you will always have to live with, or at the very least, your particular case may allow you to treat the thinning and make it less noticeable. Keep in mind that thinning hair is not the same thing as balding. It could be an indicator or precursor to balding, but baldness is a genetic condition that usually follows a pattern either on the top, back of the head, or around the crown and temples. If you notice that your hair falls out in an abnormal pattern, such as in clumps, or in random spots, you may be dealing with an issue much greater than thinning or balding. For instance, you may have alopecia, a condition that affects hair all over the body and causes hair loss to occur in patches. Since you won’t know for sure prior to meeting with your provider, schedule a consultation to avoid mistreatment.
Thinning Hair in Women
While thinning of the hair is somewhat normal and expected for men, it is still a common occurrence for women. Hair issues tend to be difficult for women to deal with because society relies so heavily on a woman’s hair as being the main feature of her attraction. This can be true for men, as well, but the American culture is more forgiving and even accepting, of baldness or hair loss in men than in women. Depending on the person, hair thinning can feel equally problematic for both men and women.
Underlying medical conditions can cause hair thinning in women just as they can in men. Women can also be plagued by alopecia, and both genders can experience things such as hair loss related to thyroid issues. Sometimes, hair thinning in women is due to changes within the body after childbirth. This should not be a long-lasting concern, though. Any time abnormal hair loss occurs, it is often related to an underlying, treatable issue, and you will need to visit your provider for a proper diagnosis.
Thinning Hair Treatments: From Surgeries to Shampoos
There are a number of hair-loss treatments available to address the problem of thinning hair. Sometimes treating hair thinning early helps reduce the risk of permanent, exacerbated hair loss. Treatments include surgical, medicinal, non-surgical, and at-home options. The lists below will be helpful as you narrow down which options will work best for you.
Strip Harvesting This treatment utilizes a strip of hair, usually from the back of the head, and transplants individual hair follicles into areas with thinning hair. This is formally referred to as follicular unit transplantation (FUT) and what little scarring that may occur from the harvesting is easily covered by existing hair.
FUE FUE, or follicular unit extraction, is a hair transplant surgery that manually extracts hair from individual follicles. Once extracted, follicles are implanted into areas of the head that are balding or thinning.
Neograft This method is partly robotic as it uses a pneumatic-pressure wand for extracting the donor's hair. It can be done during an FUE transplant and usually requires a full day for transplantation. Although time-consuming, it is an outpatient procedure that only requires local anesthesia, meaning that it is less daunting than the time requirement might make it seem.
ARTAS Robotic Hair Transplant Currently only FDA-approved for men with dark, straight hair, ARTAS is fully automated and minimally invasive. This technique utilizes a robotic arm to remove and transplant hair and does not require surgical removal of a donor site. This means that the procedure moves quickly, especially compared to methods that require a surgeon to manually extract and transplant each individual hair.
Scalp Micropigmentation This option creates the illusion of hair in thinning or balding areas by creating pigmented microdots into the skin causing hair loss to appear less obvious. This is similar to tattooing; however, the needles do not penetrate as deeply. While this creates a more natural-looking aesthetic, it also tends to be less permanent than tattooing. Micropigmentation sessions typically require more than one session, but the time you wait between each session (5-7 days) allows the pigment to settle making it easier for the pigmentation artist to create a realistic effect as each session builds onto the last.
Theradome This is an at-home treatment that has been FDA-approved to be used twice weekly for 20 minutes. Theradome is a helmet that uses laser technology to stimulate blood supply to damaged hair follicles. This process encourages the stimulation of hair growth and increased thickness by reducing hair miniaturization.
Finasteride This medication is formulated to decrease serum and reduce levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) on the scalp. This contributes to less hair loss because DHT is an androgen responsible for the miniaturization of hair follicles which causes the structure of the hair to weaken and become unhealthy. Note that because of this drug targets androgens (male sex hormones), you may experience low levels of libido and sexual stamina.
Dutasteride Dutasteride (Avodart™) is another medication used to prevent DHT from shrinking hair follicles, although this is not typically the reason for a dutasteride prescription as it is typically used to treat urinary retention issues. This medication works most effectively when introduced in the early stages of hair thinning, and some studies have shown dutasteride to be more effective than finasteride when it comes to treating hair thinning and balding.
Tofacitinib Tofacitinib (Xeljanz®) is currently only approved by the FDA to treat rheumatoid arthritis, although it is currently undergoing clinical trials related to its effectiveness in treating hair loss. Tofacitinib works at the cellular level to target Janus Kinase (JAKs), enzymes within cells that influence basic cellular functions. Since it works at a cellular level, tofacitinib is particularly helpful for treating hair loss caused by alopecia areata as alopecia is an autoimmune disease, a disease in which your immune system attacks your body’s healthy cells.
Minoxidil Another drug used in hair loss that is related to alopecia is Minoxidil, a drug that was originally introduced to treat high blood pressure. Patients using this drug were exhibiting the side-effect of growing thicker, darker new hair which led to the development of a topical form of the medication. There is still very little known as to why minoxidil encourages hair darkening and growth, but it is believed that it works within cell membranes to open potassium channels, making way for oxygen, blood, and nutrients to more effectively reach the hair follicle. Applied topically, it more effectively targets the hair follicles.
PRP This therapy uses the patient’s own blood which is removed via a regular blood draw (like in a routine blood test), spinning it down into a plasma concentrate, and re-injecting that platelet-rich-plasma (PRP) back into the scalp. PRP has been proven to have multiple growth factors ultimately leading to successful hair regrowth. The results of this method have even greater results when combined with hair transplant surgery.
PRP + Nanofat Injections This procedure uses a combination of the patient’s own fat and blood stores. Fat is extracted from the abdomen via liposuction where it is then purified and mixed with PRP (centrifuged blood resulting in plasma extraction). This combination is injected into the scalp where it stimulates hair growth.
PRP + Acell Injections Acell is a porcine-derived powder known for regenerative properties similar to stem cells. When this powder is mixed with PRP, it creates an injectable serum that helps to regrow and thicken scalp hair. This matrix can also help heal damaged hair follicles leading to thicker, fuller, more youthful hair.
Diet and Supplements One of the first things you could consider when experiencing thinning hair is diet and overall nutrient intake. Diets should be nutrient-rich and should include regular doses of iron, folic acid, and omega-3s and B vitamins. It is also helpful to take a multivitamin that includes these things to ensure you are meeting the proper guidelines. If you feel that you need further guidance in this area, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has developed information and tracking devices to help you eat and live well. Healthy hair begins with a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Shampoos There are a number of shampoos marketed directly to alleviate the problem of thinning hair. To find one that works for you, look for one that is formulated without added dyes, parabens, and synthetic fragrances, and with thickening ingredients such as biotin, peppermint oil, collagen, and amino acids. It may take some time to notice a difference, but these ingredients should at least help boost the volume of your individual strands, causing your hair to look fuller overall.
Essential Oils There is very little information regarding the use of essential oils in hair regrowth, but some research suggests that oils such as peppermint, geranium, and rosemary could be helpful in treating thinning hair. It is suggested that you use 100% therapeutic grade oils to avoid harming your skin and test them in a non-visible spot prior to check for allergic reactions prior to putting it on the scalp. Castor oil has also been touted as a hair-growth oil. This is not a scientifically proven method, but you may decide you want to try this option.
Hairstyles for Thinning Hair and Embracing Baldness
Even though some of the above treatments take time to begin working, there are things you can do to “fake” the look of thicker, fuller hair. One of the best hair care products available is dry shampoo. It isn’t specifically for thinning hair, but using dry shampoos can add volume to the hair strands, making them appear fuller. Many dry shampoo formulas also come with color, allowing you to temporarily fill in areas that show thinning. Similarly, a root concealer or fill in the powder can help conceal the look of thinning hair by adding color to areas where the hair is lacking. Using hair spray may be helpful as well, but you will want to use it sparingly, as too much could weigh the hair down and have the opposite effect.
The hairstyle you choose can also help cover the extent of your thinning hair. Many stylists suggest a bob cut for thin haired women. Bangs are also helpful in concealing thinning hair. Depending on your face shape, a pixie cut could be another great option. It also helps to add “bend” to the hair by adding a few curls or beach waves into your regular style. You can use either a curling iron, hot rollers, a curling wand or a straighter used as a curling iron to create this extra movement. This keeps the hair from falling flat and drawing unnecessary attention to thinning hair. Hair extensions may be another option to consider if the condition of your hair allows for them. It is also helpful to maintain regular trims to keep your hair in healthy condition. Split ends make the hair appear even thinner and regular trims are an easy way to keep hair looking as full as possible. Meet with a stylist you trust to decide the best look for your hair needs as well as your face shape.
In general, men with thinning or balding hair should aim to keep their hair cut short, but you may need to experiment with different cuts to find your ideal length. Sometimes, longer hair on the top of the head can be used to conceal areas where the hair is thinning or shows male pattern baldness, such as with receding hairlines. Buzz cuts, crew cuts, and the newer pompadour haircut (similar to a slick back, but with more definition) are all ideal for men with thinning or balding hair. It may also help to grow a little facial hair as this can help draw attention away from the head. Again, seeing a professional stylist will be helpful in choosing a style that best conceals your problem areas.
Having thinning or balding hair can be frustrating, but depending on the cause, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be permanent. The methods above might be exactly what you need to obtain the hair you desire. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes thinning and balding is a natural part of the aging process. Most men begin thinning and balding in their early 30s. At some point, you may decide to just begin embracing the differences in your hair and to work from a point of acceptance as you find a new style that works for you.
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