Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/31/2021
You see yourself in the mirror everyday, so you may not see the subtle changes that develop over time until they become impossible to ignore.
Receding hairline, widening part and overall hair thinning take time to develop and, once they do, they may be difficult to reverse.
Everyone wants a head of lush and lustrous hair — a mane they can be proud of. Unfortunately, we can’t always get what we want.
Thinning hair is caused by a combination of factors — some of which you can’t control — and it can create a snowball effect of complications.
Hair loss and hair thinning may not be life-threatening, but unwanted changes to your appearance can affect your self-esteem and confidence.
If you’re pulling your hair out over the stress of losing your hair, you’ve come to the right place. Below, we’ve delved deep into the subject of hair thinning to discuss common causes and potential treatment options.
Before digging into the details of what causes thinning hair, let’s take a moment to explore the issue and what makes it different from hair loss.
The clinical term for hair loss is alopecia. Alopecia is something of an umbrella term — there are several different types of alopecia, each characterized by specific patterns of hair loss or certain triggers. Hair thinning is generally considered a form of progressive hair loss and is a common symptom of androgenetic alopecia or male pattern baldness.
Thinning hair tends to develop slowly over time. In men, it often begins with the hairline and recedes toward the back of the head.
When hair thinning or loss is concentrated in round patches on the scalp, it is often related to a condition called alopecia areata.
Aside from hair loss conditions like androgenetic alopecia and alopecia areata, thinning hair may be related to lifestyle factors or styling habits. It could also be a product of genetics or triggered by fluctuating hormone levels.
Poor diet and lack of exercise can negatively impact your health which can manifest in the form of hair loss or hair thinning. A diet rich in lean protein, whole grains, healthy fats and fresh fruits and vegetables is best for overall health and healthy hair. Nutritional deficiencies can also contribute to hair loss.
Another major factor that can trigger or worsen hair loss is stress. Stress is directly linked to a specific form of hair loss called telogen effluvium. This condition causes diffuse shedding of hair three to four months after a major triggering event.
Though medical conditions and lifestyle factors can cause hair loss, hair thinning is sometimes a matter of perception.
As you get older, it’s natural for your hair to lose some of its strength and volume. The hair follicles become smaller and lighter in color which can make it appear thinner. Some follicles stop producing new hair after a certain point which can result in an overall appearance of thinning. Many men often start showing signs of balding or hair thinning or baldness by the time they reach thirty.
The first step in resolving your problems with thinning hair is identifying the underlying cause. Whether your hair loss is caused by an underlying medical condition, triggered by stress, or related to poor lifestyle choices, there are things you can do to address it.
Here are some of the best treatment options for thinning hair.
Sometimes, when your hair looks thin or lifeless it isn’t related to hair loss at all. Excess sebum and other impurities can build up on your scalp and weigh your hair down, keeping it from looking its best. Changing the hair products you use may be all you need to do.
Try switching to a clarifying shampoo that will break down the polymer residues other hair products leave behind. You might even try a thickening shampoo made with ingredients like saw palmetto that promote volume and moisture.
If you struggle with dandruff, switching to dandruff shampoo can help get rid of scalp buildup. For men with oily hair, look for a shampoo that helps counter excess sebum production and skip the conditioner to avoid weighing your hair down even further.
It’s also worth noting that you should use a shampoo engineered for your specific hair type.
If stress has you pulling your hair out, a promising solution is to take steps to manage your stress. Stress doesn’t cause male pattern baldness, but it can disrupt the hair’s natural growth cycle. It is also directly linked to a form of hair loss called telogen effluvium.
Telogen effluvium occurs when a significant number of hair follicles prematurely enter the telogen (resting) phase out of the growth phase. In effect, they stop growing sooner than they should and are shed sooner than normal.
There are a number of things you can do to reduce stress, starting with identifying and addressing the things that trigger stress. Stress reduction exercises like deep breathing and meditation can be beneficial as well. Remember that exercise is a natural stress reliever and try to moderate your consumption of alcohol and caffeine to reduce stress.
Omega-3s are part of a balanced diet anyway, but they are particularly important for healthy hair. Consider adding natural sources of omega-3s like fatty fish and flaxseed into your diet or take an omega-3 supplement to improve hair density.
More research is needed in this area, but initial results are promising.
Finasteride is an oral medication often sold under the brand name Propecia® for the treatment of hair loss in both men and women. Initially approved by the FDA in 1992, this medication has plenty research behind it.
This particular drug acts as a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor, which helps prevent your body from converting testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
High DHT levels have been associated with androgenetic alopecia in men — the hormone links to receptors in the hair follicles, causing them to shrink which can limit growth and give the appearance of hair thinning.
Minoxidil, typically sold under the brand name Rogaine®, is a topical medication used to treat hair loss. Research shows that, when used consistently for several months, minoxidil may help stop hair loss and may improve the thickness of existing hair.
Unlike many hair loss treatments on the market, minoxidil is FDA-approved and supported by science. It comes in a liquid or foam that should be applied twice daily. Though it won’t cure baldness, it can improve hair growth by improving blood flow to the scalp and encouraging hairs to enter the growth phase. Just remember that you’ll need to continue using it daily to maintain your results.
Healthy hair requires oxygenated blood and a steady flow of nutrients. When blood flow to the scalp becomes compromised, it can affect hair growth and thickness. A simple solution to try is giving yourself a scalp massage a few times a week. Massaging the scalp can increase circulation to the scalp and may actually stretch the hair follicles to improve thickness and length.
In a small 2016 study that involved only nine people, researchers found that men who received a four-minute scalp massage each day had thicker hair after 24 weeks than they did at the start of the study.
According to self-reported findings published in a 2019 study, men who self-administered scalp massage twice daily reported an improvement in alopecia.
If you’re self-conscious about your thinning hair but you’re not quite ready to take the leap into prescription treatment, consider hair loss concealers. Hair loss concealers are simply products you can apply to your scalp to make hair thinning or hair loss less noticeable.
Fiber hair loss concealers are typically made from proteins like keratin and they cling to the hair you do have to help create the illusion of thickness. Powder hair loss concealers are applied to the scalp in thinning areas to disguise bald spots and to give your hair the appearance of being fuller. Liquid hair loss concealers add artificial thickness to your natural hair, typically by coating it with ingredients that cling to the hair.
Whether you’ve lost hair due to alopecia areata, androgenetic alopecia, or another form of hair loss, you may be considering hair replacement to restore the fullness and thickness of your hair.
Surgical hair replacement is generally recommended for men who have lost a significant amount of hair. Hair transplant surgery doesn’t replace the hair you’ve lost, but it can transplant hair from one part of your body to your scalp. These procedures may be quite expensive and may not give you the look you want. Plus, depending on the underlying cause of your hair loss, it may only provide a temporary solution.
Non-surgical hair replacement options include hair replacement systems like wigs or toupees and scalp micropigmentation. Hair replacement systems can look unnatural but they are an affordable and non-invasive option. Scalp micropigmentation involves using small, tattooed dots on the scalp to create the appearance of thicker hair.
Male pattern baldness or androgenetic alopecia is a leading cause of hair loss in men. It causes your hairline to recede with age and may cause your hair to appear thinner over time, but there are treatments available to help stop or reverse hair thinning and loss.
If you’re concerned about thinning hair or hair loss, talk to a certified healthcare professional to identify the underlying cause. From there, you can discuss treatment options to restore the thickness and fullness of your hair.
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