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Why Does My Hair Look Thin When Wet?

Katelyn Hagerty FNP

Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 1/3/2022

We’ve all seen photos and videos of big, fluffy dogs and cats suddenly reduced to tiny, petite rodents by falling into pools or bathtubs. 

While it’s hilarious to see this happen harmlessly to an animal, for people, it can be a cause for concern to suddenly see your hair looking much thinner, far less voluminous and to see spaces in your scalp.

Wet hair is great to cut in part because all that volume is reduced to easy-to-manage tendrils, making it easy for a stylist to cut and contour to your face. 

But if you’ve ever gotten out of the shower and noticed your head looks a little less lush than you remember, you’re not alone. 

Wet hair definitely looks thinner, but wetting your hair may also be an effective way to determine if you’re starting to lose hair from your head in larger volumes. 

To understand what’s going on up top and how to use it to your advantage, first, we need to understand some basics about how hair grows and why it may grow back thinner as we age.

Why Your Hair Looks Thinner When Wet

Wet hair, simply, is matted down. “Matted down” is the common description for what happens when hair gets wet: the strands clump together, making it feel less voluminous and more compact. 

It’s a combination of two things: the normally bouncy and weightless follicles being suddenly much heavier, and the properties of your hair interacting with the water, now drawing your follicles toward one another in clumps that reduce the total space they occupy.

The result of this is that you look to have less hair than you did before, and those hair follicles are indistinguishable from one another due to being clumped together. 

This has benefits — it can make it easy for a stylist to trim and shape your hair the way you want it to look, without losing track of their cuts in a large, bouncy mass of hair. 

But it can also be a little unnerving.

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Why Wet Hair Makes it Easier to See Thinning

Wet hair can also be your best opportunity to take stock of your follicles and see if there are any changes to be noted. If there are, you may be experiencing hair thinning or hair loss.

Because of the clumping when wet, it can be significantly easier to note the appearance of bald spots or areas of thinning that might otherwise be covered up by your normally voluminous coif. 

This isn’t to say that thinning is dramatically easier to spot when wet. 

Yes, you may have easier access to bald spots and receding hairlines, but to get the best idea of whether your hair is actually thinning, you need to see it in normal (dry) conditions. 

Dry hair, after all, is how you look day to day, unless you’re a professional swimmer.

Why Thinning Hair Happens

This is probably a good time to talk about “real” hair thinning, as opposed to the trick that water can play on your eyes. 

Hair thins for a variety of reasons, but the most common cause is simply thinning due to age. As we get older, hair loss increases generally, but the impact of hair loss is compounded by additional factors — like slower growth. Your hair may continue to grow even if you live long enough to cross the century mark, but it will do so slower than when you were a kid — and the hairs that do grow will also eventually become thinner, finer and lighter in color. 

Hair that thins is essentially weakening, making it more prone to hair breakage and other external damage sources. 

And it gets progressively worse — every time your hair restarts its hair growth cycle, it has the potential to come back a little weaker, thinner and more vulnerable to damage. 

How to Tell If Your Hair Is Thinning

How can you tell if your hair is thinning? Sure, you may be able to see signals that might raise you an eyebrow in the shower, swimming pool or elsewhere. 

But hair thinning isn’t just about visuals — it’s about that fragility and breakage problem we mentioned. 

One self assessment you can do, for instance, is to simply look for variations between follicles — signs that some hairs are more coarse than others and the hair on your head is becoming less uniform. 

There’s also something called the hair pull test, which is as simple as it sounds (and much less painful). 

Essentially, the hair pull test is conducted by taking a little handful of follicles (maybe 50 or so) and gently pulling on them. You’ll want to apply traction but still allow the follicles to slide out of your fingers.

Some follicles will come away from your scalp naturally, and it’s normal to see maybe 10 percent of the follicles you grabbed in your hand. 

What’s not normal is breakage — more than 10 percent of the hairs coming away, and not just leaving your scalp, but fracturing mid follicle. 

If you see this, you could be looking at hair miniaturization, which is one of the ways hair can “thin” as we age.

Experts say that miniaturization is a strong signal that you’re on your way to thinning due to androgenic alopecia, or male pattern baldness. 

Thinning Hair: Treatment Options

Whether you're certain that you're working with fewer hair strands than you were a year ago, or just want to start taking care of your scalp health before the first sign of hair loss presents itself, there are options available to help you arrest the damage in its earliest stages, build strong hair and potentially create additional hair growth.

A healthcare professional might suggest finasteride, which is an FDA-approved treatment that blocks your body from creating excess levels of the hormone, dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, which is associated with androgenic alopecia

It’s been proven effective for arresting and in some cases even reversing hair loss due to androgenic alopecia, and may offer you the same benefits. 

Comparably effective is topical minoxidil which is believed to work by increasing blood flow to your hair follicles, potentially increasing both the rate and health of hair growth. 

Different dietary and lifestyle changes may also help manage hair thinning and hair loss, depending on your unique medical history and conditions — weight loss and a better diet, as well as exercise or a reduction in certain unhealthy habits may promote better hair health if your health is causing the problems in the first place.

And that might be true, as nutritional deficiencies can indeed create the right conditions for a hair loss situation.

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Thinning Hair: What to Do Next

Whether you think you see signs of hair thinning and reduced hair density with wet hair, dry hair, damp hair or something in between, it's important to bring your concerns to a healthcare professional. 

The fact is that male pattern baldness is far from the only form of hair loss that you should be worrying about — hair thinning is just one of the potential causes of a less dense head of hair. 

Other causes may be associated with serious conditions that, left untreated, might pose bigger health risks than being bald. 

Point being: don't leave these concerns about male pattern hair loss until things get out of hand. 

If you’re experiencing signs of hair loss, there are treatment options that a healthcare provider can help you with to support better hair health, and help you maintain thicker hair going forward. 

If you're looking for solutions, consider checking out our hair loss products, including hims' Hair Power Pack

Whether you use our products or someone else's, though, get this checked out today. You'll thank us later.

5 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Almohanna, H. M., Ahmed, A. A., Tsatalis, J. P., & Tosti, A. (2019). The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review. Dermatology and therapy, 9(1), 51–70. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6380979/.
  2. Ho CH, Sood T, Zito PM. Androgenetic Alopecia. Updated 2020 Sep 29. In: StatPearls Internet. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430924/.
  3. Mounsey, A., & Reed, S. W. (2009, August 15). Diagnosing and treating hair loss. American Family Physician. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2009/0815/p356.html.
  4. de Lacharrière O, Deloche C, Misciali C, et al. Hair Diameter Diversity: A Clinical Sign Reflecting the Follicle Miniaturization. Arch Dermatol. 2001;137(5):641–646. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/478324.
  5. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Aging changes in hair and nails: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/004005.htm.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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