Our hair and its appearance plays a pivotal role in how we view ourselves, as well as how we are perceived by others. Whether we like it or not, hair is one of our most visible features; so when it starts to thin due to age, it can be incredibly disheartening. 

It’s totally normal for hair to change as you get older. Hormones, diet, genetics, and environmental factors all play a role in the color, texture, and “behavior” of your mane. While these changes are to be expected, they don’t have to be accepted without a fight. 

It’s Totally Natural

A single strand of hair grows (on average) about a half-inch per month, with a normal life span of about two to seven years, at the end of which it will naturally fall out. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it’s common to lose between 50 and 100 hairs per day. 

As we age, hair follicles become smaller, which makes hair finer. In addition, our hair’s life cycle gradually shortens, so the combined effect is shorter, finer hair that falls out sooner than it would have in our youth. Some hair follicles stop producing hair altogether. 

This is all part of the natural aging process. One study, conducted in 2012, tracked over a thousand women between the ages of 18-66 to try to determine whether thinning hair was due to a change in hair shaft diameter or a decrease in hair density. The results found that typically, hair diameter increases between the ages of 20 to 40-45 years, then decreases. Hair density was highest in the youngest group (age 20-30 years), then decreased thereafter at an increasing rate. So what the study concluded was that the increase in hair diameter offsets the decreasing hair density until roughly one’s mid-30s, whereupon women start to notice thinner hair. 

Lifestyle Factors That Could Contribute to Thinning Hair

Thinning hair may be caused by lifestyle habits, genetics, or a combination of both. If genetics dictate that you’ll have thin hair, you’re mostly out of luck. You can be aware of lifestyle choices, however, that could make it worse.

Lifestyle habits that might contribute to thinning hair include:

  • Overtreating your hair. Excessive hair coloring — particularly if you use lightening products — perms, and relaxers can impact your hair density or shaft diameter.
  • Using harsh hair products. Extreme-hold hair spray and gels can put increased tension on hair follicles, leading to more hair loss than usual.
  • Wearing tight hairstyles. Tugging and tension on the hair can cause it to break from the follicle, particularly if you wear the same tight style frequently. (This is sometimes why women will lose hair along their part or hairline.)
  • Nutritional deficiencies. Iron, folic acid, and other minerals help follicles produce hair naturally, so a lack of these nutrients would lead to less hair production. 
  • Chronic stress. Stress is related to an uptick in the hormone cortisol, which can cause hair follicles to enter a long “resting” phase where new hair doesn’t grow. 
  • Certain medications might impact hair growth or shedding rates.

Hormones

Our hormones play a huge role in hair growth, regeneration, and loss. Thyroid and endocrine disorders, which lead to hormone disruptions, can also affect how much hair you regularly lose and whether or not it will grow back. Similarly, women experience thinner hair after menopause due to the reduced hormonal support. Estrogen and progesterone, the hormones that regulate and control menstruation, help hair grow faster and stay on the head for longer periods of time. 

How to Fight Thinning Hair

You can fight back against thinning hair by working to support healthier hair growth. Here’s how:

  • Wash your hair less frequently. Shampooing too often can cause hair to become brittle and dry. Experts recommend washing your hair at least twice per week, but not every day if you can help it. 
  • Use conditioner and volumizer. Adding moisture to your hair with condition can replenish hair’s sheen and natural oils that may have been stripped away. Volumizers will strengthen each strand of hair, plumping it up and adding more volume overall. (Depending on your hair type, you can also look into products that provide protein to your strands, which restores hair strength and elasticity.)
  • Avoid using heated styling tools. Blow dryers, curling wands, and flat irons can be extremely damaging to hair if used every day. If you do use them, be sure to apply a heat protectant product to your hair beforehand, which adds moisture and a shield against further damage.
  • Eat certain foods. Add more foods to your regular diet that contain nutrients that support healthier hair growth: Proteins, like steak or chicken, spinach and green leafy vegetables (folate, iron, vitamins A and C), eggs (biotin), fatty fish, like salmon (Omega-3s), berries (vitamin C helps produce collagen and antioxidants), avocados (vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy. If you have lost hair due to perimenopause, hormone replacement therapy might help. Ask your doctor for advice.
  • Topical medications: The FDA has approved minoxidil (Rogaine) as a hair loss treatment for both men and women. It works by helping to thicken hair follicles, which in turn promotes hair lengthening. It usually comes in a liquid or foam that is applied to the scalp. The kicker, though, is that it needs to be used for at least nine months to see any improvements. 
    • Recent studies suggest that taking minoxidil as a pill, which has been used for decades to treat high blood pressure, is another safe and effective way of treating hair loss. Other oral medications to treat hair loss, like Propecia or Aldactone, have side effects that can be serious, so it’s important to discuss any medications with your doctor.

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