Let’s begin with a fun fact: You have approximately 80,000 to 1200,000 hair follicles when you’re born — the most you’ll ever have in your lifetime. Losing anywhere from 50 to 100 strands of hair daily is typical as you grow. However, when you start to notice more scalp and less hair, it can be challenging to pinpoint the cause because hair loss and hair thinning are two terms that are often used interchangeably. To help you out, we’ve dissected the differences and provided tips to help you achieve healthy hair and a healthy scalp, even before noticing the first signs of hair thinning.
Hair Thinning Vs. Hair Loss
Determining whether you’re experiencing hair thinning versus hair loss can be confusing because they’re not entirely different but are also not the same. Let’s look at a side-by-side comparison of the two.
Thinning is when the hair’s density becomes more sparse and brittle over time, affecting the hair's overall volume. Hair thinning does not mean a termination of hair growth. It’s a gradual process due to slower hair growth caused by a more extended period between the hair cycle's shedding (telogen) and growing (anagen) phases.
Old age is one of the main reasons the hair thins, but it can also be due to hormonal changes or a lack of certain vitamins and minerals.
Conversely, hair loss occurs when the cycle is interrupted or ceases altogether. It can lead to bald patches or a complete loss of hair. Androgenetic alopecia (commonly referred to as male or female pattern hair loss) is the most common type, affecting more than 50 million men and 30 million women in the United States.
While it’s normal to experience some degree of loss, when it becomes excessive, there’s likely an underlying reason. Possible causes include hormonal shifts, hereditary factors, lifestyle changes, certain medications, and extreme stress.
Tips for Improving Hair Growth
When dealing with hair loss and hair thinning, it’s less about the solution and more about determining the root of the problem. This way, you can effectively improve your strands. If you’re unsure, speak to a trichologist or dermatologist.
Get Frequent Trims
While you might want to hold on to as much of your hair as possible, regular trims can make your hair appear healthier because you’re getting rid of split ends that can lead to breakage. While a trim won’t help your hair grow faster, it will enhance volume, smoothness, and shine.
Use Hair Growth Products
There are several over-the-counter hair growth products, such as shampoos and conditioners, masks, and tonics on the market. While they can provide some improvement, don’t expect an overnight miracle, and consistent use is vital. It can take about two months to see results from a drug-free formula. Also, hair growth from shampoo has not been proven in terms of FDA standards or published research.
Still, if you want to give these products a go, the higher the quality of the formula is, the more likely you’ll see a change. Look for key ingredients like trichogen, follicusan, pronalen, azelaic acid, L-cysteine, and saw palmetto extract. Avoid sulfates, parabens, phthalates, and silicones. They’re harsh and can quickly decrease the overall health of your scalp and hair.
If you’re not seeing any results, you can try using minoxidil, which is FDA-approved and proven to help stop hair loss and promote growth when used correctly.
Avoid Bleaching Your Hair
Understandably, you might want to cover your greys with hair color. While it’s not ideal because it’s a chemical treatment that can stress your strands, it’s the lesser of two evils compared to bleach. As head-turning as platinum blonde can be, bleaching damages the cuticle, leading to breakage, split ends, and thinning hair. If you color your hair, stretch out the time between touchups and use color care shampoos, conditioners, and hair masks to help nourish and protect your tresses.
Be Mindful of Your Diet
Achieving strong, healthy tresses isn’t just about what products you put on your hair. It’s also contingent on what you put into your body. Feed your hair from the inside out by eating a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of healthy proteins such as fish, nuts, beans, and whole grains — a lack of protein is known to cause hair loss because hair follicles are primarily made from protein.
If your diet lacks specific vitamins, select a supplement formulated for hair, skin, and nails. They’re typically formulated with biotin and vitamins C and B, which can help support hair health.
Chronic stress can lead to hair loss because it causes your follicles to go into a resting phase, meaning you shed strands instead of growing new ones. Find ways to naturally relieve stress, such as exercising, meditating, eating healthfully, journaling, adopting a hobby, or spending quality time with family and friends.
Resist the Urge to Get Hair Extensions
While extensions or a weave are a great way to add density, length, and volume to your natural hair, they create a lot of wear and tear on your tresses. Once the hair follicles are damaged, the hair cannot grow back, leading to permanent hair loss. See a professional stylist who can help you get your natural hair in good shape. If you are still trying to get extensions, discuss the different types of methods and choose the best for your hair type. It’s also vital to occasionally give your hair a break and double down on deep conditioning treatments.
Avoid Excessive Heat Styling
Give your hair a break from hot tools like a blowdryer, flat iron, or curling iron, and experiment with heatless styling methods (think braids, hair wrapping, and heatless curlers) to help negate the damage that can lead to hair loss. If you do decide to heat things up, don’t forget to apply a heat protectant first.
How to Improve Scalp Health
Whether you have an oily scalp or it’s plagued by dryness, flakes, excessive build-up, and is constantly itchy, those are all signs of an unhealthy scalp. Follicles blocked by dead skin or excessive sebum will impact hair growth — sometimes, even permanently. Check out these scalp health tips to help prevent damage to your tresses.
Exfoliate Your Scalp Regularly
Scalp exfoliation is one of the most overlooked grooming treatments, yet it’s vital for scalp health. Using a specialized exfoliant once or twice a week can help remove dead skin cells, excess oil, and product buildup so your hair can grow more steadily and healthily. After shampooing and before conditioning, apply a quarter-sized amount of product onto your fingers and gently massage it into your scalp using circular motions. Leave it on for a few minutes before rinsing thoroughly.
Balance the Scalp With a Serum
A concentrated scalp serum helps reduce scalp itchiness and flakiness while preserving and reversing damage that can lead to hair loss. Simply gently massage a small amount into your serum with your fingertips. Choose a formula void of follicle-clogging silicones and harsh ingredients like parabens that can lead to scalp damage.
Make the Most Out of Your Shampoo
Keep your scalp hydrated and flake-free with a healthy scalp shampoo. Work the product into your scalp with a scalp massage brush when not using a scrub. It helps loosen up dandruff while increasing follicle circulation. Keep the water temperature down to prevent dehydrated skin when washing and rinsing your hair.
Brush Your Hair Regularly
Forget what you’ve heard about brushing your hair 100 strokes daily. Excess strokes can cause friction, leading to breakage and cuticle damage, resulting in frizzy, lackluster tresses. Still, running a boar bristle brush through your hair can be beneficial to distribute the scalp’s natural oils to keep your thinning hair hydrated. This daily ritual will also increase circulation, which can improve scalp health.
Whether you’re battling hair loss or hair thinning, the first step is to identify the cause so you can choose the proper treatment — or maintenance — method. When repairing your tresses, patience is essential because even healthy hair only grows about a half-inch per month. If you’re not seeing any improvements with hair growth shampoos, lifestyle and diet changes, and grooming habits, book an appointment with a trichologist or dermatologist. You can identify a customized healthy hair and scalp treatment plan from there.