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What To Know About Hair Thinning

Hair
Illustrated by Lindsay Hattrick.

The experts fill us in

Hair thinning is as taboo a topic as acne or unkempt cuticles. When it comes to beauty, it's usually left out of conversations—but it shouldn't be, especially given the fact that hair thinning affects more young women than you might expect.

I have friends in their late-20s and early-30s dealing with skinnier ponytails and widening hair parts, and Lars Skjoth, founder and head of research and development of Harklinikken, which specializes in hair regrowth, says that it's not uncommon. "Around the 20s and 30s, there's anywhere between 25 to 30 percent of women that are experiencing noticeable thinning," he says. "Hair problems are not something that is belonging only to women in menopause. It starts a lot earlier than that."

Ahead, we chat with Skjoth and dermatologist Dr. Michelle Henry about signs to look for, the difference between shedding and thinning, and different treatments.

The cause behind hair-thinning depends on the person

This should be a given, but the reason people's hair starts to thin varies. Specifically for women who are young, Dr. Henry says she puts her patients through a series of tests to get to the root of the cause. She checks their thyroid and iron levels, noting that "iron deficiency, along with vitamin D deficiency, can cause hair loss." She also checks for autoimmune issues like lupus or scarring conditions like CCPA, which is common among women of color. "There's another type of hair loss called alopecia areata, where you lose hair in patches," she says. Adding: "When we have a hair visit, it's going to be a really long visit in the office, because we're going through each and every step to tease out each of the symptoms that might guide us in making the right diagnosis."

A lot of the times, though, the cause is hereditary. So, look at the people in your family and see if they have significant hair loss and ask them when it started. If your genetics are to blame, Skjoth says the thinning can also be exacerbated by stress "and other health aspects, nutrition, and lifestyle that can then make this process go faster than it would have been had you not been in that situation." Basically, anything that gives your body a shock can cause your hair to shed.

There's a difference between shedding and thinning

Speaking of shedding, the hair that you find in your shower drain after you detangle isn't the same as thinning. "I'm not talking about a little shedding that you have and then it stops and then you feel that, after a couple of months, the hair seems to be getting back to its good, normal self," Skjoth says. "I'm talking about when you're starting to see more scalp, you feel that the ponytail is smaller, you feel that the volume, the luster, and the light of the hair is gradually disappearing. That's when you're actually thinning."

Dr. Henry adds, if your hair is falling out really quickly or coming out in patches, then that's also an immediate red flag. A little tool she says you can use at home is counting the number of hairs you lose a day. If you're losing more than 100, 150, that can become concerning.

Yes, there is such a thing as female pattern baldness

We often hear a lot about male pattern baldness, but there are female versions as well that are pretty common. The first, Skjoth says, is the same as male pattern, where the woman's hair at the temples moves backward and thins out in the crown. Another is what Dr. Henry calls the Christmas tree pattern. "If you have someone turn their head down, the thinness looks almost like a Christmas tree, wherein your part is getting a little bit wider as it goes back," she describes.

The earlier you notice something is awry, the better

Even though hair loss patterns can be similar between men and women, men notice they're thinning a lot earlier than women, Skjoth says. Partially because the thinning pattern is different, and also because, since women usually have a lot more hair on their head, it doesn't tend to be as noticeable. Or, as Skjoth puts it: "It might not be noticeable enough for them to take it seriously." Which leads some women to downplay the issue. "They maybe think, Oh, it's probably just the way I'm wearing my hair now or this style, or something like that, and then they're not paying attention until it becomes even more evident where maybe a parent, a friend, a stylist is saying, 'I need to tell you that you are, in fact, really thinning a lot in your hair.'" He says he has a number of cases where a woman comes in at 30 complaining about hair loss, and he notices that they've actually been thinning since 14 or 15. He adds: "The American Hair Loss Association has done surveys where they've asked, let's say, 8,000 women about their hair thinning. They found out many years ago that actually many women do not notice that they have lost a lot of hair until they've lost anywhere between 45 to 50 percent of their hair."

Pay attention to your hair styling practices

Though Skjoth mentions that some women might point to their hair styling practices as reasons to not take thinning seriously, Dr. Henry notes that the way you wear your hair can play a part. "The way we style our hair—specifically Black women—and the tension we put on our hair and the extensions and wigs and weaves and all of these things can really play a big role in damaging and breaking our hair," she notes. "So pay attention to your styling practices as well."

Don't despair, there's usually hope

As always, before you do anything, consult a medical professional who will be able to give you a proper and accurate diagnosis. Once you do so, there are a number of treatments you can look into. Skjoth's clinic provides individuals with personalized shampoos, conditioners, and nutrient-rich topical extracts depending on their needs that are updated throughout the course of the treatment.

Dr. Henry points to low doses of ingredients like biotin and turmeric, which she says can be great for those suffering from hair loss. "If you're noticing hair loss that's concerning, even if you have a family history, go talk to your dermatologist, make sure there's nothing atypical going on, make sure you're using the best products for your particular case," she notes as a sign-off. "You want to keep your hair in the best condition possible."

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