So, what’s up with my hair?
There are *so* many potential culprits behind hair loss, thinning, excessive shedding, and sluggish hair growth:
- Stress. It’s time to download that meditation app.
- Autoimmune reactions. You may already associate conditions like alopecia areata with hair loss, but conditions like lupus and celiac disease can make your strands thinner or AWOL.
- Vitamin or nutritional deficiencies. These can cause shedding, thinning, or breakage.
- Weight loss of more than 20 pounds. Restrictive diets and sudden weight loss are linked to a condition known as acute telogen effluvium.
- Hormonal changes or imbalances. Pregnancy and birth, birth control pills (starting or stopping), and menopause can totally trigger hair changes.
- Harsh hair products. Some shampoos contain ingredients that strip your hair of natural oils.
- Over styling or processing. You *might* have to chill with the bleach.
- Thyroid conditions. Hair loss or thinning may develop slowly with hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
- Certain medications. Chemotherapy drugs, gout medication, antibiotics, and certain antidepressants are just some of the possibilities.
- It’s hereditary. Yup, it could just be in your DNA.
Tips and tricks for a luscious lion’s mane
1. De-stress your tresses
Studies have found stress can be a major trigger for hair loss, and it manifests in three types:
- Telogen effluvium (TE). Where the number of hair follicles growing hair changes. If it happens during the hair’s resting phase, it can cause shedding. It leads to diffuse hair thinning (read: all over your scalp).
- Alopecia areata (AA). An autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks your follicles. Many autoimmune diseases can be triggered by stress. It causes discrete patches of hair loss.
- Trichotillomania. A hair-pulling disorder that’s considered an impulse control disorder. It usually begins in your teens.
The good news: stress-induced hair loss is likely not permanent. The recovery period depends on which stage of hair growth your stress decided to stall: The anagen phase (aka the growing phase) lasts 2 to 7 years, while the telogen or resting phase lasts 3 months.
So what can you do? You can try topical treatments to stimulate hair growth, but to get to the root of the problem, you’ll need to manage your stress. If you feel you’re unable to manage your stress, reach out to a therapist.
2. Eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies (or low calorie intake) can lead to hair structural changes, pigmentation changes, and hair loss. Ugh.
If you’re currently restricting calories or are just unsure if you’re getting all the hair-healthy nutrients your bod needs, try to incorporate the following key nutrients for hair health in your diet:
- Iron. Good sources include red meat, liver and organ meat, spinach, shellfish, and pumpkin seeds.
- Vitamin C. Try bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, and citrus.
- B vitamins. Reach for dark leafy greens, beans, nuts, and avocados.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon, chia seeds, walnuts, oysters, and cod oil are higher in these important fats.
- Vitamin E. Reach for olive oil, broccoli, spinach, shrimp, and sunflower seeds.
- Zinc. You’ll find it in cashews, chickpeas, shellfish, and red meat.
- Vitamin D. In addition to the sun, egg yolks, salmon, canned tuna, and fortified foods like milk and orange juice are high in vitamin D.
3. Try a DHT-blocking shampoo
When searching for a good over-the-counter (OTC) shampoo for hormonal hair loss, look for a product that contains ingredients that block dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
Derived from testosterone, DHT is an androgen hormone linked to hair loss that attaches to your hair follicle and slowly miniaturizes them over time. For most people, it happens gradually. And while these androgens are important in the development of male development characteristics like a deep voice, body hair, and muscle mass, most male hair loss is caused by DHT.
DHT-blocking shampoos can help stop or slow DHT-related hair loss. Ingredients like ketoconazole, iron, biotin, and B vitamins are popular in these products, but saw palmetto is long considered a superstar in this area. You’ll find it front and center in this thickening shampoo from hims.
P.S. If you’re pregnant, be sure to talk with your doc before using a DHT- blocking shampoo.
5. Do a weekly coconut oil mask
Is there anything coconut oil can’t do? It’s full of hair-happy antioxidants, improves scalp health with its antifungal and antimicrobial properties, and delivers a healthy dose of protein to the hair shaft to prevent protein loss. Even better, a 2020 study also found that using coconut oil helps protect against hair breakage.
How to: Grab yourself some unrefined coconut oil, warm it up between your hands, and work into the strands until your hair looks wet. Pop on a shower cap (like this one from Kitsch) and relax for 20 to 30 minutes once a week before washing.
6. Say SEE YUH to sulfates
Harsh detergents like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate, and ammonium lauryl sulfate are oil-stripping soaps that give your favorite shampoo that luxurious foaming action and squeaky-clean strands.
But without those natural oils, your strands can become dry and may be more prone to breakage. If you’re dealing with breakage, switch out your regular ‘poo for something sulfate-free. Or better yet, try a shampoo bar with minimal ingredients.
Sulfate-free shampoos to try:
- L’Oreal Paris Ever Collection
7. Explore some essential oils
While essential oils aren’t a cure-all for every ailment, there’s some evidence these little elixirs can help encourage hair growth.
Peppermint oil has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties, all of which are important to a healthy scalp. And in one study conducted on mice peppermint oil reigned supreme in promoting hair growth in mice as compared to jojoba oil, saline, and minoxidil (a popular ingredient in hair loss treatments like Rogaine). But more studies are needed on actual humans.
In addition to the minty stuff, pumpkin seed oil in capsule form helped a group of men gain 40 percent more hair over 24 weeks, and rosemary oil might just be as effective as that aforementioned minoxidil after 3 to 6 months, according to another study.
Try the peppermint essential oil, rosemary essential oil, and jojoba oil from Eden Botanicals, an essential oils brand known for being transparent about its products. As with any ingredient though, essential oils can cause contact dermatitis. If you’ve never used these ones before, it’d be best to perform a patch test before applying all over your scalp.
9. Treat yourself to a scalp massage
A simple way to stimulate hair growth at home is to indulge in a little self- care. Scalp massages increase blood flow to your scalp, enhance the strength of your roots, and help nutrients get to your follicles faster. You can give yourself a scalp massage with dry hair, but adding a nutrient-rich oil like coconut or castor oil to the mix will only enhance the benefits.
11. Take a break from styling and processing
Bleach, heat, rough styling, and common chemicals in hair products can absolutely contribute to hair loss, breakage, and shedding.
Traction alopecia (TA), for example, is a type of hair loss caused by over pulling — think tight braids, buns, and ponytails. Not to be a total Debbie Downer, but blow drying, straightening, use of hot irons, and perming were also found to be associated with changes to the hair on a microscopic level. (Which, in hair world, still matters.)
We’re not here for miracle cures, but you could try adding Miracle Fruit Seed Oil to your hair regimen. An 8-month long study found it to be up to 300 percent more effective in improving healthy hair characteristics than argan-based or silicone-based oil products. You can buy it online here.
12. Try OTC, prescription, or in-office treatments
There are even more proven prescription, OTC, at-home, and in-office treatments for hair loss. Depending on the root cause of your situation (hormonal, genetic, etc.), you might find success with one of the following:
- Minoxidil (aka, Rogaine). FDA-approved and easily accessible. Works best for top of the head thinning, though it will cause hair to grow longer and thicker anywhere you have active hair follicles, not just the top of your head. You can buy it on Amazon or a drugstore, but your doc can also prescribe stronger versions.
- Spironolactone. An anti-androgen medication that works against hair loss-inducing male hormones (androgens). You’ll need a prescription from your doc for this one.
- Corticosteroids. A prescription medication that may reduce inflammation in Alopecia areata and stop your immune system from signaling an attack against your hair follicles.
- Topical tretinoin. You might know it as Retin-A, but it’s also a proven way to enhance the effects of minoxidil. Recent research shows 43 percent of people who didn’t have luck with minoxidil found success when using minoxidil and topical tretinoin together within just 5 days. You’ll also need a prescription for this one, too (annoying, we know).
- Platelet rich plasma therapy. PRP involves extracting plasma from your own blood and injecting it into your scalp. The good news: it can really increase your hair count and density. Bad news: it’s pretty expensive.
- Hair transplant. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you need two things to be considered eligible for a transplant: enough healthy hair on your scalp that can be transplanted, and the ability to actually grow any hair on the thinning area. Results take between 6 and 12 months to fully realize.
When to see a doc
Honestly, it’s a good idea to reach out to your dermatologist as soon as you notice something’s up. Derms can help identify the type of hair loss and help you identify solutions (and potentially prescribe medicine) that will work for your unique situation. Don’t be afraid to talk with your primary care doc if your hair loss is super sudden — it could be due to an underlying health condition — or if you ~think~ any medications could be affecting your hair health.
Don’t want to call your doc? Virtual medicine has your back. Companies like Roman and Lemonaid will virtually (and cheaply!) evaluate your situation and send you a personalized, prescription-grade hair loss regimen straight to your door.
The bottom line
Hair loss, slow hair growth, excessive shedding, and thinning hair can be inconvenient at best and devastating at its worst. Everything from nutritional deficiencies to hormonal changes to stress could be behind changes in your hair.
For as many possible explanations, there are nearly as many at-home solutions to try to thicken up your strands and heal your scalp. Taking supplements, switching up your hair care products, and self-care standbys like massages and masks are just a few.
If you have questions, aren’t having success, or simply want answers from the get-go, a derm is your best bet. They can help determine the root cause, plus prescribe medication and help you develop an at-home regimen.
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