Can we share a little secret? Many, many women in their twenties, thirties, and forties are dealing with hair loss or majorly thinning hair. Put out a call on social media for friends who struggle with this and a number of women will raise their virtual hands.
There are a variety of factors that may contribute to hair loss—stress, hormones, genetics—but there is a lot you can do without running to the dermatologist (although in some cases it’s wise to do that too). There are plenty of rockin’ hairstyles for thin hair.
What’s the difference between thin hair and fine hair? And what is thinning hair?
Remember when you were a kid and people were always commenting on the thickness (or lack thereof) of your hair? “Your hair is so thick!” your mom might have said as she tried to get the tangles out. Or: “What fine hair you have!” the hairdresser might have moaned as she tried to volumize your tresses.
Now we’re adding in “thin.” Thin and fine are not the same thing.
“The difference between thinning hair or hair loss and fine hair is that the former can be a condition caused by health, medication, or circumstances, whereas the latter is what you’re born with,” explains Sara Carden, a hair educator, editorial stylist, and hairstylist at Shanghai Salon in Costa Mesa, California. “It is absolutely possible to have thick, fine hair.”
A lot of people confuse these terms or misunderstand the potential combinations. It’s possible to have thin fine hair or thick fine hair. Similarly, you can have thin coarse hair or thick coarse hair.
Want a more scientific explanation? “Thin” hair describes the density of the follicles themselves, that is, how packed in they are across your scalp. “Thin hair means you have [fewer] hair follicles placed closely together,” as explained on the lifestyle/natural hair website Trials n’ Tresses. “That is why quite often you see a lot of scalp during your styling process.” In other words: When you have thin hair, you have less actual hair.
Fine hair, on the other hand, refers to the width or thickness of the strand. It means that the strand itself is…not very thick. (The opposite of fine is coarse hair.) Even if it doesn’t have a lot of volume or looks sort of wispy, you might have a lot of it.
Why the thinning hair?
There are several possible causes of hair loss, but according to Jennifer Soung, MD, a board certified dermatologist in Santa Clara, California, who researches hair loss, the most common cause of thin hair is stress. “If a woman has any stressful event in their life—the flu or an emotional stress like a divorce—she can develop telogen effluvium, a temporary condition where anything non-essential on your body, like hair, doesn’t go into the hair cycle growth,” she tells HealthyWay.
You can tell that this is what’s going on if you lose a ton of hair three to six months after the precipitous event. In this kind of scenario, you see thinning throughout the scalp. You have two choices here: Wait it out until the hair goes back into its cycle or try a product like Rogaine. The hardest thing about hair loss, Soung explains, is that it involves a lot of waiting. Because hair growth happens in three- to six-month cycles, there’s not much you can do to speed up the process.
Another cause of thin hair is female pattern hair loss, Soung says, which is a hormonal issue that involves your hair thinning at the scalp and will make it seem like you have less hair all over. The treatment for this is often birth control or Aldactone (spironolactone), which act as hormone blockers. Soung adds that a new dietary supplement, Viviscal, has shown promise.
The third cause, which is less common, is that there is something else going on with your hair. If you’re noticing excessive flaking, pain, and burning in addition to thin hair, it’s time to see a dermatologist.
That said, Soung tells HealthyWay that there is not much research into why women lose their hair, so more needs to be done to uncover the causes. If you’re noticing a wider part, thinning on the side of your head, or patches falling out, you are probably dealing with thin hair and you might want to consult a dermatologist.
No matter the cause, though, there are a number of ways you can make the most of thin hair.
Let’s talk thin hair hairstyles.
“There are many hairstyles that look great for fine hair, but not a lot to hide thinning hair,” Carden explains. “For a client with thinning hair, I recommend avoiding going for long lengths.”
Hairstyles for Thin Hair: Long
Add some bangs and fringe around your face. Then put it up in a ponytail. This should help hide any sort of thinning around your part.
Hairstyles for Thin Hair: Short
“I won’t immediately suggest a pixie cut,” says Carden, “but styles that will give volume and a modern look would be something like a layered bob.” We love a longer bob hairstyle for thin hair, but if you’re looking to really chop it all off, here’s a shorter option.
Hairstyles for Thin Hair: Wavy
Go for a wavy, graduated bob. This will bring more volume to the thin hair sitch and hide some of the thinner patches. Even if you’ve spent your whole life trying to tame your tresses, use the wave to your advantage to create more volume on your head.
Hairstyles for Thin Hair: Curly
“If you are thinning in the parietal areas of your head, go for taper looks, with a longer fringe to hide the recession,” Carden suggests. “If you have curly thinning hair, this actually works in your favor, as curly hair creates its own natural volume and distracts from the sparse areas.”
Our Favorite Finds for Thin Hair
Soung recommends trying Rogaine in any form.
Since hair thinning can occasionally have an allergic component—for example, from a hair dye that has caused a rash—Soung recommends a gentle shampoo that is hypoallergenic.
Carden recommends tackling thin hair by starting with the foundation of the issue: the scalp. Here are her picks:
- GM Reverie CAKE drops use stem cells from apples to stimulate hair follicles.
- Davines Superactive Serum uses antioxidant-rich spinach and maqui berry to nurture a healthy environment for hair to grow.
- Kerastase Specifique Intensive Scalp Treatment uses a new cellular technology to stimulate growth.
And a few more recs:
- ReTress Hair Rejuvenation Kit is a highly rated collection of shampoo, conditioner, serum, and dietary supplements formulated to produce thicker-looking hair for women.
- Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Scalp Care Anti-Thinning Shampoo removes impurities and creates room for thicker-looking hair.
- Philip Kingsley Scalp Toner energizes, re-hydrates, refreshes, and stimulates hair.
- Rogaine Women’s Hair Regrowth Treatment Foam works to reactivate hair follicles.
As hard as it is, the most important thing when dealing with thin hair or hair loss—after consulting with a stylist and dermatologist!—is to be patient. Because hair grows in such long cycles, you may not see any difference from day to day or even from week to week, but it is completely possible for change to occur.
If you suspect that your thin hair may indeed be stress related, it might be a good opportunity to take inventory of the challenging parts of your life and see if you can make some changes to benefit your overall health and wellness.