Q: I’ve noticed a lot more strands in the shower drain every morning. Why is my hair thinning?
A: Though losing hair can be unsettling, take comfort in knowing that it’s normal to shed up to 100 hairs a day (yes, that many). But if you’re noticing patches of thinning hair, particularly at the crown or in the front of your head, or are seeing significantly more hairs in your brush than usual, it may be time to visit a dermatologist and/or your primary care doctor for help identifying the cause.
A few of the most common culprits of thinning hair are:
- Genetics. Androgenetic alopecia, commonly referred to as male- or female-pattern baldness, may be inherited from either parent.
- Age: Post-menopausal women are more likely to experience hair loss than younger women, due to their lower estrogen and progesterone levels. Andropause (declining testosterone in aging men) can also affect hair loss.
- Habits: Regularly styling your hair in tight styles (braids, ponytails) or with blow dryers, flat irons or curling irons can damage your hair and lead to breakage.
- Medical conditions. Hair loss is rarely the only sign of a larger health issue, but it can raise questions about concerns like a thyroid imbalance, diabetes and lupus. (Your doctor may ask you about other symptoms you’re experiencing or recommend some blood work.)
- Prescription medication. Thinning hair can be a side effect of some drugs, including antidepressants, blood thinners and certain birth control pills.
Like anything else related to your health, hair loss is best looked at through an integrative lens. This includes a look at how you’re nourishing yourself and your emotional wellness:
- Diet: Your hair follicles—the structures in your scalp’s skin that grow hair—thrive on protein, which is a major component of each strand. Without enough of this important nutrient, as well as iron, your hair can go into a resting phase and eventually fall out.
- Stress: Ongoing anxiety and worry can contribute to hormone changes responsible for hair loss. An extremely stressful event can also rapidly shift hair from the growing to the shedding phase, causing hair loss that can start weeks or even a few months later.
Talk to your health care team, who can assess your specific situation and provide the best plan to help prevent and possibly reverse future hair loss. When you’re having this conversation, consider asking:
- Are my health issues as well-managed as they could be? Though you may feel fine, there may be more you can be doing to keep the effects of any conditions you’re dealing with in check—including hair loss.
- Are there alternatives to my medication? While you may not have a choice when it comes to certain prescriptions, ask your doctor if there are alternatives or drug-free treatments that may help you without posing a risk of losing more hair.
- Should I make changes to my diet? Your doctor and a nutritionist can help determine if your diet is lacking in protein and iron. Choices like fish and poultry and dark, leafy greens are smart choices for building your stores, but don’t overdo them—or start taking supplements—on your own without your physician’s OK.
- Is a regrowth treatment right for me? Certain FDA-approved treatments for male- and female-pattern hair loss can be helpful for some people and could help reverse the pattern.
Also, be forthcoming with your doctor if you’ve been feeling overwhelmed or low. He or she may recommend that you engage in more stress management strategies or seek the help of a therapist to work toward restoring your emotional balance.
Getting to the bottom of any medical reasons for your hair loss, if there are any, is—of course—what’s most important. However, there is real value in improving the look of your hair if your appearance is bothering you, too. A color and style change is a temporary fix that can make thinning hair less obvious. Ask a professional stylist for advice. In general, the closer your hair color is to your skin tone, the fuller and thicker your hair will look. Layered, voluminous styles can also help camouflage thinning.