I used to have nightmares about this
August 17, 2012 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Assuming I'm not crazy, how do I stop my hair from thinning?

Yay! Embarrassing health/hygiene/beauty question time!

I've put off thinking about this until I would have time to do something about it, but over the past year I've been noticing something really disturbing. My hair has gotten increasingly tangly, and just doesn't seem to be filling out anymore. The last time I got a trim, I didn't have enough thickness for full bangs, so I've been parting my hair to make side bangs. I told myself that, y'know, it'll all grow back; my previous haircut had been really short, and it just hadn't come back enough yet. But that was months ago and it hasn't thickened at all; it's just gotten longer. This is freaking me out. I'm a 27 year old female. I should not be getting thin, brittle old lady hair yet, should I?

A few other factors:
I've been incredibly stressed and often depressed this year. I'm sure that's contributed, but I'd be shocked if it were the sole cause.
I live in a very hot, very dry, very windy region. I'd thought the tangling was mostly due to this, and I wouldn't be surprised if this is the major factor.
I shampoo and condition my hair more or less daily. It gets a bit too unmanageable if I don't.
I do frequently (not every day) use a flat iron. While I'm sure this contributes to my hair's poor health, it's necessary to keep my hair from sticking out in every direction.

What can I do? What kind of hair products should I use? What should I eat? How do I not freak out? I miss my thick, shaggy mane.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Have you gotten your thyroid checked lately?
posted by Coatlicue at 6:58 AM on August 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

If this stress includes not eating well, that can contribute. Vitamins!

Honestly, though? Go to a doctor. It could be something as simple as stress and bad diet.. or a malfunctioning thyroid like Coatlicue suggests.
posted by royalsong at 7:01 AM on August 17, 2012

It might be wise to talk to a doctor, although I had something like this happen to me about 2 years ago.

I turned 30, and all of the sudden I started losing clumps of hair all the time. I wasn't especially stressed, didn't have any major changes, but was losing 3-4 times more than I usually would in the shower. This went on for about a year, and I noticed my hair was noticeably thinner. It didn't seem obvious to others, but was very plainly obvious and disconcerting to me.

2 years later, and I have tons of shorter hairs all over the place. Which while makes for a considerable amount of frizz and untamed hair, but it's clear that the hair I lost is growing back (and the past year has undoubtedly been the most stressful year of my life). It's entirely possible that you could be experiencing a big change in the cycle of your hair - many of them cycling the shedding phase all at once.

FYI I also shampoo/condition every day - that's just the way I was taught, and it hasn't seemed to be an issue. However, I don't put a lot of heat on my hair - so that could possibly exacerbate poor hair health for some.
posted by raztaj at 7:10 AM on August 17, 2012

Forget products and superfoods, you need to see a doctor. You need a professional to diagnose the cause of your hair loss. You should ask to have your hormones, ferritin and thyroid levels checks - these things are detectable with a simple blood test and you could have your answer fairly quicky. If those things come back normal you might need to a referral to a dermatologist (or trichologist if you can).

The sooner you get a diagnosis, the more chance you have to retaining/regrowing your hair. I ignored if for years (didn't really notice the thinning, my hair was thin before but blamed the dry, brittle frizzy mess was because I treated my hair badly), I've been on 200mg spironolactone daily for 6 months and I'm started to see some improvement but I'll likely never get my full head of healthy, shiny hair back.
posted by missmagenta at 7:26 AM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Nthing checking your thyroid - especially since you mention depression. Go get a physical!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 7:26 AM on August 17, 2012

A few years back, I had the same problem. I was underemployed in an expensive city, in a toxic job environment, and living on Ramen. I don't know if it was the stress or the MSG, but as soon as I changed environments and diets, my hair came back. But yes, see your doctor.
posted by lily_bart at 7:29 AM on August 17, 2012

When I'm stressed and depressed, my hair falls out. I try to use very gentle shampoos, no heat (blow dry with cold air) and take vitamins. Also, exercise, get a full night's sleep, and eat well. Not sure if it's truly fixing the hair, or just fixing the root (heh) problem (stress and depression) a little.
posted by Houstonian at 7:33 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

A longshot, but have you recently changed birth control methods or, more specifically, gotten a progesterone IUD (Mirena)? Hair thinning is a rare, but documented, side effect. Lots of women also experience a lot of shedding/thinning after going off estrogen-based birth control pills.

Worth mentioning when you go get a physical which, yes, you should do.
posted by superfluousm at 7:46 AM on August 17, 2012

Nthing the medical suggestions -- but just general hair stuff;

- using a heat protectant when flat ironing and try to flat iron less, if possible
- don't use products with glycerin because they tend to make hair dryer and frizzier in hot dry climates
- you may need a more heavy duty conditioner than you have been using or a leave-in conditioner
- as mentioned, it could just be the cycle of hair growth
- visit a hair forum! there are tons of them with people who can make better suggestions that me.

I can tell you that my hair and skin suffered a lot when I was very stressed out; I wouldn't underestimate that. Hair growth/retention comes from within, when the hair is still "alive."
posted by sm1tten at 7:54 AM on August 17, 2012

Once you've seen a doctor and ruled out thyroid or a drug side effect or some other health problem, you do have options. Get checked for hormone levels as well. You may get push back from your doctor, but insist.

This may have something to do with hormones, as well as weather and products.

My hair changed drastically after my hysterectomy and subsequent hormone replacement. I used to have straight, fine, silky hair, now I have curly, thick, soft hair. It's weird. I have about 12 different products that I work with, experimenting around with different things.

I know that Minoxidyl, is an OTC topical drug you can try. You can get it everywhere and it's even generic. That might help.

They can give men Propecia, but they probably won't give it to a woman of child-bearing years.

What about a weave, a Bump It, or a wiglet, or a short spiky do, to work with? When nature doesn't provide, augment where you can.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:10 AM on August 17, 2012

I agree that you should see a doctor, perhaps an endocrinologist; it could be a thyroid problem or it could be something like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This is related to high testosterone levels in women and can result in hair loss/issues (I have both PCOS AND hypothyroidism so if you want to talk me-mail me!).
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:25 AM on August 17, 2012

I did remember something I tried that didn't work, so maybe this will save you a few dollars: Nioxin, which was 3 items sold together as a 3-part system. The people selling it made some pretty grand statements about what it does, so I forked over a silly amount of money. At least what it did for me is make my hair very dry, which does have the effect of making it fluffy and so appear to be somewhat less thin. I did not grow more hair with it, though, and eventually my hair was so dry that it was breaking off, which made it look even thinner. I passed the remaining amount to someone else, and they experienced the same thing.
posted by Houstonian at 8:28 AM on August 17, 2012

A couple things come to mind that haven't been addressed elsewhere:

1. You mention a thick, shaggy mane that now frizzes/tangles in a hot, dry climate. My husband's hair is similar, and rubbing some coconut oil in it post-shampoo/conditioner has worked wonders. We used to live in Tucson, so I feel your pain. Just take a small amount all over your hands post-cleaning and work it through your hair, staying away from right against your scalp (it'll feel weird with your normal oils), and especially adding it to the ends.

Also, shampoo and conditioner that don't strip out as much of his natural oils - he uses my Suave color protecting ones and has said they've been the best he's ever tried. YMMV, and I've heard great things about "salon quality" products. Avoid silicone-based products; they'll feel like they work, but the build-up over time wasn't pretty. We tried sulfate-free (a few varieties) but they made it worse.

Third, getting high-thread-count pillows really helped with his hair getting less snarly. Look for sateen or satin, and change it often.

2. Biotin - makes my hair and nails grow much better.

3. Heat - Don't flat-iron your hair without some sort of heat-protection product in it. I don't have a recommendation for you, but check out MakeupAlley's reviews?

As far as nutrition goes, do you eat enough dietary fats? Enough calcium and general minerals/etc? Are you drinking enough water?

Good luck!
posted by bookdragoness at 9:16 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hair loss in women is usually reversible, so don't despair!

Did you get a non-hormonal IUD in the past year? Have your periods been heavier than usual? Your iron reserves can get depleted through heavy periods and/or poor diet, and regular blood tests may not reveal the issue immediately. Ferritin is the indicator of your iron reserves and it's not checked as part of the standard test for anaemia, so you need to ask for it by name. (Missmagenta already mentioned ferritin above, I just wanted to bring to your attention the fact you need to ask for it.)

This was my situation a couple of years ago, and when I started supplementing with SlowFE the hair began to grow back about four months later. It takes a very long time for the ferritin levels to get to where they need to be if you're low, over a year in my case, so be patient.
posted by Dragonness at 9:54 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know when my stress levels are serious when my hair starts falling out in clumps. If your eating and sleep are sub-par those are other contributing factors. Significant weight loss almost always leads to hair loss. Note that situation-dependent hair loss, like from stress, weight loss, etc, is often on a time delay of a few months. That is, it starts occurring generally a month or two after the events that set it off.

I live in a very hot, very dry, very windy region. I'd thought the tangling was mostly due to this, and I wouldn't be surprised if this is the major factor.
I shampoo and condition my hair more or less daily. It gets a bit too unmanageable if I don't.
I do frequently (not every day) use a flat iron. While I'm sure this contributes to my hair's poor health, it's necessary to keep my hair from sticking out in every direction.

Also, I wouldn't be surprised if these are all factors. Between the hot climate, the daily washing, and the flat-iron I'm guessing your poor hair is dry and damaged to hell. If your hair has any curl to it that makes it even more susceptible to dryness. The un-manageability you see is exacerbated by all of the crap you're doing to your hair, thus creating a vicious cycle of using increasingly damaging products to tame increasingly damaging hair.

Have you tried "No-Poo" or conditioner wash methods? Naturally Curly has a ton of great information on gentle hair care to encourage growth and manageability (it's not just for curly-haired people!).

I've adopted it and since then my hair is thicker, easier to take care of, and less prone to loss in times of stress. I wash with a cheap silicone-free conditioner (like some of the V05 conditioners), then follow with deep conditioning using a moisturizing silicone-free conditioner (Nature's Gate Jojoba) that I mix with a little bit of extra jojoba oil.
posted by schroedinger at 10:33 AM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have heard of something fascinating recently; apparently the scalp can tense up which restricts the blood flow and can cause the roots to stop growing hair. The tension can not necessarily be felt, but there are ways to measure it. Apparently Botox injections to the scalp prevent the muscles from contracting and hair starts growing back. It sounds a bit crazy and again, it is only something I heard and have no personal experience with.
Were I in your place, I would have all the hormone levels checked and take vitamins for a couple month to see it if makes a difference. In case nothing other turns up and the doc tells you it could be genetic hair loss, maybe the tension thing would be worth researching.
Good luck!
posted by travelwithcats at 11:01 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

1) Go to a doctor (general practitioner -- don't start with a specialist; this amounts to self-diagnosis and is a terrible idea). Mine ordered blood tests, including thyroid, and wound up prescribing supplements.

2) Switch your shampoo and conditioner if you haven't recently.

Good luck!
posted by wintersweet at 1:01 PM on August 17, 2012

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