My very thick hair has apparently thinned. What do I do?
April 25, 2016 10:20 PM   Subscribe

A few months ago, my hair went through a massive shedding. But, because I have thick hair and because it would often shed, I didn't think too much of it at the time. However, my hairdresser says my hair feels thinner . . . and now I am concerned. Help!

FYI: I'm looking into going to a dermatologist but have thoroughly freaked myself out by Googling. (I know, I know.)

The massive shed (seeing hair everywhere, pulling out strands when I ran my fingers through my hair) happened sometime last fall or early winter, if I remember correctly (October to December range). Like I said, it wasn't too alarming because my hair is known for being everywhere (although, looking back, this was a bit more than usual). My hairdresser noticed that it felt thinner at the end of December, but I wasn't too concerned because I had consistently been styling it differently with less volume, and I thought it just felt thinner because of that. However, even though my hair has largely stopped shedding (it's in the normal range now, and even less than the usual shedding before), I do notice a difference in how it feels. (It's still thick, though, so no one else has noticed, presumably.) I've tried to put it out of mind or attribute it to other factors, but it's made me especially worried as of late.

I know that Googling is the worst possible thing to do in such a situation, but there are a few things that sound probable. One is telogen effluvium. Before and during that shedding period I mentioned, I was going through a fairly stressful time (studying for and taking the GRE, applying to PhD programs, dealing with the boyfriend's father being terminally ill and passing away). I also had a switch in my birth control, although it was simply from a generic version of one birth control pill (Chateal) to another generic version of the same birth control pill (Altavera). However, I have read that pills that contain levonorgestrel, as Chateal and Altavera do, may cause hair loss, and the switching from one birth control pill to the other may do the same thing. What gives me pause, though, is that prior to the switch, I had been taking Chateal for a full two years and hadn't encountered any issues.

I'm also a (mostly) vegetarian and within the past year have started running regularly. Could this be linked to some sort of vitamin deficiency?

As I've said before, obviously the best thing to do is consult a medical professional about this, but it would be helpful to know if anyone has been in a similar situation and if there is anything else I could be doing. Thanks much!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is an utterly normal part of aging. How old are you?
posted by DarlingBri at 10:32 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

This can be a symptom of iron deficiency. Have your levels checked.
posted by delight at 10:58 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

My hair shed considerably when I was suffering from Hashimotos prior to my diagnosis and medication. Worth having your thyroid checked.
posted by gillianr at 10:59 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Did you switch to vegetarianism recently? I'm not an expert but I do know it's not uncommon for bariatric surgery patients to have their hair thin due to protein deficiency. Could vegetarian + running be increasing your demands for protein?

B12 deficiency and anemia also might cause some hair thinning/loss and are very common for vegetarians. The bariatric surgery patients I know swear by biotin and b-complex vitamins, as well as upping their protein intake, to thicken things back up.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:07 PM on April 25, 2016

When this happened to me it was from tremendous iron deficiency and a host of other problems related to Lady Troubles. Absolutely get your bloodwork done, with as many detailed tests as possible. There are a number of different things to check with your iron levels and iirc the regular CBC does not cover them all.

Anyway it's been exactly 2 years since I did that askme and my hair is still growing back from what was about a 50% loss. It's not up to 100% of its old thickness, but the new stuff growing in is so aggressively strong and healthy that it is kind of hard to keep it from standing straight up.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:45 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'd actually go to your regular doctor to start instead of a dermatologist. As the comments above say, systemic issues (thyroid, vitamin deficiency, etc) can cause hair loss and a GPS is better positioned to evaluate those issues than a dermatologist.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:24 AM on April 26, 2016

My hair also started shedding A LOT when I went on a vegetarian diet. It also shed more when I had vitamin D deficiency.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 1:18 AM on April 26, 2016

Gillianr beat me to it. Years ago my girlfriend started losing a worrisome amount of hair and it turned out to be a thyroid thing. She got that sorted and the hair thinning totally corrected itself.

Whatever the cause may be it's likely nothing serious, but you should go to your PCP and ask about this. In the meantime avoid combing/brushing if you can, and no ponytails/pigtails or anything else that tugs on your hair.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:44 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

See your GP for blood work, this is not usually a dermatological thing, but a systemic thing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:41 AM on April 26, 2016

In my experience with telogen effluvium, within about six months of the major shedding I started seeing tons of short hairs sticking up anywhere I parted my hair. If it's TE, or anything else that has since reversed itself, you'll start seeing regrowth like this. It's really impossible to miss, I had to either mat the new growth down with product or wear my hair pulled back everyday for months to camouflage it.

I strongly second the recommendations to start with your primary care physician.
posted by telegraph at 5:05 AM on April 26, 2016

You had a big shed in December and your hair feels thinner in mid-April? This could be entirely normal, because even if your hair started growing back the very instant the shedding stopped (unlikely) you would still only have 1.5 inches of new hairs. I mean, go to the doctor, etc, but it may not be time for panic stations yet.

(I had a period of hair loss due to a medication; it permanently altered the texture of some hairs and permanently thinned others, but overall there was not much change - and that was ten years ago now.)
posted by Frowner at 5:16 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

In addition to the other stuff people have mentioned regarding blood tests etc., take a biotin supplement. You can get them in gummies now.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:30 AM on April 26, 2016

See a doctor. I suspect it's either glandular or deficiency-related. In the meantime, rely on some good old-fashioned Hair Advancement Technology, or HAT. I do everyday.

Credentials: Bald man with in-depth experience in balding.
posted by smashthegamestate at 7:47 AM on April 26, 2016

My hair's been shedding since I went off the pill a few months ago in a similar way. Pregnancy and I think some pills keep your hair from shedding normally, so if the pills differ slightly (it sounds like they're exactly the same though?) that could be it. Do get your bloodwork done though to check your thyroid and any deficiencies.
posted by lafemma at 9:45 AM on April 26, 2016

Go get all your blood levels checked and pay particular attention to thyroid. Hairloss is a symptom of Hashimoto's as gillianr stated. A friend of mine's hairloss (due to Hashimoto's) went undiagnosed for months, but not before she lost most of her hair, which has yet to come back (if it even will). She went to a series of male doctors (dermatologists, GP, rheumatologist) who dismissed her and told her to wear wigs, hats, scarves to make her feel better about her appearance. It wasn't until she started seeing a woman dermatologist that took her seriously.
posted by ATX Peanut at 10:14 AM on April 26, 2016

One thing to remember is that if you did have a telogen effluvium and your hair is now growing normally again, at the standard rate of about 1/2 an inch per month the new hairs are only going to be about an inch and a half long--too short to contribute meaningfully to your hair's overall thickness.

Definitely go to your doctor and get a workup for overall causes, but after losing a bunch of hair to a stress related effluvium it is going to take at least a year to get back to a normal texture even with all other things going optimally.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 12:12 PM on April 26, 2016

I lost a lot of hair during a thyroid infection awhile back. My normally strong nails became brittle and weak. I have a lot of hair, like you, so it wasn't super noticable and it did grow back.

I've also lost hair at as a result of extreme stress. My doctor tells me it can also happen as you age and hormone levels change, so there's that to look forward to.
posted by Stonkle at 1:26 PM on April 26, 2016

Stress can definitely trigger telogen effluvium - usually a couple of months after the stressful event in question. Well, that's how it played out for me. Like you, I have a lot of very thick hair, so the massive increase in shedding was both pretty scary and at the same time, not noticeable to anyone except me and my hairdresser (and my husband who had to clear out the blocked shower drain). It passed, and a few months later, my hair is back to its normal gloriously unmanageable curly state.

Nthing other posters who recommend talking to your primary care physician and getting some blood work done to rule out anything more significant.
posted by finding.perdita at 1:43 AM on April 27, 2016

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