Have you noticed your hair is thinner than 30 years ago? If so, you’re not alone.
By middle age, most people’s hair becomes finer as the diameter of individual hair follicles, and the hair they produce, decreases. At the same time, when hairs fall out at the end of their life cycle, a higher percentage of follicles remain in their resting phase rather than reactivating to generate new hair.
Of those that do reactivate, the hair they produce tends to have a shorter life cycle so it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a longer hairstyle.
A few lucky individuals will retain a full head of long, thick hair – although the hair they wear may not be their own!
The good news is that several diet and lifestyle changes can help your hair grow more thickly. And, if all else fails, your hairdresser can offer some options, too.
Each of your hair follicles goes through a cycle of hair growth, during which the hair lengthens, followed by a resting phase, in which the hair follicle shrinks and the bulb pulls away from the root. The hair then remains at a constant length until it loosens and falls out.
Because each hair has its own cycle, you normally lose between 80 and 100 scalp hairs per day. If daily losses are greater than this, gradual thinning occurs, especially in later life when hair growth also slows.
After the resting phase, the follicle may reactivate to produce a new hair, but this cycle does not repeat indefinitely. On average, each hair follicle reactivates around 25 times before it switches off, or produces hair that is increasingly wispy and short.
The way your hair changes with age depends partly on the genes you have inherited. It is also impacted by changing hormone levels around the time of menopause, as well as your diet and lifestyle.
Your hair color is produced by cells at the base of each hair follicle. These cells make melanin pigments and feed these through to the hair root.
The pigment color you produce is genetically determined. Red melanin makes your natural hair color a gold, auburn, or red. Black melanin produces hair that is brown or black. Pale melanin, which is concentrated in the spongy core of the hair shaft, rather than the outer cortex, causes your natural color to be more honeyed or blonde.
Hair turns grey due to an age-related decrease in the activity of an enzyme called tyrosinase. This enzyme produces melanin from an amino acid called tyrosine.
The age at which your hair loses color is genetically determined and a few lucky people may retain their hair shade throughout life.
If your hair is grey, then some pigment is still present within the hair. If your hair is totally devoid of pigment, it becomes transparent and reflects light to appear snow white.
Stress can cause the life cycles of different hair follicles to synchronize and enter their shedding phase (telogen) together. This results in hundreds of older, more pigmented hairs falling out at the same time, to produce a rapid, noticeable thinning.
What remains are the finer, less pigmented hairs in the earlier stages of their current life cycle which suddenly become more noticeable.
This phenomenon, known as telogen effluvium, can cause someone to look noticeably greyer within a short period of time – the source of tales about someone turning grey from shock overnight.
Here are 10 tips for improving your thinning or graying hair.
Although hair is a non-living structure, the follicles that produce it contain some of the most active cells in your body. As hair is not an essential structure, however, nutrients that are in short supply are diverted away from the follicles in times of deficiency.
This occurs when blood capillaries supplying your follicles constrict so the flow of oxygen and nutrients to your hair is reduced. This is especially common during times of emotional and physical shock. Poor blood supply also contributes to thinning hair that is dull, lack-luster, and limp.
Lack of vitamin C can cause hair that is misshapen, tangled, and brittle, while a lack of vitamin E, or essential fatty acids, causes hair to become dry and lack-luster.
Brittle hair and patchy hair loss can be a sign of iron deficiency – especially if there are other symptoms of anemia such as paleness, tiredness, and fatigue. Patchy hair loss can also result from a lack of B vitamins, zinc, or vitamin D deficiency which leads to disordered hair cycles.
If you’ve noticed loss of the outer third of your eyebrows or thinning eyelashes, you may have an underactive thyroid gland, which can be associated with a lack of iodine. Premature greying is sometimes associated with a lack of vitamins B5, B12, or a copper deficiency.
Of course, everyone’s body is different, so it makes sense to check with your doctor if you have any concerns about your health.
Diet should always come first, so, select whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, which are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids to nourish your hair roots.
Meats and dark green leafy vegetables are good sources of iron. If your hair is thinning, however, then a multivitamin and mineral supplement is also a good idea to guard against nutrient deficiencies.
Before taking supplements, see your doctor to rule out related problems such as iron-deficiency anemia, malabsorption of nutrients, and hormone imbalances, including type 2 diabetes and thyroid problems which may need further investigation.
Garlic has beneficial effects on circulation by dilating small blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the peripheries such as the scalp and nail folds by as much as 55 percent. Platelet clumping is significantly decreased after a dose equivalent to half a clove of garlic and lasts for three hours. Some of the ingredients in garlic are as potent as aspirin in this respect.
You can also stimulate circulation and increase the flow of nutrients to hair follicles by massaging your scalp regularly with your fingers, at least once a day. Concentrate on areas where your scalp seems tightly bound down to the underlying bone, to help improve any constriction to blood flow.
Hair mostly consists of keratin protein, which is produced using amino acid building blocks obtained from your diet.
To maintain a constant protein supply for your follicles, eat some with every meal, whether it’s poultry, lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts or beans. If you eat a plant-based diet, you may be more prone to thinning hair as some amino acids essential for healthy hair (such as lysine) and micronutrients (such as vitamin B12 and iron) are often difficult to obtain in sufficient quantities without taking a vegetarian-friendly supplement.
Do not skip meals, as this puts your body into survival mode so that the supply of protein and nutrients to hair follicles is reduced.
Water is vital for maintaining optimum hydration of hair follicles cells. It also aids the flow of nutrients in and out of cells from the “internal sea” in which they are bathed.
Most guidelines suggest drinking 6 to 8 glasses (250mls each) of fluid (e.g. water, tea and other unsweetened drinks) per day in addition to eating water-rich foods such as soups, cucumber, watermelon and other fruit and veg.
Hair loss increases after menopause when estrogen levels fall. This also increases the relative influence of the small amount of testosterone hormone that is made in the ovaries and adrenal glands.
Testosterone is converted into a stronger hormone (dihydrotestosterone, DHT) in hair follicles which increases male and female-pattern hair loss which is genetically determined.
If you are willing (and able) to take estrogen hormone replacement therapy, this will help to boost hair quality. Once again, this is something that you can discuss with your doctor.
An alternative approach is to consume more plant estrogens, especially isoflavones and lignans. Although these are between 500 and a thousand times less active than human estrogen, they can provide a useful hormone boost. Isoflavones are found in edamame beans, tofu, miso, and other soy products, sweet potato, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
As well as having an oestrogen-like action, lignans provide an additional benefit by inhibiting the enzyme (5-alpha reductase), which converts testosterone to the stronger dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in hair follicles. Research shows that increasing your intake of lignans (found in pumpkin seed oil, flaxseed oil and sweet potato) are associated with a reduced rate of hair loss and hair regeneration.
If you don’t already use a caffeinated shampoo, consider switching to one. Caffeine applied directly to the scalp has two beneficial effects. It relaxes smooth muscle fibres surrounding the hair to improve blood flow. More importantly, it also inhibits the enzyme, 5-α-reductase, which converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone within scalp hair follicles and which is associated with male and female pattern hair loss.
A growing body of evidence supports the effects of caffeinated shampoos in stimulating hair follicles, and I’ve certainly noticed a dramatic improvement in hair thickness since starting to use one. Just two minutes contact with the scalp during shampooing allows the caffeine to penetrate into hair follicles, where it remains for up to 48 hours after washing.
Leave-on caffeine solutions (which often include vitamins B3 and B5) are also available and have been shown to increase the cross-sectional area of scalp hairs by 10%.
Drinking caffeinated beverages such as tea or coffee does not have the same effect, as the caffeine must penetrate into the hair follicles itself to inhibit 5- α-reductase.
Excess salt is your hair’s number one enemy. Consuming too much has an adverse effect on hair follicles and trichologists have found that cutting back on salt intake can lessen hair loss by as much as 60 percent.
Steer clear of nutrient-poor sugary and fatty treats too – such as donuts, cakes, biscuits and pastries – which do nothing to nourish your hair follicles.
Ask your hairdresser about a new product called Olaplex, which mends broken disulfide bonds within hair strands. This is applied before or after your usual color or other salon treatment, then neutralised and washed off.
After the first use, I noticed my hair was stronger and more lustrous. After the second application, a month later, my hair regained its sheen and looked healthier (and felt thicker) than since I was in my 30s!
You can also have real hair woven into your own hair to disguise patchy hair loss or thin panels.
Have you found any product or treatment that has improved your hair health? Please let us know in the comments below.