Thick, glossy, bouncy hair is on the wish list of just about every woman I know (myself included!). And judging by the amount of images of gorgeous ‘hair flicking’ models we’re exposed to daily, one would assume that scoring thick, healthy hair is very achievable – and actually common! But in reality, women with thinning hair is more the norm.
In fact, thinning hair affects 1 in 3 women after the age of 30 and can start as early as her 20s. So why, for the millions of women dealing with thinning and/or fine hair each day, is it still a taboo subject?
Women tend to label it as ‘a sign of ageing’ and grow out their hair and refrain from ever cutting it – even the slightest trim, which actually makes the problem worse. We secretly search for solutions online and spend more than a pretty penny at the hairdressers and on haircare products designed to ‘improve, thicken and make hair look amazing’.
Of course most of the time the results are less than lacklustre. And for many women, whose sense of femininity, beauty, confidence and self-expression is firmly attached to their hair, thinning hair becomes an emotional issue as much as a physical one.
So what is normal hair loss – and what isn’t?
Hair sheds naturally as part of the hair growth cycle, but a variety of factors, including hormones, age and genetics, pregnancy (post pregnancy hair loss), illness, stress and poor diet can cause hair loss and/or the regrowth to have a finer, thinner appearance.
This may not be an issue for ten or twenty hairs on the scalp, but when thousands of follicles start to sprout thinner hair with less pigment, it can have a dramatic effect on the overall volume of your locks.
The trickiest part is understanding the cause or condition and deciphering what treatment will work for you. Dr Eleni Yiasemides is a dermatologist who is medically trained in the field of hair loss, scalp and hair regrowth, and says we often think of hair loss as a struggle that only men face, but in fact, hair loss, especially hair thinning, is an issue that can affect a third of women after age of 30.
“Most women lose between 50-100 hairs a day, but women who consistently experience a loss of 150 or more hairs a day may be experiencing significant loss, which is also known as female pattern hair loss (also known as androgenetic alopecia),” explains Dr Yiasemides.
“Female pattern hair loss can be inherited from either the mother or father’s side but there could be other causes such as hormone imbalances and medications. There is no test to predict the start, severity or rate of progression, however, in the majority of cases, the rate of progression is slow. It can start any time after puberty but is most prominent in the menopausal period.”
Dr Yiasemides says early signs of hair loss to watch out for can include “a build-up of hair in your hairbrush or shower drain, increased incidence of loose hairs on your pillow or clothing and visible changes when styling such as hair clips feeling loser or wrapping elastics more times around hair when tying it up in a ponytail.”
Related: Split Ends & Dry Hair Fixes
What to do if you notice your hair thinning
Don’t ignore it. And don’t waste thousands of dollars on products that may or may not work. Early diagnosis by a medical profession is the best place to put your cash. Book an appointment with a GP you feel confident will investigate the cause(s) fully – or who will refer you to a specialist.
“If left untreated, hair thinning can worsen over time,” warns Dr Yiasemides. “Early treatment is vital and leads to the best long term results so see your doctor early for the best course of action and diagnosis.”
“Hair is an important feature for women, so thinning hair can be quite distressing, especially as we tend to spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to get thick shiny locks. Unfortunately, many of these products fail to live up to their hype and only mask the problem. Unlike products that temporarily thicken hair, the most effective topical treatments include minoxidil 5% as the key ingredient, which are available in your pharmacy. This is applied once daily and comes in a non-greasy formula that doesn’t interfere with styling so it can be used in conjunction with other styling products.”
But, Dr Yiasemides warns: always speak with a healthcare professional before commencing any active treatment. And, do your research. What works for some women may not work for others.
This 2015 Choice study on hair loss and thinning products that work (or don’t work) is a little outdated but worth a look. One of the hair loss products tested was minoxidil 5% (for example, Regaine).
Photography by Tamara Bellis