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Megan was just 23, only a year out of college, when she rose one morning to find her pillow covered in hair. The sight became a daily rude awakening. Handfuls would come out in the shower. She visited a series of doctors—one prescribed Rogaine!—until she finally accepted the simple truth that her hair was falling out from stress.
“It was towards the end of my first year teaching. I thought that I was overwhelmed but in no way stressed enough to lose my hair,” she says. “My full head of shiny, beautiful, wavy, brown hair was lackluster, brittle, dry and thin.”
Although hair loss is typically thought of as a man’s problem, it’s actually just as common (if not more) in women—and many women start to notice changes in their 20s. “We associate hair loss or thinning with a loss of femininity, so it can be very traumatic,” says Mary Gail Mercurio, M.D., associate professor of dermatology and obstetrics & gynecology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. And younger women who notice a change may be particularly distressed. Fear not. A waning mane doesn’t mean you’ll look like Mrs. Clean by your 30th birthday. There are a number of causes and a range of solutions that can help.
First, define your symptoms: Is your hair shedding (more hair is falling out when you brush it or in the shower) or thinning (you notice more of your scalp showing)?
Some of the most common causes of shedding—technically called telogen effluvium—include a shock to your body (a serious illness, pregnancy or going on a crash diet), a stressful situation (you lost your job or experienced the death of a loved one), starting a new medication (anti-depressants and birth control can affect your hair) or a change in eating patterns (going vegetarian can result in not consuming enough protein).
Pressure, major life changes and poor eating are hallmarks of the college and post-college lifestyle, so it’s no wonder that 20-somethings are often afflicted with the (follicular) fallout.
[click through to the next page for solutions to your thinning issues!]
Because of your hair growth cycle, it usually takes 3-6 months after the event for you to notice the shedding, says Maria Hordinsky, M.D., chair of the department of dermatology at the University of Minnesota and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology. So if you were laid off in January or lost a lot of weight that month, your hair may not start falling out until April or May. “As soon as you notice hair changes, look at a calendar and think back to what happened within the past six months,” says Hordinsky.
The good news is that shedding is completely reversible in most cases, says Mercurio.
Use these techniques to combat shedding:
If your scalp is more visible than it used to be, it means your hair is thinning and the problem is likely female pattern hair loss (or alopecia). Unfortunately, this situation is genetic and there’s not much you can do to reverse it. But you can slow down the changes. Your best bet is minoxidil, an over-the-counter medication that can help slow hair loss and promote regrowth, says Paradi Mirmirani, M.D., a dermatologist at the Permanente Medical Group in Vallejo, California. See a derm to discuss treatment (find one near you with a specialty in hair disorders). The sooner you start medication, the better your results will be.
You can also try some easy cosmetic changes to hide thinning, suggests Mirmirani. Part your hair on the side instead of down the center, wear it back in a ponytail without a part and color your hair so it more closely matches your scalp color. This could be your excuse to finally go blonde!
While the stigma associated with female hair thinning and loss makes the subject feel taboo, it’s an extremely common complaint. “There’s a misconception that hair loss in women is rare,” explains Robert Bernstein, M.D., founder of the prestigious Bernstein Medical Center for Hair Restoration in New York City. Truth is, 30 percent of women will experience some form of thinning. But wait—there is hope. These seven solutions help with thinning tresses at any age.
This product—with a long list of celebrity and model clientele—is a 100 percent drug-free supplement containing a mashup of protein-rich cod, English whiting and shark. Sound nasty? Marine protein is known for providing nourishment for thinning hair and promoting existing hair growth from within. The supplement also contains zinc and biotin—two must-have nutrients for healthy hair. But patience is a virtue. Since supplements affect the hair growth cycle from the start, it takes at least three months (and possibly as long as six) to see results.
Dry shampoo does double-duty with this (editors’ favorite) product. Sachajuan’s powder-based aerosol spray builds volume at the roots and dries with a matte finish creating the illusion and feel of fuller locks. Thicker-looking hair is only a shake and a spray (about four inches to be precise) away. Bonus: More time between washes!
This brush—with a longtime cult-following—is designed specifically for fine and thinning hair. The massage that a Mason Pearson provides gets the blood and oxygen flowing to feed the thirsty (aka, thinning) hair follicles. Yes, it’s an investment at $160, but the long-lasting bristles have been carefully constructed with natural components that that do not tear fragile hair.
Pack Your Diet with Protein
This Tip is Brought to You by Viviscal
Though we think our hair is muy importante, our bodies consider hair nonessential (read: we don’t need it to stay conscious). Other bodily functions, like, oh, breathing, are more pressing and get first access to the nutrients in our diet. Our hair gets the leftovers. Protein is your hair's best friend, so reach for healthy protein such as eggs and fish and avoid fasting or yoyo dieting. These can deprive your body of these essential building blocks for a healthy scalp and hair.
Eat Foods Rich in Omega-3s and Vitamin B
Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D., YouBeauty Nutrition Expert, says that noshing on specific foods can actually help to create luscious locks. Wild salmon, tuna and trout are packed with omega-3 fatty acids that help to provide moisture to the scalp to prevent dry and brittle hair. Kirkpatrick also recommends foods that contain B vitamins to keep hair follicles in tip-top condition, thus decreasing the risk for hair loss. Fruits and vegetables, and beans and lean meat sources, such as chicken or turkey breast, are all great sources for B vitamin.
Pantene scientists have partnered with the smart cookies over at Olay to conduct studies about female hair thinning. The result? Pantene AgeDefy. This hair thickener, which contains a blend of caffeine, niacinamide and panthenol, has been shown to increase the diameter of existing hair fibers, so it’s as if 6,500 fibers have been added to the head. Bonus: After a month of use, hair becomes less brittle and more manageable.
Stylist (and reality TV star) Tabatha Coffey’s new line of wigs and extensions were created to add volume to thinning hair. The short, mid and long clip-in extensions are made from Keralon strands and feel exactly like real hair—you can even heat style them. They clip onto the top of your hair for a more natural look. It’s also the first-ever line of extensions to come in gray—three shades of it, as a matter of fact.
Prescription drugs, like Propecia (aka: finasteride) help lower DHT levels in men, but is not yet FDA-approved for women. Some doctors do prescribe it to female patients, but it’s not recommended because of links to breast problems. In this same vein, over-the-counter Rogaine, with two percent minoxidil, can help with thinning hair if used consistently. In extreme cases, certain females are candidates for Follicular Unit Extraction Hair Plants—where the hair is removed directly from the scalp and grafted on to the thinning or balding areas.
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