As part of an ongoing effort to raise the conversation around women’s hair thinning and empower women to take charge of their hair health, our team of experts and physician partners are sharing their knowledge to arm women with the facts. This week, they’re busting the most prevailing and pernicious myths surrounding women’s hair thinning.
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Myth 1: Hair thinning doesn’t affect that many women.
While the stats on different types of hair loss vary, hair thinning affects 40% of women by age 40. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 30 million women in the U.S. have experienced thinning hair. Some experts believe these statistics are underestimated because women are less likely to report hair thinning, due to societal stigma, and because of the way our hair thinning can be less apparent. “Women’s hair thinning might not be taken as seriously because it can be very subtle. Just because you don’t have a bald spot doesn’t mean you aren’t thinning,” says Nutrafol co-founder and chief medical advisor Dr. Sophia Kogan, MD.
Myth 2: You don’t have to worry about it when you’re young.
It’s true that women over 40 experience hair thinning at a higher rate, but factors like stress and overstyling are leading causes of thinning among those in their twenties and thirties. Female pattern hair thinning can technically begin at any point during the reproductive years, with severe cases even noted during puberty. Different types of hair thinning, such as androgenic alopecia and telogen effluvium, have been recognized to occur as early as adolescence.
Myth 3: It only happens around your hairline.
Hair thinning is an issue that can present itself in a variety of ways. In androgenic (aka “male pattern,” which affects both women and men) hair thinning, sparsity commonly begins at the hairline and temples. But telogen effluvium (or stress-related) hair thinning shows up more diffusely throughout the scalp. In female pattern hair thinning, the midline or part of your hair can become notably wider and is accompanied by generalized thinning, but typically the hairline is left well preserved.
Myth 4: Solving for one root cause will fix it.
Hair thinning is more complicated than that. Research shows that a number of things need to be in sync to keep your hair happy and growing — from getting the green light from your hormones to keep things moving to ensuring your hair follicles are getting all the right nutrients. This means that hair growth curveballs can come from multiple mechanisms, all of which have to be balanced and appeased to support growth. Some of the potential root causes of hair growth issues include: cortisol spikes from stress, hormone imbalances, environmental aggressors, metabolic change, and poor nutrition. With multiple factors contributing to your hair health, a multi-targeted approach is the best game plan for success.
Myth 5: If your mother has thinning hair, you will, too.
Yes, genetics come into play with certain types of hair thinning, such as androgenic alopecia. And yes, both men and women with a family history are more predisposed to thinning hair. But no, your genetics do not completely dictate your hair’s fate. “I always say it’s genetics and environment. Genetics will load the gun and environment pulls the trigger,” notes Dr. Kogan. Genetics simply point to your body’s inherited way of responding to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the hormone responsible for shrinking the hair follicle. This could mean you’re more sensitive to its presence, or that your body is extra keen on increasing its production. Saw palmetto, a key ingredient in Nutrafol, has been clinically shown to help lower conversion of testosterone into DHT.
Myth 6: Hair care products will fix it.
Depending on what’s in your hair care products, they may actually be stressing out your hair follicles rather than helping them. From your shampoo to your styling products, toxic ingredients can impact the hair growth cycle by increasing inflammation and affecting hormones. Ingredients to avoid include phthalates, parabens, and dioxane, which have all been linked to immune and hormone dysfunction. Some shampoos even contain formaldehydes, which have been found to damage DNA. Damaged DNA means the signals that make your hair grow normally can become skewed. By reading ingredients labels and not overwashing (try going two or more days between washes), you can limit the impact that overstyling has on your hair.
Myth 7: Wearing hats or ponytails causes hair thinning.
While hats can make an outfit, they’re not as influential on your hair health. Overwhelmingly, research points to internal factors, including hormones, stress, and nutrition, as the culprits of hair thinning. With hairstyles, a form of hair thinning called traction alopecia can occur from persistent pulling on the hair follicles — but this type of hair thinning is primarily linked to constrictive braids and glued-on hair extensions rather than your everyday topknot or baseball cap. In fact, wearing a hat can protect your scalp from damaging UV rays.
Myth 8: Dyeing your hair causes thinning.
Coloring your hair can cause damage. However, if done thoughtfully, and with gentle product choices, damage can be kept to a minimum. Once again, it’s all about the ingredients: common hair dye chemicals like hydrogen peroxide can be harsh on your strands, hair follicles, and the skin they live in. When talking to your hairstylist, ask about natural, organic hair dyes that are free of hydrogen peroxide, ammonia, ethanolamines, or paraphenylenediamine (PPD).
Myth 9: There’s nothing you can do about it.
As the science of hair growth continues to expand, so does our understanding of how to support it. In one randomized study, women suffering from hair thinning experienced an increase in their hair count and volume, noting new hair growth after six months of using Nutrafol Women. This study offered novel insight into the idea that a multi-factorial approach to hair growth can be an important solution to the issue of hair thinning — and it certainly asserts that women have the power to take control after hair thinning starts.