I'm a Dermatologist, and Here's Everything You Need to Know About Hair Thinning

Dr. Michelle Henry
·4 mins read

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This year, hair thinning is more prevalent than ever. Extreme mental and physical stress from the impact of the global pandemic has led to an uptick in Americans experiencing hair thinning, with these issues also being recognized as a potential effect on some people diagnosed with COVID-19.

As a dermatologist, I’ve had countless patients come see me over the past few months looking for expert advice on how to stop their hair from falling out during this stressful time. In fact, a 2020 survey of 1,000 Americans diving into this topic found that 20% have started experiencing increased hair loss or thinning since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the 20%, more than half cited stress as the source of the problem.

Hair thinning is a symptom of hair loss.

Hair thinning is a reduction in the hair’s density. This is often due to hair loss (hair shedding). Hair thinning is a symptom of hair loss or caused by the slow reduction in the thickness of the hair strands that we see in androgenetic alopecia.

Hair loss is the shedding of hair or the cessation of growth that can happen due to a disease state, hormonal changes, or aging. The clinical term for hair loss due to stress is telogen effluvium, or TE. TE is hair loss due to mental or physiologic stress, including illness, surgery, dramatic weight loss, childbirth, or emotional stress.

TE usually occurs within three months of a stressful event, so many individuals started experiencing thinning towards the beginning of the pandemic and are still seeing thinning today due to the continued stressful environment. It can certainly be an unsettling and frustrating experience.

My goal is to share the same tips and advice that I’ve been giving my patients to help anyone manage and tackle this condition. Here's what I recommend:

1. Show your scalp some love.

While both stress management and proper nutrition are crucial to rebuilding hair, maintaining a healthy scalp is critical to promoting optimal hair growth. I recommend using the Nioxin Purifying Scalp Exfoliator scalp scrub once a month to remove product and dead skin cell buildup.

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Some of my patients reduce their hair washing frequency when they start to notice hair thinning, but I recommend keeping a consistent haircare routine with products that specifically target hair density. Nioxin’s 3-Part System Kit includes a cleansing shampoo, optimizing conditioner, and scalp treatment in six customized formulas for different hair types. Nioxin reports show that many people notice thicker, fuller hair after around 30 uses. For those trying to determine the best system based on their stage of hair thinning, the virtual consultation tool is a good place to start.

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Red light treatments like iRestore are another option that I recommend; it's a helmet that releases visible red light to reduce inflammation on the scalp. You may see results from low-level light therapy within 12 to 24 weeks of continual use.

2. Learn to manage stress.

With everything going on right now, it can be challenging to handle stress. I encourage making time for your mental health, which in turn can prevent further hair thinning and breakage.

Meditating, getting proper sleep, and maintaining an exercise regimen are all important components of managing stress and improving mental health. This will help regulate the body and give hair a more conducive environment for growth.

3. Have a proper diet.

Along with stress management, a proper diet is crucial to building up hair strength. Eating foods rich in lean protein, healthy fats, and omega 3s—such as salmon and avocado—is important to feeding your hair the nutrients it needs to grow.

Without proper nutrition, your hair will lack the vital proteins it needs to build and maintain strong, healthy strands.

4. Relax; every journey is different.

I often tell my patients that dealing with hair thinning is a different process for everyone. The most important thing you can do is take care of your health and give yourself time to adjust to the changes going on around you.

Do your research and talk to your dermatologist, who can help recommend the best treatments for you. There are many great options out there.