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Gray and Thin -- The Fix Is In: Ask the Hair Health Specialists

Stylist Jim Shaw and Dermatologist Nicole Rogers, MD answer your questions about gray and thinning hair.

Question:
What products would you suggest I use to care for my gray and thinning hair?
Answer:

Jim Shaw, stylist: I assume you want to keep the hair as white as possible. If this is true, be sure to use shampoos and conditioners specifically for gray hair. Use setting lotions, mousses, and the like, which can give the hair "style memory". Also, a haircut that enhances your gray is always best.

Question:
What styling techniques can I use to make my hair look thicker?
Answer:

Shaw: To make hair look thicker, try using setting lotions, thickeners, or styling creams. Wearing hair styles that include layers and bangs can make your hair appear thicker. And adding volume to your style by curling the hair can help, too.

Question:
My hair is thinning and I'm thinking about buying a few wigs. What qualities make for a good wig?
Answer:

Shaw: I suggest you try on different wigs before buying any. And whatever you feel looks best on you is what you should go with. I'd also recommend wigs that are pre-styled, meaning the style has been created for the wig before you buy it.

Question:
My hair is very fine and always has been. I'm going gray and want to know what kind of coloring is best to use for thinner grades of hair.
Answer:

Shaw: Simply put, chose a hair color that is either permanent or semi-permanent. Keep in mind that the darker the hair color you choose, the rounder your face will look.

Question:
I am 64 years old. My hair has always been very thick, but fine. I normally wear it hanging just below my shoulders, and cut in layers. For 20 years my hair dresser has colored my hair to hide my grays. Within the last two years I've developed some hair loss at the crown of my head. More recently, the hair loss has progressed further, leaving a part at the back of my head, which looks really bad when my grays grow in. My stylist tried cutting in more layers to take some of the weight off the top, but it doesn't look any better. I hate to think about cutting it short, because both my husband and I like it long. Do you have any styling ideas for my situation?
Answer:

Shaw: I suggest that you try switching the side of your hair in which you wear your part. This can usually change the way a person's layers fall around their face.

Question:
I have very fine and thin hair. I've tried so many hair products for hold and nothing works. What do you suggest?
Answer:

Shaw: You may want to try experimenting with different setting products that are made especially for fine hair. I prefer using mousses or setting foams for my clients with finer, thinner hair.

Question:
I have way more gray hair now and I'm having some problems when it comes to dying my roots. If I dye my hair a reddish tone, my roots turn orange. When I try to dye it brown, my roots turn blonde. Each time I leave the dye on for 40 minutes. What could be the problem? Should I just give in to the gray?
Answer:

Shaw: I recommend that you make sure you're using the correct amount of hair coloring with each application. And stick with colors that have more of an ash base to cover up your grays.

Question:
To cover my grays, I colored my hair a medium brown two days ago. But it's not as dark of a brown as I want. How soon can I try to recolor it to a darker shade of brown?
Answer:

Shaw: Since you're depositing color onto your hair -- not removing it, like you would be if you were bleaching or lightening it -- you can try recoloring right away if you don't get the look you want. There should be no strain on your hair.

Question:
Should I pluck my gray hairs?
Answer:

Nicole Rogers, MD: With repeat plucking, or "traction," it becomes harder and harder for the hair follicles to replace themselves. However, plucking will not keep the hair from coming back gray.

Question:
I am a 40-year-old woman and I'm losing my hair around my hairline. My hairline is moving farther and farther back! How can I save my hair?
Answer:

Rogers: You should see your local board-certified dermatologist as soon as possible. This may represent a condition called frontal fibrosing alopecia, which is a form of scarring hair loss that is irreversible and should be stopped as soon as possible. The dermatologist will most likely perform a skin biopsy to confirm a diagnosis.

Question:
Ever since I reached menopause my hair has begun thinning. I also have eczema in my scalp. What can I do?
Answer:

Rogers: You may benefit from topical minoxidil, which will help prevent thinning hair in women. And, you may need a prescription topical steroid solution for the eczema. These are two different conditions, which a dermatologist will need to treat separately.

Question:
Does hair normally turn gray starting at the scalp, or can it change midway down the strand?
Answer:

Rogers: Hair follicles are responsible for producing pigment in the hair shaft. Therefore, the loss of pigment should occur from the root. However, certain environmental processes -- such as weathering from the sun and styling -- may cause the hair to appear to have lost pigment after it has grown out.

Question:
I am only 26 and I'm noticing that some of my hair is turning gray or white. Is this normal?
Answer:

Rogers: If premature graying runs in your family, then this may very well be normal. Talk with family members about it. Otherwise, extreme periods of stress can cause premature graying. Consider your life circumstances and family patterns to decide which situation may apply to you.

Question:
I'm 67 and I'm losing my hair at the very front and top of my head. Can putting coconut oil on the area help?
Answer:

Rogers: Hair loss in the very front and top of the scalp is usually related to inherited forms of hair loss for both men and women. There are no ingredients in coconut oil that will help regrow the hair. Better choices for hair regrowth are topical minoxidil (for men or women), oral finasteride (for men), or oral spironolactone (for women). Spironolactone is used off-label for hair loss, but can be helpful when taken at doses of 200mg/ day.

Question:
Are there any foods or supplements that I should be sure to include in my diet to give my thin, gray hair some body and volume? I eat lots of fruits and veggies. And I take a multivitamin, plus vitamins D, B6, and B12. (My skin and my scalp are also very dry.)
Answer:

Rogers: A severe lack of nutrients can make hair quality poorer. But most people living in the United States already have a well-rounded diet with all the nutrients they need. So I would not assume that your diet would play a large role in affecting the color or thickness of your hair.

Question:
Can laser treatments help with hair loss?
Answer:

Rogers: There is a lot of interest in low-level light therapy to possibly induce hair growth. The reality is that we still are waiting on more independent and rigorous studies to demonstrate exactly how -- if at all -- the lasers may stimulate hair growth. For now, the devices do not hurt and are considered mostly safe.

Question:
I take an antidepressant and medicine for my high cholesterol. I also take a multivitamin every other day, along with green tea supplements. Could any of these -- or the combination -- be causing my hair to get thinner?
Answer:

Rogers: In theory, almost any drug can have almost any side effect. The first step is to see if your hair loss began around the same time you started any of these drugs. However, the vast majority of hair thinning is due to androgenetic alopecia, or male or female pattern hair loss. This is usually inherited and runs in families. It can begin at any time in a person’s life.

Question:
I am 62 and postmenopausal, and I have severe hair loss on the top of my head. Can you provide any suggestions for how I can restore my hair?
Answer:

Rogers: You could probably benefit from using topical minoxidil, which has been shown to increase the caliber (thickness) of existing hairs, and increase hair counts. It must be used consistently for a minimum of 6 months in order to see a difference. At present, this is the only FDA approved medication for hair loss in women. If this does not help, you should see your dermatologist to discuss other off-label medications for hair loss, such as spironolactone or finasteride.

Question:
I'm a 65-year old woman with very thick hair that needs thinning with just about every haircut. Because it is quite gray, I have it colored every five weeks. Recently, I noticed that my hairline is receding above the temples. My hairdresser confirmed that she noticed it too about three months ago. Could this be a result of the hair dye being used on my hair? The salon started using a different brand of dye last year, and I noticed that it also dries out my hair.
Answer:

Rogers: It is very unlikely that the use of a particular hair dye is contributing to your hair loss at the temples. There is a chance that this is a medical condition called frontal fibrosing alopecia, which is a form of scarring hair loss that is irreversible and should be stopped as soon as possible. See your dermatologist for an examination and possibly a skin biopsy to determine the cause of your hair loss.

Question:
My daughter is 16 and is already going gray. She is also losing her hair, and she continues to use a flat iron 3-5 times a week. Could using flat iron be the cause of her thinning hair? Could it be that her hair will just be thinner now that it's turning gray?
Answer:

Rogers: Graying hair in a 16-year old is highly unusual. It may be worth seeing a dermatologist to be sure she does not have a condition called alopecia areata, which can result in hair loss as well as a loss of hair pigment. Otherwise, the cause may be premature graying, especially if it runs in your family. It is less likely due to the flat iron. However, repeated use of heat on the hair can create small "steam bubbles" in the hair shaft which may compromise the strength of the hair and result in hair breakage.

Question:
My hair is thinning rapidly on the right side of my head. Could it be from sleeping on that side or something else?
Answer:

Rogers: It is unclear why your hair would be thinning more on one side than the other. See your dermatologist for a physical exam and possibly a biopsy to better understand the cause of your hair loss.

Question:
Could diabetes be playing a role in my hair loss?
Answer:

Rogers: Diabetes is rarely responsible for hair loss, unless your blood sugars are poorly controlled. The most common cause of hair loss in both men and women is androgenetic alopecia, also called male or female pattern hair loss. See your local dermatologist to obtain a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Question:
I am 19 and my hair has been thinning for over a year now; mostly in the front, but also all over. I wash it nearly every day. But I don't brush it. (I heard that brushing rips out your hair.) I started a low-calorie diet recently. But I was losing my hair before I started the diet. I don't want this to get worse. What can I do to get it to grow back? I used to have very thick hair, and people have started noticing that it's thinner now.
Answer:

Rogers: If you are already experiencing hair loss at a young age, look at other family members to see if hair loss runs in your family. Female pattern hair loss tends to be inherited from either parent and can progress over time. A low-calorie diet could possibly accelerate the hair loss. See your local dermatologist to identify the cause of your hair loss and discuss treatment options.

Question:
I've taken hydrochlorothiazide for about 10 years. I've noticed that my hair has gotten really thin recently. Could the medications suddenly be causing this, even though I've been taking them for so long without a problem? I also take calcium supplements daily. Could this possibly be the cause?
Answer:

Rogers: It is very unlikely that your hair loss is related to either of these medications. See your dermatologist to fully discuss what may be the cause of your hair loss.

Question:
I am losing my hair on the top of my head. It's basically all gone. But I'm having no problems with the hair growth in the back. Could it be from my high blood pressure pills? What can I do?
Answer:

Rogers: The most common cause of hair loss in both men and women is androgenetic alopecia, or male or female pattern hair loss (thinning). You could likely benefit from using topical minoxidil (FDA approved for men and women), oral finasteride (for men), or spironolactone (for women).

Question:
What foods and/or supplements and vitamins can help improve the thickness and condition of your hair?
Answer:

Rogers: There is really no food or supplement that will naturally help regrow hair. Many people take biotin for this purpose. But there isn’t any data to support its role in enhancing hair growth due to male or female pattern hair loss.

Question:
For Valley Fever I've been taking fluconazole 200mg twice a day for a little over a year. I'll be done with the medication at the end of this month (December). My hair has really thinned and I'm hoping it will grow back. Do you think it will once I stop the medication? Is there something I can do to help it along?
Answer:

Rogers: I am not aware of hair loss related to fluconazole. However, almost any drug can have the side effect of hair loss. The best idea would be to allow a full 6-12 months to pass without taking the medication. Then you can see if your hair grows back. If it still doesn't grow back, then you may want to see a doctor to further investigate the cause of your hair loss.

Question:
I'm 60 years old and I have gray hair. I recently started getting yellow streaks in different places in my hair. What could be causing this?
Answer:

Rogers: This may be related to the shampoo you are using. Certain selenium sulfide based shampoos can occasionally change the hair to a yellowish color. Talk to your stylist because there are certain “blue” shampoos, which will help cancel out this brassiness.

Thank you for joining us for WebMD Ask the Hair Health Specialists. Be sure to check in again on Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 1 p.m. ET, when we will be separating fact from fiction about hair health and hair care. Sign up if you'd like an email reminder the day before the event.

WebMD Ask the Specialist Transcript

Reviewed by Nicole Rogers, MD on December 19, 2011

The opinions expressed in this section are of the Specialist and the Specialist alone. They do not reflect the opinions of WebMD and they have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance or objectivity. WebMD is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on WebMD. 

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