Disguise Thin Evidence
The ever-widening part, the ever-shrinking ponytail, the ever-more-visible scalp: They're probably not imagined. "The number of actual hair fibers you have on your head starts decreasing in your 20s," says Thomas, "and may shrink 30 to 35 percent by age 60."
There's another, subtler kind of thinning going on, too: "Recent research suggests that in your early 40s, the actual diameter of each strand starts to shrink," says Thomas. "This shrinkage is believed to be linked to hormonal changes that happen with perimenopause and menopause, as hair growth is such a hormonally driven process."
Subtle or not, thinning is no fun. To fight back, first reconsider the shampoo and conditioner you use. A common impulse is to wash with a clarifying formulation (women often equate the resulting squeaky-clean feeling with bounciness). And while you do want to start with a clean slate to avoid limpness, says Thomas, clarifying formulas can strip too much protective oil from inherently fragile thinning hair.
A better choice, says Blandi, is a keratin-enriched formulation. As hair thins, it loses some of its protein (hence the fragility). Products such as Paul Mitchell Awapuhi Moisturizing Lather Shampoo and Awapuhi Keratin Cream Rinse ($19 and $20, respectively, salons) can help reinstate a bit of that lost strength. And don't skip conditioner for fear of weighing hair down: "You'll only make the strands more vulnerable to breakage," says Thomas. "And then your hair will look even thinner."
Your styling routine should be rethought as well: "Hair can go from thick to fine over time, and will behave really differently in each state," says Thomas. (Fine hair, for example, is much less adept at holding a style.) So you may not get great results from your old styling regimen. Make sure the new one includes fine hair — specific products, such as Pantene Pro-V Fine Hair Style Triple Action Volume Mousse ($4, drugstores).
Another important styling step is to avoid back-combing, says Barbara Fazio, owner of Cleveland's B. Fazio salon. "While the urge is understandable with fine hair, keep in mind that you're roughing up — and permanently damaging — the already fragile outer layer." Instead: Go for a root lifter, such as TRESemmé 24 Hour Body Root Boosting Spray ($4.50, drugstores). Try to minimize exposure to damaging heated styling tools, too. If possible, air-dry your hair most of the way, and blow-dry only to remove the last bits of dampness and to style, says Fazio.
As for the best cut: You want layers around your face and on top for volume, says Blandi. "But no layers on the bottom: When you remove thickness there, your hair gets stringy — the opposite of what you want with fine strands."
If — despite the right cut, care, and styling — the thinning still bothers you, see a dermatologist. Stronger remedies range from Rogaine for Women to Aldactone (a blood pressure medication that's been used successfully off-label to restore hair growth). You should also see a doctor if you notice discrete patches of hair loss on your scalp, or if the thinning has been accompanied by any swelling, scarring, or severe itching, says New York City dermatologist Doris Day, M.D.: "Whether the underlying cause is an autoimmune issue, stress, or anything else, you want it checked out."
A final note on thinning: If your part has gotten wide enough that you're self-conscious about it, but you don't want to take hair-restoring drugs (or you're waiting for them to kick in), consider CRC Concealing Color Kit ($38), a brush-on, stay-put scalp makeup that's far more believable-looking than the old, inky "spray-on hair."