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Caring for Your Thinning Hair

Shampoo, styling, and hair care tips for women with thinning hair.
By Tammy Worth
WebMD Feature

Michele Rosenthal of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., has tried every styling trick in the book to make her hair look thicker. She’s grown bangs to provide the illusion of more hair in the front and uses wide headbands to make it look fuller in the back.

She is self-conscious about her hair and over the years it has affected her. On dates, when a man would ask her to let her hair down, she often found herself exclaiming, “Don’t touch the headband!”

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Rosenthal has dealt with thinning hair since the age of 21, after a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). At 42, she has recovered from PTSD, but her hair is still thin - and at times it still bothers her.

“It makes you feel frustrated and powerless and pathetic,” Rosenthal tells WebMD. “There is no explanation, nothing wrong with me, but I looked like I was 80. You feel like you are not being represented by your body as the person you are in your mind.”

There are various medical treatments that can cure or improve hair loss like Rosenthal’s. But, like her, many women prefer not to take medication or have hair transplants.

Luckily, there are a wide range of cosmetic options that can help the situation and make women feel more comfortable with their appearance.

Common Problem

Rosenthal is not alone in her struggle. Female pattern hair loss, or alopecia, impacts about 30 million American women, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Amy McMichael, MD, has a hair disorders clinic that she runs one day a week at her practice at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. She often has a 10-month waiting list and said, if she chose, she could fill her practice with these patients.

“There is a huge demand by women to get consultations,” McMichael says. “I think female pattern hair loss is one of the most common things I see in women from the early 40s on up.”

People typically shed 110-150 hairs per day. That's normal. 

Beyond that, hair loss in women can occur at any time, but often begins after menopause. It is most often due to hormonal changes and genetics (either side of the family). But it can also occur after pregnancy, because of stress to the body like trauma or surgery, when there are hormone abnormalities like excessive testosterone or a thyroid deficiency, or simply from too much hair breakage. If it is not treated, in some cases it may be permanent.

While hormones and genetics are often the cause of hair loss, dermatologist Victoria Barbosa, MD, of Millennium Park Dermatology in Chicago, says it's a good idea to check with a dermatologist to make sure it is not a sign of some other problem like an autoimmune, thyroid, or scalp disease.

McMichael, a consultant for Johnson & Johnson (the makers of Rogaine), tells WebMD that women typically don’t experience hair loss all at once. It frequently occurs over time. There is usually thinning around the crown and at the sides and some gradual, increased shedding. The hair’s part begins to widen, a ponytail has less volume, and the scalp may start to show through the hair.

“Some people start in their 30s and some in their 60s,” she says. “It happens over time. It is slow, and then one day, it starts to bother you.”

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