Thinning Hair Treatments and Solutions

Has your hair gotten finer in recent years? Innovative shampoos, conditioners, and other products can help.

Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on November 01, 2012

Hair care seems like it should be simple. Over time, though, your hair becomes less dense. Individual strands get thinner and break more easily.

Sunlight, climate, and pollution also take a toll. And typical hairstyling techniques -- blow drying, coloring, over using gels -- can further damage your hair.

So what’s a normally gorgeously-coiffed woman to do? Sometimes the only way to repair the damage is to cut the hair off and wait for healthy hair to grow back. But if the damage hasn’t progressed too far, there are hair care products that may restore glossy, full-bodied hair. Many of these products may work for at least a short time and provide subtle benefits.

Shampoos With Surfactants and Silicones

Shampoos are not what they used to be. In the past, the cleansing agent was soap, which could dry out your scalp and leave a scum that doesn’t rinse away.

Modern shampoos, though, use synthetic detergents known as surfactants as the cleansing agent. Surfactants lather well in all types of water, and the lather lifts dirt and excess oil from your hair and holds it until it’s rinsed away.

Modern shampoos also contain silicones that give hair a soft feel, help it retain moisture, and make it easier to comb and manage. Many shampoos contain ingredients that condition the hair as well and repair damage. Get the facts about alopecia and shampoo.


Conditioners That Use the Science of Skin Care

Among the latest advances in hair care are better conditioning products that make fragile hair less likely to break or tangle.

Zoe Draelos, MD, editor of The Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology says, "Advances in silicone technology, such as the use of dimethicone and amodimethicone have improved hair conditioning, smoothing the cuticle, temporarily mending split ends, improving the ability of hair to retain color, and decreasing hair breakage."

Another major development has been the application of skin care ingredients to hair care. For instance, some of the ingredients used in anti-aging skin care products, such as collagen, peptides, and sunscreens, are now found in hair care products. Many of these products penetrate the hair and help increase its moisture. Peptides, for example, provide extra conditioning and make the hair shaft stronger by depositing a shield on the shaft.

Hair primarily consists of a protein called keratin, which is made of 21 different amino acids. Common hair care practices, such as blow drying, coloring, and styling, cause a reduction in the amino acid level of the hair. Recent research has identified three amino acids -- histidine, tyrosine, and lysine – that, when added to products like shampoo or conditioners, help repair hair by restoring the amino acid balance.

Healthy Hair Starts With Protection From the Sun

Both natural sunlight and artificial ultraviolet light break down the keratin protein in hair and damage its elasticity. Hair becomes weakened and dry with excess sun exposure -- similar to the effects of bleaching though not as severe.

Sunscreens are now found in a variety of hair care products, including shampoos, conditioners, and hairsprays. They prevent breakdown of keratin due to sun exposure and also keep hair dye from fading in ultraviolet light.

Conditioners that come with at-home hair coloring kits now contain sunscreens that filter both UVA and UVB rays.

Can You Reverse Hair Loss?

Men and women both experience hair loss. Men usually have to deal with it at a much younger age due in large part to genetics. Two drugs, minoxidil and finasteride, have been shown to encourage the regrowth of hair in about one out of every three men. Finasteride, however, carries some risk of sexual side effects such as erectile dysfunction.

For women, 2% minoxidil applied to the scalp has been shown to help with male pattern baldness -- receding hair at the temples and at the top of the head.

The FDA has approved a laser comb that has been shown in a clinical trial to stimulate hair growth in men. Robert Bernstein, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University, says that the comb may actually work better in women with no known side effects. The handheld comb uses phototherapy, or infrared light, to stimulate hair growth in men with alopecia or baldness.

Since the laser comb is a medical device, it has not had the same kind of rigorous testing that drugs get. Experts point out that it’s unclear how the comb actually works. This has led to skepticism about its effectiveness. Dermatologists, though, say the laser comb may be a viable alternative for people who can’t use the prescription medications.

Show Sources


Robert Bernstein, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology, Columbia University.

Lynne J. Goldberg, MD, associate professor of dermatology and pathology, Boston University School of Medicine; director, Boston University Hair Clinic.

Zoe Draelos, MD, editor, Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology.

Leavitt, M. Clinical Drug Investigation, 2009.

Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database: "Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate."

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