Feel like your hair’s getting thinner and there’s less of it? Notice an alarming number of strands on your clothes and in your drain?
You’re not alone: Hair loss affects more than 20 million women in the United States — and the numbers are rising. “Fifteen years ago, women complaining of thinning hair tended to be in their mid-40s,” says Dr. Francesca Fusco, a dermatologist with a subspecialty in the field. “Now I’m seeing women in their late 20s and 30s coming in to ask about treatments. It can be a huge emotional issue and the stress it causes can exacerbate the problem.”
For women, the most common triggers are hormonal (pregnancy, menopause, thyroid disorders, polycystic ovarian syndrome) or hereditary, but autoimmune conditions and nutritional deficiencies can also be to blame. And unlike men, we tend to lose hair gradually and all over the head, so it can take longer to detect. “Many of my patients notice a change in the shape of their face as the temples recede, a widening of their part line or that their ponytail is smaller in diameter,” says hair restoration specialist Dr. Alan Bauman, who heads the Bauman Medical Group in Boca Raton, Florida.
Luckily, there’s a lot that can be done, from lasers to lotions and everything in between. And you’ll be rewarded for treating it early. “I liken it to sun damage — it’s never too late to address the problem, but it will get worse with time if you don’t slow the progression,” says Bauman. Here, the best, doctor-approved treatments from easy-peasy to full-on offense.
Don’t be afraid to suds up.
“When they notice hair falling out in the shower, some women become afraid to wash their hair, which makes things worse,” explains Fusco. “Use the pads of your fingers — not your nails — to massage shampoo into the scalp.” And don’t stop there: “It’s a common misconception that the scalp doesn’t need conditioner, but it’s essential for scalp health.” If your hair is oily, fine or limp, look for a lightweight formula designed to bulk up strands, like L’Oreal Volume Filler Conditioner, $5.
Pop an under-the-sea supplement.
Now we know why mermaids have such stunning hair. The marine-based supplement Viviscal, derived from a proprietary blend of shark and mollusk powders, is winning fans with over-stressed tresses, including celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow and Miley Cyrus. Brand-sponsored research says Viviscal supplies vital nutrients to the hair follicle to prolong the anagen (growing) phase of the hair growth cycle. (Vegetarians can opt for supplementing with biotin, zinc, saw palmetto and black currant oil, instead.) Note that speaking with your doctor before taking supplements is especially important with hair loss, since you may be popping pills for years if the underlying cause of the condition cannot be reversed.
Get chatty with your colorist.
“Hair can be made to look thicker using dimensional coloring techniques,” says Tina Mulryan of New York’s James Corbett Studio, who’s on Fusco’s speed-dial. “Creating various tones can help to reflect light while plumping the hair follicle to give a fuller appearance. All of this can and should be done using gentle hair color products so as to maintain the integrity of fragile hair.” And there’s no need to be shy: “As a stylist we understand how upsetting and embarrassing thinning hair can be for a woman and we know how to discuss the issue in a respectful manner and offer advice and support.”
Try minoxidil — and be ready to commit.
A magic potion really does exist, but it’s often overlooked. Minoxidil, discovered accidentally in the 1980s, is still the only FDA-approved drug for hair loss and can spark regrowth in six months. The catch? When you stop using it, the benefits go bye-bye. “I tell my patients that it should become a habit like brushing your teeth,” says Fusco. It’s easily found in the drugstore, but if you don’t like the consistency or aren’t seeing results, talk to your dermatologist. Fusco works with a pharmacist who compounds a more pleasing, less tacky formula tailored to an individual’s hair issues: “For example, we might ‘spike’ minoxidil with azelaic acid, a soothing rosacea treatment that benefits the scalp. I also have some patients use a dermaroller beforehand to enhance absorption.”
Check out at-home lasers.
Discreet enough to fit under a cute cloche, the Laser Cap is a powerful (but pricey) way to increase hair mass. “We’ve had excellent results using laser therapy in-office for several years, but now most patients are treating themselves out of the office,” says Bauman. “The device emits low-level laser light treatment proven to enhance growth while you go about your day. It’s painless, chemical-free, has no side effects and you see results in 90 days.” (And it’s a great excuse to expand your hat collection.)
Ready for the big guns? “Platelet-rich plasma is the newest frontier,” says Bauman. “It allows us to exploit your body’s own pharmacy of growth factors. It isn’t an overnight cure, but we can clinically measure improvements in several weeks, and they’re noticeable to the naked eye after six months.” Here’s how it works: A small sample of the patient’s blood is processed to separate out the platelets and stem-cell-rich plasma. In some cases, additional “bioscaffolding” — sometimes placental tissue from screened donors — is blended in to improve the effects. Then, the custom cocktail is shallowly injected under the scalp under local anesthesia. Sounds intense, but “it’s comfortable, takes less than an hour and there is no recovery phase,” promises Bauman.