InStyle December 1, 2023



Hair Loss 101: What You Need to Know for Thicker, Fuller Strands


If you're experiencing hair loss, it can feel frustrating and even devastating, but you're not alone. According to Harvard Health Publishing, around one-third of all women experience hair loss at some point, with two-thirds suffering from thinning or bald spots. For some, hair loss is temporary, and while time and professional treatments can promote regrowth, there are other instances where hair follicles are permanently damaged, preventing hair from growing back.

So, what is hair loss? According to board-certified dermatologist Sophia Reid, MD, hair loss is a "broad term" encompassing "hair falling out at the root, mid-shaft breakage, or hair follicles shrinking, which ultimately causes long-term thinning." She emphasizes that hair loss is "multifactorial," meaning many different factors contribute to it. For instance, some women experience hair loss under extreme stress. Illness and hormonal shifts, like childbirth and postpartum, trigger it in others. Since there are so many factors, figuring out how to treat it can take a lot of trial and error.

According to Noreen Galaria, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder and CEO of Inner Glow supplements, hair quietly goes through the anagen (growth phase), catagen (transition phase), telogen (rest phase), and exogen (shedding phase) over and over again, with new hair replacing the strands that were shed. Hair loss occurs when something "interrupts the regular rhythm of this cycle," Dr. Galaria explains.

Types of Hair Loss

There are many forms of hair loss, and they all are triggered by different factors.

One of the most common is female pattern hair loss (FPHL). Toyin Falola, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and senior director of product strategy for Ro Derm, says FPHL is typically characterized by hair thinning at the scalp, "especially around the temple." Dr. Falola says FPHL is commonly found in women in their '40s.

Telogen effluvium (TE) is another common form of hair loss. Dr. Falola estimates that anywhere from 30% to 50% of postpartum women experience shedding earlier than expected during the resting phase of the hair growth cycle. This form of hair loss often sets in due to psychological or physiological stress, like childbirth. A chronic form of TE can occur in women between 30 and 60.

Other medical conditions, including anemia and thyroid disease, can also contribute to hair loss with shedding from the root, brittleness, and breakage of the hair shaft. If you've been under pressure and noticed more shedding than usual, "it could be due to stress or illness," Dr. Reid explains. Shedding or hair falling out from the root can stem from several things, including nutritional deficiencies and scalp inflammation, she adds.

When the scalp becomes more visible as hair thins, Reid attributes that hair loss to hormonal changes and genetics. If hair falls out during daily combing and brushing, she says styling practices like chemical processing, heat styling, and using alcohol-based products could be the culprits for the breakage.

Treatments for Hair Loss

Once a professional confirms that you're experiencing hair loss, you should get started on treatment options ASAP. Determining the cause of your hair loss is critical when seeking treatment. If medical issues like thyroid disease or iron deficiency contribute to hair loss, Dr. Reid says that treating them can actually correct the loss you've experienced.

For hormonal types of hair loss, she recommends over-the-counter supplements like Ashwagandha (to help with stress) and Rogaine, which is applied topically and FDA-approved to help regrow hair. Dr. Reid also recommends platelet-rich plasma injections and microneedling to encourage hair growth, along with stem cell-derived treatment options.

Dr. Falola recommends Hair Solution RX, a topical prescription treatment containing minoxidil, melatonin, and tretinoin to slow hair loss and promote hair growth. Some providers even prescribe oral medicines like Minoxidil and newly FDA-approved Litfulo to treat more severe cases of alopecia.

However, hair loss treatment options don't begin and end with prescription meds and in-office injections. Shelly Aguirre, a hairstylist and extension specialist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, suggests incorporating protein-balanced shampoos like Kérastase Resistane Bain Force Architecte Shampoo to help strengthen fragile strands. For clients who experience dryness, she recommends Kérastase Genesis Bain Nutri-Fortifiant Shampoo to hydrate brittle, damaged tresses. She also suggests using Oribe's Hair Alchemy Resilience Shampoo to cleanse and improve hair elasticity.

Hair oils have picked up steam on social media as a foolproof method to encourage hair growth. Jamaican black castor oil and argan oil have also gone viral for their alleged benefits. According to Dr. Reid, no scientific studies have shown that castor oil grows hair. "However, it can strengthen and protect the hair, which could help prevent the hair you already have from shedding." Similarly, rosemary oil improves blood flow to the scalp, helping nutrients get into the base of the hair follicle. "Rosemary oil is just as effective as 2.5% topical Rogaine to grow hair," Dr. Reid says.

When to See a Professional

Achieving Rapunzel-length tresses overnight would be a dream, but hair grows about half an inch per month, so it will take some time. If your hair loss is related to physiological or psychological stress, Dr. Falola says, "it is likely that this hair loss is temporary and will reverse on its own." When using medically prescribed treatments, Dr. Falola claims it can take patients between six to 12 months to see full results when used regularly.

Since hair loss is a natural occurrence and one of the phases of the hair cycle, it can be challenging to determine whether what you're experiencing is a problem. According to Dr. Galaria, normal shedding is less than 100 hairs per day. Experts recommend getting evaluated by a dermatologist if you lose more than that daily. The earlier you seek treatment for hair loss, the faster you can correct it. According to Dr. Reid, early treatment can help minimize the amount of hair lost over time. "If you're in the early stages, then correcting it will make a huge impact," Dr. Galaria adds.