Seventeen October 3, 2022



Everything You Wanted to Know About Getting Thicker Hair, According to Experts


Your shampoo commercial moment awaits.

Raise your hand if this sounds like you: when you close your eyes, you have visions of silky, thick tresses that flow and flip over your shoulder in slow-motion like you’re in a hair commercial...and when you open your eyes, you find yourself Googling "how to get thicker hair" to achieve your hair dreams. 

Those glossy commercials are not the reality for most people — even some of the models pictured. Behind the scenes are jumbo fans, celebrity hair stylists, and in many cases, extensions to help hair appear fuller. Besides, hair types vary vastly from straight and fine, to light, wavy, dense, and curly. There isn't one ideal hair type because we're all built uniquely, and that’s something to celebrate. Your thin hair is equally as beautiful as your friend’s thick, wavy hair and vice versa.

While you may not be able to permanently double the thickness of your hair overnight (short of using hair extensions), there are ways to visually enhance the thickness of your hair, style your locks to maximize volume, and encourage healthy growth through scalp care. We tapped two board-certified dermatologists, Dr. Dendy Engelman of Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue and Dr. Michelle Henry, founder of Skin & Aesthetic Surgery of Manhattan, to break down scientifically-proven ways to improve hair health and bust some of the most common myths about hair thickness.

What makes hair thick or thin?

First, let's break down hair thickness into two categories: hair density, and strand thickness.

Hair density refers to overall hair thickness. Some people have thick hair (more strands of hair per square inch) while others have thin hair (fewer strands of hair per square inch). However, the thickness of each individual strand of hair will affect how thick your hair appears overall — according to Dr. Engelman, the thickness of a single strand of hair can range from 0.04mm to 0.15mm.

"You may be able to feel differences in the thickness of individual strands of hair just by rolling the strands between your fingers," Dr. Engelman explains. "Although strand thickness is usually less noticeable, it contributes to the overall appearance of a head of hair." You may naturally have fewer strands of hair per square inch, but if each strand is 0.15mm in diameter, your hair might look just as thick as your friend who has more hair but thinner individual hair strands.

So, what determines your hair density and strand thickness? According to Dr. Henry, "Genetics and gene expression play the defining role in hair structure and overall density." On top of rocking what your momma gave you (a.k.a. the genetics that directly impacted the texture and thickness of your particular hair follicles), Dr. Engelman explains that other factors such as hormones, age, illness, nutrition, and stress also play a role in hair thickness. Although you will most likely take after your biological parents when it comes to the thickness of your locks, there are exceptions based on outside factors like your environment and your physical health that could impact your hair.

Is it possible to make your hair thicker?

Yes, and no. Dr. Engelman tells us, "Although you can’t change the size of your hair follicles, you can do things to maintain hair health, add volume and fullness, and prevent it from getting thinner." For example, while diet alone won't transform your hair overnight, it's still a key player in hair health as nutrients from your food affect your hair growth cycle. Dr. Engelman recommends plenty of "vitamin-packed foods, like vitamin B12, biotin and iron, and healthy omega fatty acids." Not sure where to find those key nutrients? Load up on berries, avocados, fatty fish, eggs, nuts, and leafy greens like spinach and kale.

Another way to maintain hair health is to limit heat usage. Dr. Engelman notes that hot tools like blow dryers and flat irons cause moisture to be drawn out of the skin which dries out and can create dandruff around the scalp where the hair growth cycle takes place. Put down the curling iron this week and opt to air-dry your hair or test out a heatless curling method like old-fashioned rollers or a soft curling headband.

It's also possible to make your hair fuller if you've experienced hair loss. Dr. Henry mentions that current research backs up a few factors that can influence and restore hair thickness, one of the most notable being red light hair therapy to reduce oxidative stress as well as increase scalp circulation.

"[Red light therapy] inhibits and delays the hair cycle transition from the anagen, or the hair growing phase, into the catagen and telogen phases, when hair growth stops," she explains. And if you're looking to increase blood flow to your scalp, you can encourage healthy circulation with manual scalp massages and dermarollers, which are tools that create tiny, painless pricks in your scalp to increase blood flow and encourage collagen production.

Oral supplements are also being researched as potential treatments for hair thickness, but check with your doctor before taking a hair supplement since many are not FDA regulated and they may interact with other medications that you take.

Is scalp health related to hair thickness?

Yes! It turns out that scalp health is linked to hair thickness in a variety of ways. According to Dr. Henry, "The scalp houses hair follicles, promotes cell turnover, and ensures normal growth, which is why it’s important to maintain a healthy microenvironment on the scalp."

Dr. Henry explains that poor scalp health will often present itself in the form of dry patches, scaling, odor, a sudden increase in dandruff, or cuts on the scalp, which could lead to inflammation that damages your hair bulbs and follicles. On the other hand, a healthy scalp that has no visible dryness and regulated levels of sebum (a.k.a. natural oils) will prevent breakage and promote growth as well as help with hair shine.

In order to protect the skin on top of your head, you'll want to use sulfate- and alcohol-free shampoos, conditioners, heat protectants, and other styling products to avoid stripping your skin of its natural oils. In the same way that you should avoid using drying products with high alcohol content on your face, you should avoid applying those ingredients on your scalp — which is, after all, an extension of your face. Instead, look for leave-in conditioners or scalp treatments that provide moisture to the scalp, especially ones that include hydrating oils and hyaluronic acid.

What are some common misconceptions about achieving thicker hair?

We hate to break it to you, but your monthly trim won't help your hair grow faster. "Although trimming off split ends will prevent them from continuing to damage those hair strands, cutting off hair doesn’t increase the speed in which it grows nor does it make the hair thicker," says Dr. Engelman. "Although trimming split ends will prevent them from continuing to damage those hair strands, cutting off hair doesn’t increase the speed in which it grows — nor does it make the hair thicker."

It's also a misconception that biotin, a type of B vitamin, is the gold standard supplement for hair growth. "With limited clinical trials and research, we have yet to observe how biotin can positively influence hair growth in individuals without biotin deficiency," notes Dr. Henry. A biotin deficiency might present itself in the form of correctable thinning hair, but it hasn't been scientifically proven that biotin is the ultimate, overarching solution to thicker hair that some brands tout it to be.

How can I stop hair loss?

Hair loss is real for all ages and genders, because it's largely impacted by genetics — age, hereditary factors, poor diet, stress, hormone levels, and bad hair care habits can impact hair loss as well. "When you get older, hair growth slows and strands become less pigmented," Dr. Engelman explains. "Too much heat or tight hairstyles can also result in hair loss, as well as vitamin deficiencies." Taking supplemental vitamin D has been shown to help with hair loss because it aids calcium absorption. It can also balance out a potential vitamin D deficiency that your doctor will be able to detect with a blood test.

If you're currently experiencing hair loss, Dr. Henry suggests assessing your current lifestyle and life patterns to see if any stress triggers could've caused a change in your hair. "If hair loss is ongoing after 2-3 months, check with your doctor and primary physician to explore possible pathological underlying causes," she suggests. Your hair loss may be a response to an illness you recovered from or a physically traumatic event, like an accident. Talk to your doctor to get their expertise on what the root cause of your hair shedding might be.

How can I protect my hair and make it grow faster?

As Dr. Engelman noted earlier, you can't physically change the size of your hair follicles, but you can maintain healthy hair by treating it well and eating intentionally. You can ensure that you're consuming a nutritionally-rich diet with protein and foods that are high in healthy fats, like avocado, chia seeds, fatty fish, and nuts, to help with hair health. And you can prevent your hair from getting thinner due to breakage or damage by treating it with plenty of TLC. "Using hydrating hair masks, avoiding excess heat, and regularly trimming hair ends can all be helpful factors," says Dr. Henry.

It’s also important to pay attention to what ingredients are in your hair products and keep an eye out for sneaky, damaging ingredients like parabens, sulfates, formaldehyde, and synthetic fragrances. Dr. Engelman also recommends reducing the use of heat tools like blow dryers and straighteners to optimize hair growth, as well as staying away from tight hats and hairstyles (yes, that means super slicked-back buns). Instead, try a looser hairstyle like a low braid, a claw clip updo, or a ponytail with a silk scrunchie to keep your strands gently secured.

What kind of products can temporarily thicken hair and make it look fuller?

While there aren't a lot of scientifically-backed solutions to permanently thicken your hair, there are volumizing products that you can incorporate into your haircare routine to recreate that fuller look on a daily basis. New Jersey-based hairstylist Michelle Gonzalez suggests adding a little dry shampoo to clean hair to give it a thicker appearance, while simultaneously using hair oil on your ends to avoid drying them out. She also recommends texture sprays, like IGK's Beach Club Texture Spray, and root lifters, like UNITE's Liquid Volume spray, to achieve voluminous hair with lots of texture.

What are the best haircuts and styling tricks to make my hair look thicker?

Gonzalez explains that a blunt textured bob is going to give the thickest-looking results, no matter what your hair type. "The ends will appear full, and texturizing the cut will give it movement," she explains. "If your hair is thick and long, but looking lifeless, add short face-framing pieces and long layers so that it looks as full as possible."

Raven Hurtado, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, similarly suggested a blunt lob cut as a universally-flattering option. If you aren't a fan of the lob, Hurtado recommends an A-line bob that's shorter in the back and longer in the front. "A pixie is also great for fine hair by keeping the sides short and the top longer. You can play around with styles and texture on top," she offers. And if you're thinking about getting layers to make your hair appear thicker, Hurtado notes that long layers are the way to go. "You don’t want the layers to be short, you want the layers to be settled that’ll give enough body and volume to the hair."

If you like to blow out your hair at home, Gonzalez recommends lifting your hair at the root with a brush while blow-drying to maximize fullness. And if you're curling your hair with a curling iron or wand, Gonzalez says that alternating directions of your curls and running your fingers through them, in the end, will give the illusion of thicker hair. "When you curl the hair all in one direction, after a while it becomes one giant curl — leaving the hair looking more flat." For the finishing touch, end with a texture spray. "This will give the appearance of thicker hair," says Gonzalez.

You may not be able to multiply the number of hair follicles on your head, but you'll be surprised to see what a difference a healthy hair care routine and a few styling hacks can make when it comes to getting the look of thick hair.