Coping with thinning hair

Thinning hair is not just a men’s issue. The North American Hair Research Society reports that almost half of all women also experience some hair loss by about age 50. The good news is that some of that loss is preventable.

When you’re making styling decisions, try to choose the gentlest options.
Los Angeles-based dermatologist Dr. Debra Luftman

Determine a cause

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, hereditary hormone-related hair loss is the most common cause for both men and women.

For women, hair loss can be a sign of underlying diseases such as ovarian cysts, anemia or thyroid problems. Your health care provider can help you determine the cause of hair loss and possibly uncover other treatable problems.

Unusual stress levels, illness or extreme weight loss can cause a condition called telogen effluvium, in which hair loss rapidly accelerates. This usually stops on its own when life gets back to normal. Some medications can also affect hair growth; talk to your physician.

Another cause of hair loss in women: hairstyles that pull hair such as braids, ponytails or hair extensions and chemical hair treatments that can damage hair follicles or the scalp.

The hair-friendly diet

According to a study published in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, deficiencies in nutrients including zinc, iron, vitamin D, protein or essential fatty acids can cause hair loss.

Whether your hair is thinning or not, it’s a good idea to eat foods that will help keep your hair at its healthiest. According to Los Angeles-based dermatologist Dr. Debra Luftman, legumes like kidney beans and lentils are an important part of your hair-health diet. As well as protein to promote hair growth, they provide iron, zinc and biotin, a B vitamin that’s a key component in strong hair and nails. Dark green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli contain both vitamins and iron.

Treatment options

The most common treatment for thinning hair is the same for both men and women: minoxidil, which is applied to the scalp and slows hair loss by blocking the effects of the hormones that cause thinning hair. The Food and Drug Administration has approved a 2 percent solution of minoxidil for women (a lower concentration than the 5 percent solution for men). It has to be used daily to work.

If your hair breaks easily, consider switching hairstyles. Multiple rounds of coloring, curling with a hot curling iron, straightening and braiding will damage hair and make it brittle over time, Luftman said. When you’re making styling decisions, try to choose the gentlest options.