Thinning where you least want it

Is the hair on your head as thick as it once was? Mine isn't. Where I never saw my scalp, now I know it's there.

As many as two-thirds of women experience hair loss at some point, often more pronounced as the years pass.
I'm not referring to hair texture (though the diameter of each individual shaft also diminishes as we get older), but to the amount of hair on your head.

Contributing factors include hormonal changes (typically at menopause), stress, illness (including treatment such as chemotherapy) and heredity. Look to your mother, aunts and grandmothers to see what you might expect. Hair care (especially styling with heat) can damage hair by breaking it off, but does not decrease the amount of hair on your head.

What are our choices?

Drug therapies: iffy
to spurious

The role of estrogen in hair growth, at least in humans, is not clear. Both oral and topical estrogens are prescribed by physicians to treat hair los
s in women, although there are no controlled studies to support this use of estrogen.

The only drug approved for promoting hair growth in women is the same one men use, Minoxodil. The internet is full of hair-growth products; be as leery of these as of fat-burning pills.

See your hairdresser first

Unlike guys, we can't shave it off and look studly. Ask for a style that makes the most of your hair's density. A talented hairdresser can assess the areas of loss, as well as your face, style and preferences.

There's no one magic style, but if you have wavy or curly hair, a cut short enough to make the hair stand up from the roots will camouflage loss.

Options depend on the pattern and extent of thinning. A bob is effective unless you're thinning on top, or have superfine hair that is also thin.

Asymmetrical styles 'stack' the hair to the thickest side, so that the thinner side looks like part of a deliberate style. Choppy, shorter layers can add volume and lift around thinning areas.

A technique you learned in your teens, teasing, could re-enter your life. Backcombing adds thickness and volume, and may only be needed on sections of hair.

Stylists recommend volumizing shampoos, conditioners, mousses and gels, to make the most of the hair you do have. Thickening shampoos and conditioners plump up each individual hair strand to add overall volume and lift. (If you are red by way of colour, check with the stylist, as some volumizing shampoos open the cuticle, which causes red colour to become even more fragile than it already is.)

Avoid waxes and muds, which weigh the hair down.

The site Hair Loss Expert explains how hair colour helps thinning hair by creating an impression of fullness:

"Hair dyes thicken hair by depositing colour in the strand, which plumps the shaft. This boost in strand size helps produce thicker- looking hair that offers more complete scalp coverage.

Hair colour can also be used to give the illusion of fuller, thicker hair. Darker colours produce an illusion of having more hair, and lighter colours that better match the skin colour of the scalp help blend thinning areas in with existing hair.

Well-placed highlights produce the illusion of fullness. Having the tips of your hair highlighted will make the root colour stand out more, thus tricking the eye into seeing more depth and volume."

A little help from friends

Many stylists suggest hairpieces, especially for up-dos. If the loss is significant, an integration hairpiece can help; its honeycomb base lets you pull your own hair through to blend with the hairpiece. The best are custom made and fitted. For more about what these look like, see this detailed explanation on Hair Direct's site.

Invisible hairline or lace-front wigs or hairpieces are an innovation in the industry, and are used for both full wigs and hairpieces. According to some vendors, this type of wig or hairpiece keeps celebs like Tyra Banks and Beyonce tossing those voluminous manes. But they're not perfect, as the glue that holds the lace to the face can crack or buckle. For some revealing shots of lace gone wrong, see Hair Conspiracy Extensions' site.

Companies like Head Covers by Joni sell an update on the "fall" I wore in university days, a "headband hairpiece" that adds fullness and length. They offer hairpieces in unusual shapes, like the Perfect Blend, a halo-type piece worn on the crown, the area most prone to thinning.

Here's a before-and-after from the site, showing the Perfect Blend worn.


Initially considered the best thing for women since the underwire bra, weaves are a slippery slope. Not all look like Oscar night 'dos; this shot shows a conservative style augmented by with subtle extensions.

I've never had one, so rely on the opinion of my friend Cathy, who calls them "the crack of the salon". Her bonded weave, applied for about $450, took nearly a full day in the chair, and the results were dramatic– the extensions were far lusher and more lustrous than her own hair. For awhile, everyone at the office was saving for weaves.

But it had to be redone every several months, and the weight of the glued-in extensions pulled on Cathy's remaining hair. She eventually decided to forgo extensions and crop it short, because repeated weaves had damaged what hair she had. Her pixie cut looks marvelous, but it's a style she never considered before her hair loss.

What to do? Boomers try to retain all the glossy markers of youth while they age, and I doubt succeeding generations will be any different. A full head of hair symbolizes health and desirability.

I'm betting that treatments, products and fill-ins will only rise in popularity, and "Does she or doesn't she?" will mean more than just colour.


mette said…
All of your posts this week seem just meant for someone like me, including today´s post too. I´m so unhappy to realize that my thick hair is a faint memory only. I always thought, that if I never color or get a perm, I´ll `save´my hair. Nonsense, I can see my scalp under the hair. So what to do. I have started hiding the greys with not-permanent coloring, I visit my hairdresser every 4 weeks to get it done and get the ends evened. I keep a bit below chin length hair, cause it is most versatile for me. Somehow, I feel that I always feel refreshened after the hairdressers. I change the place of parting on my hair occasionally and if nothing of this works, I´ll try to change the focus from my hair to some other part of me, maybe wear my pearl necklace.. Last, but not least, I´ll just try to accept the fact, that these things do happen.
Horribly depressing subject.

Fortunately I still have thick hair, though it isn't as wildly thick as it was when I was younger - so thick as to be unmanageable. I think I'd get terribly depressed if it were to get thin - I look like hell in pixie cuts. It would mean there would no longer be any point in trying to look nice.
Duchesse said…
metscan: Colour does open the cuticle and 'plump' each individual strand, which can make hair we do have look thicker.

lagatta: I want to address both welcome and unwelcome experiences as we mature, with a focus on options. A pixie cut is not an inevitable outcome. I fondly disagree with "no longer any point"!
Duchesse, I most certainly don't mean I want to read Pollyanna blogs that don't address hard questions, including serious illness, disability and death!

Just saying how much I fear the loss of one of my "good points".
Frugal Scholar said…
I started feeling stressed as I read this, a sign that it's an important topic to write on. Thanks for telling it like it is.
spacegeek33 said…
I have had thinning hair for the last 10 years, even though I'm only 40! I can tell you that minoxidil does work, but you must maintain its usage, like a retinol product or some other beauty aid. And it really takes 3 months before one sees results, so it is harder still as the gratification is quite delayed.
Nonetheless, I have found the results to be worth all of that.
La Loca said…
I have worn a pixie cut since the birth of my daughter 7 years ago left me with much finer hair.

It is a loss-I miss my old bob at times, but I feel much more confident "rocking" the pixie than I ever did trying to recreate the past with hot rollers.
Duchesse said…
Frugal: I felt that way writing it, the diminishment of our crowing glory is tough.

spacegeek: Thanks for relating your experience, are there any side effects?

Jane: From your photo I'd say, terrific! Trying to recreate the past for any attribute is pretty futile.

lagatta: Disability and death- yes, they are real too and I think about such things, as they touch me ever more often.
Katie said…
What about hair transplantation? My very reputable Board Certified cosmetic surgeon suggested it as an option for me with my thinning hair. I have no idea how much it costs though. But I am thinking of finding out.
Plus Size Bride said…
Don't forget your thyroid. When it's out of whack you will have hair falling out like crazy. After bumping my dose (compounded desicated thyroid)up twice my head is now sprouting hair like there is no tomorrow! Now when I look in the mirror the first think I notice ISN'T my scalp.
Duchesse said…
Katie: That's certainly an option for significant loss. If anyone reading has experience, I'd love to hear. (My observstion of the success of men's transplants is that some look good and others not.)

Plus Sized bride: Thanks, that's another important aspect to consider.
spacegeek33 said…
I found the 5% minoxidil (extra strength) made my scalp dry and itchy, but the 2% did not. Haven't noticed any side effects that could not also be attributed to my waning estrogen.
sallymandy said…
So interesting and informative. Thank you!
greying pixie said…
I think Lagatta has nailed it. It's not general ageing that is necessarily difficult, but loosing one of your best features can be a real blow. I guess it's about looking for other ways to FEEL good.

For example, I have recently started wearing my nails slightly longer and more often polished. This seems to give my hands a lift and makes me feel more graceful.

I've also decided to pay for a monthly professional back massage and to use the sauna and swimming pool at my local 5 star hotel more often.

In terms of hair, I'm surprised at how hostile so many women are to a pixie cut, which I find to be so energising and liberating. Of course, it's necessary to get the right shape for your face, but a good hairdresser should be able to work on that with the customer.

And all that weave business makes me feel hot and claustrophobic, just reading about it! If my hairloss were ever to get to the point of baldness I would definitely have the whole lot shaved, wear tons of eye make-up and enormous earrings. I think the buddhist monks have the right idea - except for the make-up and earrings!
Duchesse said…
greying pixie: Hi! I think lagatta has her finger on it, too. And I'll raise her one: hair is a 'secondary sexual characteristic', after the reproductive organs- and those are not usually on display. So hair is a powerful signal of desirability and sexual viability.

Even if women don't want to look overtly 'sexy', most of them want to look like they might be in the game.

re pixie cuts, I like them very much, but they don't suit everyone, either because of body/face shape, or temperament.

re a shaved head, where lagatta and I live it would only be read as the result of illness (or being a Buddhist nun), it's just too cold to consider otherwise.
Lindy said…
I am happy you are addressing issues of aging... but am a little confused.

Last month, you left a comment on another person's blog stating, "Few spoken comments irritate me as much as the insanity (and inanity) of women whining about how their age has messed with their looks."

I felt stung by this comment, both for the blog owner and for myself, who had agreed with her post. The losses that comes with aging are very real, whether it be how much hair we have on our head or how our hands looks.
Duchesse said…
Lindy: I differentiate between whining and addressing the effects of aging or any other issue in a straightforward way. And I stand by what I said, I don;t admire whining. Yes, the losses are real. But when I hear "I hate my....", I cringe.
hair extensions said…
Hair Pieces can be washed and styled just like naturally grown hair. They can be shampooed and conditioned, blow dried, flat ironed, and curled. In many cases, the extensions can even be colored along with the naturally-grown hair. However, many women choose to simply use human hair extensions that already closely match their own hair color. In other cases, women choose to use the extensions as a way to highlight their natural hair color and have them placed accordingly.

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