5 tips to get thicker hair and common causes of hair loss or thinning

To get thick, healthy hair, it is important to eat a diet high in protein, healthy fats, and iron. Alexander Spatari / Getty Images
To get thicker hair, eat a healthy diet of omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, iron, and vitamin D.
For thicker hair, it is important to use a sulfate-free shampoo and stop using heat styling products such as flat irons or curling irons.
Thin hair can be the result of genetics, nutritional deficiencies, stress, or damaged hair.
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There is no proven way to permanently thicken hair if you are healthy and don't have any underlying health conditions. However, there are lifestyle adjustments available to improve your overall hair health and prevent breakage.
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Here are common causes of thinning hair and five tips for healthier, thicker hair.
What causes thin hair?
The causes of thin hair are:
Genetics. Some people naturally have thinner hair.
Hormonal changes such as during pregnancy, after childbirth and during menopause.
Weak or damaged hair (usually from frequent heat styling) that breaks before it reaches its full length
Malnutrition, such as too few B vitamins, vitamin D, iron or protein.
A major stressful event, such as the loss of a loved one, surgery, or illness.
If you are concerned about frequent hair loss, consult a dermatologist, says Dr. Sara Wasserbauer, hair restoration surgeon and President of the Board of Directors of the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery.
"The earlier someone starts therapies, the more likely it is that they will be effective," says Wasserbauer. "If you lose more than 100 hairs a day, or if your hair is less thick when you run your hand through it, it pays to see a hair professional."
A doctor can determine if you can treat thin hair without medical attention, or if it is a sign of alopecia - a more severe condition in which the hair falls out in patches or causes baldness.
If your hair loss is not due to an underlying health condition, you may be able to thicken your hair with the following lifestyle changes:
1. Eat healthy
Eating a nutritious diet is critical to hair health, says Dr. Sanusi Umar, CEO and Medical Director of Dr. U Skin and Hair Clinic in Manhattan Beach, California. This is because proper nutrition ensures that hair follicles form hair shafts of normal thickness.
According to Umar, certain nutrients are important for hair thickness and growth, such as:
Protein that the hair follicles are made of. Sources of protein are eggs, meat, and dairy products.
Iron, which carries oxygen around your body, including hair follicles, and aids in cell repair and growth. Iron sources are spinach, beans, and seafood.
B vitamins, especially biotin. Studies have linked biotin deficiency to hair loss. Biotin is found in many foods, including sweet potatoes, fish, seeds, and nuts.
Vitamin C has antioxidant properties that protect the hair follicles from damage. The body also uses vitamin C to produce collagen, which can help strengthen hair. Foods with vitamin C include berries and citrus fruits.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with hair growth, according to a 2015 study. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish such as salmon.
2. Reduce stress
Cortisol, the stress hormone, disrupts the function of the hair follicle and contributes to hair loss. A 2016 study found that high levels of cortisol can cause certain proteins in hair to break down.
It's important to differentiate between different types of stress, says Wasserbauer. When you experience a stressful event you may experience a period of hair loss and accelerated thinning, but hair usually recovers within a year. Persistent hair loss is more severe. If not caught, diagnosed, and treated, it can lead to permanent hair loss.
If you are concerned that stress can lead to hair loss, you can reduce stress and lower cortisol levels by:
Exercise regularly
Practice relaxation techniques such as meditation
Healthy eating with fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meat
Sleep seven to eight hours a night
3. Correct a hormone imbalance
A hormone imbalance, for example during pregnancy or menopause, can lead to hair loss. A decrease in estrogen or an increase in testosterone levels can also thin the hair, Umar says.
Research has shown that an imbalance in hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin can contribute to hair loss. Hair loss can also be due to an imbalance in thyroid hormones, Umar says.
Signs of hormone imbalance such as thyroid disease include:
Irregular periods
Increased facial hair
Weight gain
Dry skin
Brittle hair and nails
If you think hormone imbalance could be causing thinning hair, see your doctor, Umar says. A family doctor can refer you to a dermatologist who specializes in the skin and hair, or an endocrinologist who specializes in hormonal imbalances.
4. Stop heat styling
According to Umar, heat styling products like blow dryers, straighteners, and curling irons weaken the hair shaft and fiber. These products damage the cuticles on the outer layer of hair, especially if the heat setting is set too high or you use a heating product on a daily basis.
"Excessive use of heat styling products can break the hair and stress the scalp, leading to thinning hair," says Umar.
A 2004 study found that using a curling iron resulted in hair weakening and breaking, although hair treated with conditioner showed less damage than none.
Another study from 2011 found that using a blow dryer caused more surface damage to hair than natural drying. However, it comes down to how you use a blowdryer. For example, the study found that blow-drying hair 6 inches away with continuous motion caused less damage than air drying your hair or using a hair dryer without motion very close to your hair.
If you regularly use heat styling products and have noticed that your hair is thinning, reduce the frequency with which you use these products. To prevent damage, you should also limit other treatments such as hair dye, bleach, and chemical treatments.
5. Use sulfate-free shampoo
Sulphates are chemicals found in most shampoos and soaps that create a "frothy" effect when they lather.
Sulphates also remove the hair's natural oils and moisture, Umar says, making it dry and brittle, making it easier to break.
Switching to a sulfate-free shampoo won't stop hair loss, however, Umar says. Using a sulfate-free shampoo can help retain the natural oils in your hair, reduce irritation, and potentially prevent future damage like hair loss.
Insider to take away
Unless you have underlying health conditions that are causing hair loss, there is no proven way to thicken your hair. However, you can improve overall hair health by following a nutritious diet, limiting heat styling, and using a sulfate-free shampoo. Healthier hair means less damage and breakage, which allows hair to grow longer and thicker.
Related Articles from Health Reference:
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The 6 best natural ingredients for your hair
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