"I'm Losing It!"
Thinning hair can be devastating. But we have calming news.
You're not alone. Up to 60 percent of women experience hair loss at some point. The causes are multiple—genetics, hormones (too much thyroid, not enough thyroid, low estrogen, high androgen), or trauma (an allergic reaction, high fever, stress). The most common, and chronic, cause is a genetic condition called androgenetic alopecia.
Help has arrived. If your hair loss was triggered by a specific event (like a reaction to a new medication), it will grow back once that issue is addressed. If it's chronic, there are two FDA-approved treatments available. Minoxidil (brand name Rogaine) comes in 2 percent and 5 percent over-the-counter formulas; applied topically twice a day, it can help stop thinning and (in about 40 percent of women) regrow some hair. If you're postmenopausal, your doctor can prescribe finasteride (brand names Propecia and Proscar), an oral medication that stops the production of one of the androgens that can exacerbate hair loss (most doctors won't prescribe it to women in their childbearing years because it could cause birth defects in a male fetus). Some doctors also use lasers to help treat hair loss, but there are no large independent studies proving their efficacy. If you'd consider surgery, you could be a candidate for a hair transplant, which can now create natural-looking results in women.
The future looks bright. Two areas of research that are particularly promising:
1. The drug company Allergan is currently seeking FDA approval for a topical hair-loss treatment containing bimatoprost, the active ingredient in the eyelash-growing drug Latisse. Clinical trials are under way, and doctors estimate that a treatment could be available in 2014.
2. Researchers have already shown—in mice—that it is possible to use stem cells to grow new hair. "Within the next ten years, that technology could be a reality for humans," says Michael Longaker, MD, codirector of Stanford School of Medicine Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. Stem cells would be removed from an area where you have dense hair growth, then injected into thinning areas to stimulate new growth.
The Truth About Hair Growth Supplements
"I have never seen a study that proves vitamin supplements work to make hair grow longer or thicker," says Jerry Shapiro, MD, an adjunct professor of dermatology at New York University whose practice specializes in treating hair loss. If you're losing hair, supplements can help stop or slow the shedding—but only if you have a deficiency in certain vitamins. Shapiro suggests supplements for patients whose blood tests show that they are low in vitamin D, zinc, or iron. He doesn't even test, however, for deficiency in biotin—the vitamin most commonly found in supplements marketed to help hair growth. "If you were truly biotin deficient—which is extremely rare in this country—you would be too sick to make it into my office."
Illusions of Thickness
Hair loss treatments can take up to a year to work. In the meantime, the right hairstyle will camouflage thinning. Keep your cut above shoulder length—if your hair is too long, it will look wispy, says New York City hairstylist Sam Brocato. Blunt ends make hair look thicker, so skip layers. When hair is thinning at the crown but still thick in front, bangs give a fuller look. And readers on oprah.com rave about two products for concealing thinning hair: Toppik ($22; toppik.com), a shake-on powder made of tiny keratin fibers that cling to your existing hair to fill in sparse patches, and Joan Rivers Beauty Great Hair Day ($30; qvc.com), a pressed powder that helps eliminate the shine from exposed scalp (and camouflages roots, too). If you've lost all or most of your hair (for whatever reason—chemo, genetics, an autoimmune disease like alopecia areata), you might want to consider a wig. The good and bad news: You have hundreds of options. Go to oprah.com/wigs for help sorting through them.
Next: Does your hair fall flat—no matter what you do?