As people get older, their hair often starts losing volume and thickness. However, hair loss can also result from a health condition, nutrient deficiencies, stress, and other factors.

Treatment can often help manage hair loss that occurs with aging by boosting hair health, thickness, and strength. Hair that falls out due to a health condition often regrows in time.

In this article, we look at why hair thins. We also discuss some of the treatments and home remedies available.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, most people lose 50–100 hairs each day, as old hair falls out, and new hair regrows from the same hair follicles.

Sometimes, however, hair loss can happen at a faster rate.

Factors that can contribute to additional hair loss include:

The following sections give more details about some of the causes of thinning hair.

Male or female pattern hair loss

Androgenetic alopecia, which health experts also refer to it as male pattern and female pattern baldness, results from genetic and hormonal factors.

It affects around 50 million males and 30 million females in the United States. Approximately half of all people will experience it at some point.

The condition can occur at any age but is more common among:

  • males aged 50 years or older
  • females during menopause
  • people with a close relative who has androgenetic alopecia

In males, hair thinning tends to occur from the hairline to the back of the head and resembles an “M” shape. In females, it tends to affect the crown of the head.

Early treatment can often slow or stop hair loss.

Alopecia areata

Alopecia areata causes hair loss in round patches on the scalp. It can also affect the eyebrows, beard, and other hair, as well as the nails. Around 2% of people will experience it at some time in their lives.

The risk of the condition increases with age, but alopecia areata appears on average in people aged 25–36 years. Genetic factors may play a role, and there are links with other autoimmune conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus, or lupus.

Alopecia areata is a non-scarring type of hair loss, and the hair follicles remain alive, which means the hair can regrow. Doctors may treat alopecia areata with an injection into the scalp every 4–6 weeks for up to 6 months.

Diet

The body needs nutrients to create new hair strands and maintain healthy hair follicles. Malnutrition, low protein levels, and vitamin deficiencies can increase the risk of hair loss.

Scientists have found low levels of the following nutrients in people with hair loss and other hair changes:

  • protein
  • iron
  • zinc
  • vitamin B3, or niacin
  • fatty acids
  • selenium
  • vitamin D
  • biotin

A dietary deficiency may also cause:

  • brittle hair shafts
  • a dull appearance to hair
  • skin and scalp dryness
  • sparse, light-colored hair in children

A balanced diet may help promote strong, healthy hair. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe supplements.

Learn about vitamin D deficiency and hair loss here.

Stress

Telogen effluvium is a non-scarring type of hair loss. It is often acute, which means it occurs suddenly and for a limited time, but it can also be chronic, or long-term. It can happen several months after a stressful experience.

Telogen effluvium can stem from physical or emotional stress, such as:

  • an acute febrile illness
  • a severe infection
  • surgery
  • a traumatic injury
  • a fall in estrogen levels after giving birth
  • crash dieting
  • low levels of protein or iron
  • the use of some medications
  • emotional stress, for example, due to a loss of a loved one, divorce, or big move

In acute cases, the hair usually regrows. In chronic cases, shedding may continue, but a person will usually retain a reasonable head of hair.

Hair loss due to aging tends to happen gradually, with changes occurring over several years.

However, hair loss can sometimes occur more rapidly, over months or even weeks.

This can happen with:

  • cancer treatment
  • alopecia areata
  • infections
  • some medications
  • stress
  • hormonal changes, such as after giving birth or due to a thyroid problem
  • inflammatory alopecias, such as central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia, commonly occurring at the crown of the head in Black females and males

If a person has unexpected and rapid hair loss, they should seek medical advice. They may need treatment for an underlying condition.

Treatment for thinning hair will depend on the cause.

Minoxidil and finasteride have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to treat androgenetic alopecia.

Minoxidil

Minoxidil comes in strengths of 2% or 5%. People apply the product directly to the areas of thinning hair.

Hair growth may take 6–12 months to improve, but if a person stops using the treatment, hair loss will recur.

Possible side effects include:

  • contact dermatitis
  • skin irritation
  • excessive hair growth on the face and other areas of the body

Finasteride

Finasteride (Propecia) is an oral medication. A person will take 1 milligram daily.

Doctors prescribe this drug for males and females between puberty and menopause who have not seen an improvement after using minoxidil.

Possible side effects include:

A number of home remedies may improve hair growth, although not all of them have scientific backing.

A person should consult a doctor before using a home remedy, including herbal remedies, for hair loss.

Eat hair-healthy foods

Proteins, fats, and certain vitamins and minerals are important for hair health.

Foods that contain hair-healthy nutrients include:

  • Brazil nuts, which contain selenium
  • fatty fish, a good source of omega-3 fatty acids
  • walnuts, another source of omega-3 fatty acids
  • eggs, which contain protein and biotin
  • fortified foods and dairy products, which can boost vitamin D levels

Here, learn more about foods that may boost hair growth.

Try essential oils

Some people use essential oils to boost hair growth. However, research into their effectiveness is lacking.

A person should always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil, such as jojoba or coconut oil. They should never apply an essential oil without diluting it first, and they should never take an essential oil by mouth.

Some oils that may boost hair growth are:

Rosemary oil

Some studies suggest that rosemary oil could improve scalp health by increasing blood flow. A healthy scalp is important for hair growth.

A 2015 trial compared rosemary oil with minoxidil 2%. After 6 months, both the participants applying rosemary oil and those applying topical minoxidil experienced significant hair growth.

Learn more about rosemary oil and hair growth here.

Peppermint oil

Peppermint oil can stimulate circulation and may help treat thinning hair.

In a 2014 animal study, peppermint led to more hair growth over 4 weeks than saltwater, jojoba oil, or minoxidil 3%.

The researchers measured hair growth by assessing hair thickness and follicle number and depth.

Other oils

According to older research from 2011, other oils that people use for hair growth include:

How can lavender benefit the skin?

Although research suggests that essential oils may have some health benefits, it is important to remember that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor or regulate the purity or quality of these. A person should talk with a healthcare professional before using essential oils, and they should be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. A person should always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.

Scalp massage

Massaging the scalp may also help promote blood flow. This in turn may encourage hair to grow. Performing a gentle scalp massage using essential oils could provide extra benefits.

Other natural remedies

According to a 2019 review of alternative treatments for alopecia, the following ingredients may promote hair growth:

  • capsaicin, a compound present in red chili peppers
  • ginseng, an herb with traditional use as a hair loss remedy
  • garlic gel, due to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties
  • onion juice, which may stimulate hair follicles
  • procyanidins, a class of flavonoid antioxidants present in apples, cinnamon, and grapes
  • caffeine, which may promote cell proliferation and hair growth

Stress reduction

The authors of a 2019 review suggest the following practices to help reduce stress and anxiety:

Here, learn which natural remedies can help manage stress and anxiety.

Doctors can often diagnose the cause of thinning hair by looking at the pattern of hair loss.

They may ask a person about:

  • their current diet
  • other medical conditions
  • a family history of thinning hair
  • a family history of medical conditions that can cause thinning hair

The doctor may send hair or scalp samples to a laboratory for further testing. They may also order blood tests to rule out an underlying condition.

In most cases, thinning hair does not result from overall health issues. If a person is concerned about hair loss or if it affects their mental well-being, they may wish to consult a doctor.

Individuals should also seek guidance from a healthcare professional if they notice:

  • sudden or unexpected hair loss
  • hair that falls out in clumps
  • the appearance of bald patches
  • hair loss with itching and burning

A person may need treatment for an underlying condition. A dermatologist can also help find a suitable treatment option.

Here are some questions people often ask about thinning hair.

Can thinning hair grow back?

It depends on the reason for hair thinning. Hair that falls out due to cancer treatment, for example, usually starts growing back 3–6 months after treatment.

Hair that falls out after childbirth usually returns 6–9 months later. If hair loss occurs with aging, some medical treatments may help restore growth.

Why is my hair suddenly thinning?

Sudden hair loss can happen for various reasons, including stress, an underlying condition, and some medical treatments. Anyone who notices sudden, unexpected hair loss should seek medical advice.

What shampoo is best for thinning hair?

Shampoos cannot prevent hair loss or bring hair back, but a moisturizing shampoo can help the hair retain moisture, making it look thicker and fuller. It may also help slow thinning by reducing the risk of breakage.

What are some of the best shampoos for hair loss?

As a person gets older, it is natural for their hair to lose strength and volume. Sometimes, hair loss can also result from stress or an underlying health condition. In this case, the hair often regrows over time.

Some treatments and home remedies can help improve the hair’s strength and overall health. It may help boost growth or slow hair loss.

Anyone with concerns about hair loss or who has sudden, unexpected hair loss should consult a healthcare professional.