A person’s hair is so much more than just some strands on top of their head. It’s not unusual to feel an emotional attachment to your hair. That’s why it comes as such a shock when we notice that our hair is thinning. While thinning hair is sometimes uncontrollable, understanding the causes can help you build a plan to return your hair to its naturally healthy state.

A family history of thinning hair

Despite our best efforts, sometimes thinning hair is beyond our control. Some people are born with genes that eventually lead to thinning hair and even hair loss. The most common form of genetic hair loss is androgenic alopecia, also known as male-pattern baldness. In females, this condition causes the hair to become thinner all over the head rather than receding from the front. You may notice your hair thinning as you age, with it becoming most prominent in your 40s and 50s.

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Working the hair too much

Many people experience hair thinning because they overwork their hair. You may have heard advice about not dying your hair too frequently, but there are many other treatments that can trigger hair thinning. Hairdryers, curlers, and straighteners that heat the hair are common culprits. Generally, hair becomes noticeably drier or “crunchier” when it is unhealthy. If you notice this, take a break from hair treatments and let your hair recover.

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Hair product ingredients and additives

Sometimes, products that we use to make our hair look better actually cause extensive damage. Many different hair products can thin your hair thanks to common ingredients and additives. Shampoos that contain diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA) can cause hair dryness and scalp irritation that leads to thinning hair. Various foaming agents may dehydrate hair, so certain individuals should avoid sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium chloride, and polyethylene glycol.

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Wearing hair too tightly

Not only can what you put in your hair lead to thinning hair, but so can how you style it. Particularly tight hairstyles, such as cornrows, buns, braids, or ponytails, can contribute to hair loss known as traction alopecia, especially if you use hair products to help achieve the style. In some cases, powerful gels or hairsprays can also cause traction alopecia. If possible, begin wearing looser hairstyles or change your hairstyle every few weeks.

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Missing nutrients in a diet

A person’s diet can dramatically affect the way their hair looks and feels. In order to create healthy hair, the body needs various nutrients. Vitamin deficiencies, particularly involving vitamin D, are often responsible for thinning hair. Protein is also key to growing luxurious locks, so people who don’t eat animal products may need to go the extra mile to get it from other sources. Thinning hair and hair loss are both symptoms of malnutrition and various eating disorders.

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Stress may lead to thinning hair

Periods of extreme stress can also cause a person’s hair to thin. Medical experts refer to this as telogen effluvium. Stress-related telogen effluvium typically occurs around three months after the stressful event. While it may persist for several months afterward, hair typically returns to its natural volume once a person feels less stress. Try meditation, yoga, or similar activities to help manage your stress to make sure your hair stays healthy and happy.

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Major life events and thinning hair

A variety of life events may be responsible for thinning hair. Significant weight loss is another common trigger for telogen effluvium. In some cases, the caloric deficit while dieting is enough to cause hair to thin, even before you notice weight changes. Hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause have a wide range of effects, with thinning hair being one of the most common. Hair volume can recover after pregnancy.

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Medications and other treatments

Hair loss and thinning hair are common side effects of many different medications. Treatments for cancer, arthritis, heart problems, gout, high blood pressure, and depression are typical offenders. Additionally, radiation therapy to the head can change the way the hair grows back. In some cases, this manifests as thinner hair. If you feel concerned about your hair, speak with a doctor to see if there is an alternative medication.

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Inflammatory conditions on the scalp

Thinning hair may also result from inflammatory conditions affecting the scalp. Eczema and psoriasis are common skin diseases that cause red, itchy patches of skin. You may notice your hair thinning or falling out as these patches develop. Frontal fibrosing alopecia is a rarer condition that causes scarring and hair loss above the forehead. People who notice red patches developing on their bodies should speak with a dermatologist to see what treatments are possible.

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Thinning hair due to serious conditions

Unfortunately, sometimes thinning hair and hair loss are signs of a much worse issue, especially if they occur before age 50. Autoimmune diseases often feature hair loss among their long lists of symptoms. Alopecia areata, lupus, Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s disease, Crohn’s disease, and inflammatory bowel disease are some of the most common. In many of these diseases, hair thinning may come in waves and even improve at points.

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