Lemme just say that you definitely aren’t alone if you’ve been wondering why TF your hair is thinning in your 20s. It’s almost like the moment I graduated college, I noticed I was losing a lot more hair in the shower, and my ponytail looked way skinnier than it did in my ~youth~. But here’s the thing: Hair loss and thinning is ridiculously common (seriously, it's estimated that 50 percent of women will experience noticeable hair loss at some point in their lives), and there are many reasons as to why it can happen (hi, stress, genetics, and hormones).
That's why I caught up with trichologist Dominic Burg, chief scientist at Evolis Professional, to figure out how exactly to identify hair thinning (spoiler: it all starts with an appointment with a dermatologist or trichologist), how to treat it with products that work, and so much more.
Is it normal to lose your hair in your 20s?
Um, hi, yes, it's absolutely normal to experience hair loss or thinning in your 20s—especially when you think about all the factors that cause it in the first place. Hair lives in a four-step cycle, not just one. It grows, it rests, it falls, and then it regenerates. And because there are are a number of different genes involved in this cycle, it’s super easy to upset the process, says Burg. Lucky you. Still, even though there are a ton of reasons someone may be experiencing hair loss, these are the most common:
1. Extreme dieting
Yes, yes, we all know the importance of eating a balanced diet, but you probably didn’t know that your diet can directly affect your hair growth. “If you’re restricting your body of nutrients, it will shift energy away from your hair and divert it to your vital organs, like your heart, lungs, or brain,” says Burg. “Hair isn't essential for survival, but it’s very energy intensive.”
Translation: Hair requires a lottttt of energy to grow, and if you aren’t eating enough protein, iron, vitamins, and fatty acids, you’re basically guaranteeing some hair loss or thinning (which, by the way, you won’t notice until about three months after you start restricting your eating, after your hair has passed through its resting and falling phase).
Turns out sleeping next to your iPhone so you can answer your boss’s emails all night definitely isn’t doing any favors for your hair. According to Burg, stress (whether it’s chronic or sudden) can slow down the hair cycle. When you’re stressed, your body produces a hormone called cortisol, which can prematurely push your hair into its resting phase (i.e., when the hair isn’t growing). Doctors call this hair loss "telogen effluvium," and it's what some COVID-19 long haulers have experienced in the last year. Stress-related hair loss typically isn't permanent, but it can leave you with excessive shedding that lasts around six to nine months.
3. Hormonal changes
Surprise! Hormones also play a role in your hair cycle. Some women are more sensitive to hormonal changes than others, says Burg, but changing or starting a new birth control can definitely impact your hair growth and hair loss. “Hormones are really important in the hair cycle,” he says. “Changing your birth-control pills can cause hair loss in some women, and it often takes a couple rounds of pills to find one that works for you.”
The same goes for pregnancy too. “The high levels of estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy can make your hair grow faster and feel silkier,” he says. “But when the baby is born, these levels drop dramatically, and you’ll typically see some hair fall three months later.” But, hey, at least you’ve got a cute little baby to distract you, right?
4. Medical conditions and genetics
I’ll preface this by saying the number of medical reasons that could contribute to hair loss are vast—and the only way to get a definitive answer is to see your doctor or a trichologist (and, nope, a late-night, anxiety-induced Google search does not count). If you eat a balanced diet, live relatively stress-free, and haven’t had any major hormonal changes or pregnancies, yet you’re still noticing hair loss, the next step is to make an appointment with your doc.
Medical conditions aside, early-onset hair loss can also be hereditary. Burg says it’s more of a myth that hair loss can be passed down from either your mother or father—if you’ve got a grandmother or aunt on either side of your family with thinning hair, there’s a chance you can have it too. Love you, fam!
What's the difference between hair thinning and receding?
If your hair is thinning primarily on your frontal scalp (i.e., that area where your forehead meets your scalp) versus the entire head, you may be dealing with a receding hairline. “With a thinning hairline, it’s a reduction of hair fibers in each hair follicle, which creates the appearance of less density,” Florida-based trichologist Bridgette Hill has told Cosmo. “But with receding, it’s a reduction of actual hair follicles that become dormant and die off, leading to a higher hairline and the forehead becoming more obvious.”
Just like hair loss and thinning, there are a number of factors that can contribute to a receding hairline (including traction alopecia, excessive hairstyling habits, and genetic hair loss, says Hill), which is why it's so important to meet with a dermatologist or trichologist who can assess your scalp and hair and give you a clear plan of action before you do an-y-thing.
Can hair grow back after thinning?
That totally depends on what's causing your thinning in the first place (think: If you're dealing with genetic hair loss, you likely won't find as much success with topical treatments or prescriptions as someone with stress-related hair loss might). And, like, not to sound like a broken record here, but this is just another reason why you should always, always see a professional to diagnose your hair loss before you make any decisions. At the end of the day, early prevention is key with any form of hair loss, so book an appointment if you've noticed thinning and want to get ahead of it.
How do I tell if my hair is shedding or thinning?
It’s the question I ask myself most mornings: How exactly do you figure out if your hair is actually thinning or if you’re just shedding a little more than usual? “You lose about 50 to 100 hairs every day, which is about 0.001 percent of your hair,” says Burg. “Now, when you notice that amount doubling or tripling, that’s an indication that your hair cycle is too short.” Reminder: If your hair cycle speeds up, it goes through its resting and falling stages too quickly, which can lead to less hair on your pretty little head.
Other than monitoring the amount of hair you lose in the shower or on your hair brush, you’ll want to check your ponytail (does it feel thinner or less bulky than usual?), your part (is it widening?), and your scalp (can you see it reflecting under bright lights?). If you are noticing any of the above, don’t freak, here’s what you can do next:
How can I stop losing my hair in my 20s?
First things first: Turn back the clock about three months and see if anything major happened in your life. If you’ve experienced a huge amount of stress (like maybe a global pandemic?) or had a significant change in diet, there’s a good chance it’ll line up with your hair loss. The good news? Diet and stress-related hair loss are both relatively easy to correct if you catch them early enough.
That aside, Burg recommends seeing a professional who can help identify next steps. Usually, patients are prescribed topical solutions and medications (the most common being Rogaine), although they’re known to have side effects (like scalp or eye irritation, along with unwanted hair growth if you apply it incorrectly) and should always be used under medical supervision.
Just keep in mind that those viral hair-growth vitamins you’re seeing all over your Insta feed are not a solution to hair loss. “Don’t buy into the hype of these miracle pills that promise a change overnight,” says Burg. “Hair growth takes time—think: half an inch a month. Even hair-loss treatments that work take time, so you usually won’t see results for three to four months.”
The takeaway? Even though hair loss and thinning are complex, it’s relatively simple to narrow down potential causes. Eat healthy, de-stress when you can, and closely monitor how much hair you’re losing before convincing yourself there’s a serious problem. And if there is a genuine concern? Book an appointment with a trichologist or dermatologist. “Hair loss is a lot more common than most women realize,” says Burg. “There are really good solutions out there and they are getting better all the time.”
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