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Between postpartum hair loss (six times!) and Hashimoto’s, I saw too much hair go down the drain in the past. I use castor oil for hair growth and this hair growth serum, but there’s a lot more to how to stop thinning hair. Here I cover how to care for thin hair and encourage hair growth.
What Causes Thin Hair in Women?
It’s possible to fix thinning hair, but we need to know why it’s falling out in the first place. There are several reasons why women experience thinning hair.
Unlike men, women don’t usually get a receding hairline or a bald spot, but hair doesn’t grow as it should. Hair has a shorter growth cycle over the crown, falls out quicker, and the wispy hairs are short.
Postpartum Hair Loss
It’s normal to lose a few dozen hairs a day, but hair doesn’t fall out like it usually does during pregnancy. After baby is born though, those thick tresses can come out by the handful, so hair looks thinner than usual.
Hair loss in women that resembles male pattern baldness could mean a hormone imbalance, like excess male hormones. Doctors often recommend hormone therapy drugs for this type of hair loss. Unfortunately these drugs can cause side effects and aren’t safe during pregnancy.
Hormonal changes during menopause can also contribute to thinning hair.
Too Many Manly Hormones
Hyperandrogenism is when a woman’s body makes too many male hormones, called androgens. These extra male hormones can cause hair loss. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of extra male hormones. PCOS is linked with hair loss, obesity, acne, irregular menstrual cycles, and infertility.
Hormones play a big part in our hair’s growth cycle. We need estrogens to help our hair stay in the growth phase for the right amount of time. Male hormones, aka androgens, aren’t as hair friendly and make hair’s growth cycle shorter.
When these hormones are out of whack, hair can suffer.
It’s in the Genes
It’s not as common as other forms of thinning hair, but female pattern hair loss is mostly genetic. Genes passed down from either mom or dad tell the scalp to shed more hair than usual. It can start as early as the teen years and the earlier it happens the more severe hair loss is likely to be. Hair thinning at the crown and hair loss on the front of the head are signs of genetic balding.
As someone with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, I know first hand how the thyroid can affect hair. Thyroid imbalances can affect hair follicles and cause hair loss. A sluggish thyroid can also lead to an iron deficiency which makes thinning hair even worse.
Stress levels or a serious illness can actually cause a bad hair day. When we’re under stress our body can respond by upping male hormones. This can then trigger scalp problems like dandruff and hair loss. Stress can also lead to eating changes (hello chocolate binge) and damage digestion, which adds to the thinning hair problem.
Low vitamin B12 can cause low energy, fatigue, and hair loss. Red blood cells need B12 to work and they’re in charge of carrying oxygen to the body. A lack of healthy blood flow to the scalp causes… you guessed it, hair loss.
Our blood also needs iron to work right and feed the scalp for healthy hair. According to a 2006 article in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology low iron levels, even without anemia, can cause thinning hair.
Damaging Hair Styles
Nope, I’m not talking about an 80s mullet. Tight hairstyles pull on hair follicles and can cause thinning hair according to Mayo Clinic. Tight ponytails, cornrows, certain hair products, and heat from styling tools (like curling irons and hair dryers) damage hair and can cause it to thin.
Conventional Hair Treatments for Thinning Hair
Drugs for thin hair are available, but merely keeps symptoms at bay. If the drug isn’t used every day for the rest of your life, hair will return to its thin self. Scientists report this drug seems to stimulate hair growth, but they’re not sure how it works.
According to the Mayo Clinic, drugs typically given for hair thinning can cause chest pain, rapid heart rate, itching, flaking, redness and scalp irritation, and lower sex drive. Not only does it help grow a full head of hair, but it could give you a mustache and facial hair too!
A 2014 article reported only 30% of people who try hair loss drugs keep taking them because the side effects are too severe. Of course, you should consult with your doctor and do your research to find out the best option for you.
Natural Remedies for Thinning Hair
If you’re looking for natural options for regrowing or slowing down hair loss, there are lots of options! From vitamins to foods to natural oils and hair products, you can get to the root cause (no pun intended) and try these methods.
1. Nutrients and Vitamins
We are what we eat and the same is true for our hair. A stressed and malnourished body can’t keep a healthy scalp and thick locks. The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements recommends the following nutrients for healthy, thick hair:
- Iron – Red blood cells need iron to work and shuttle nutrients to the scalp for healthy hair. Heme iron from animal sources in much better absorbed than non-heme iron from plants. Iron-containing foods from plants are poorly absorbed because they also contain iron inhibitors that prevent us from absorbing iron. Good sources of iron include grass-fed red meat and oysters.
- Vitamin C – This antioxidant is a must for proper iron absorption. Most people think of orange juice when they think vitamin C, but peppers are actually a much higher source. Vitamin C is also found in rose hips, camu-camu powder, citrus fruit, and kiwi. You can also get vitamin C from a high quality supplement.
- Vitamin A – Our scalp needs vitamin A to make sebum, the thick liquid that conditions and moisturizes hair. Orange and red vegetables have beta-carotene, not preformed vitamin A. Many of us have issues effectively converting beta-carotene to usable vitamin A. The highest sources of preformed vitamin A include grass-fed meats, cod liver oil, pastured milk, and free-range eggs.
- Biotin – This B vitamin helps keep hair strong to prevent breakage and thinning. Biotin is highest in beef liver, egg yolk, and salmon.
- Zinc – The mineral zinc helps with tissue growth and repair, including hair. Grass-fed beef and pumpkin seeds are good sources.
- Avoid Bad Fats – Unhealthy trans fats and processed foods increase inflammation and contribute to hormone imbalances, like high DHT. Too much DHT can mean hair loss. It’s best to avoid processed vegetable oils, like canola, soy, and corn. Real olive oil is full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids that keep our body (and hair) at its best. A 2009 research article in Chemistry and Biodiversity found healthy saturated fats actually block extra DHT from forming.
2. Herbal Remedies
Herbs are powerful and have been used for millennia! Try:
According to Dr. Sharol Tilgner’s 2009 book Herbal Medicine, gotu kola can help with thinning hair. This herb can help the body cope with stress, reduces inflammation, speeds healing time, and stimulates circulation for hair growth.
Be careful though, since pregnant mamas should avoid this herb.
Horsetail and Oatstraw
Both of these herbs are high in the nutrient silica for strong hair and nails. Horsetail can be used on the scalp or taken as a tea or tincture, but there are more safety precautions when it’s ingested. Dr. Tilgner warns that taking horsetail supplements all the time can cause a B1 deficiency and it’s not safe to ingest while pregnant.
Ginkgo strengthens hair, stimulates blood flow to the scalp, and boosts antioxidants according to the Herbal Academy of New England. This herb may interfere with certain medications so talk with your healthcare provider before using ginkgo if you take prescription meds. Ginkgo is available as a tea, standardized capsules, or in tincture form.
Saw palmetto herb is commonly used in men, but it can help reverse thinning hair too. This herb balances testosterone levels to help fix thinning hair due to a hormone imbalance.
Research from 2009 tracked men and women applying saw palmetto lotion and shampoo for three months. Over a third of the people in the study had thicker hair after using the saw palmetto products. Nearly 40% of men who took saw palmetto capsules every day for 2 years had more hair growth.
Researchers found the herb was more effective for mild and moderate hair loss than the hair loss drug finasteride. PCOS can cause hair loss, but saw palmetto is used to treat both thinning hair and other PCOS symptoms.
Panax or American ginseng is anti-inflammatory, boosts circulation, and helps reduce hair loss. Unfortunately ginseng’s popularity has caused overharvesting and it is an endangered plant.
Ethically sourced ginseng can be taken as a tincture or 1 gram in capsules twice daily according to the Winston and Maimes book, Adaptogens.
Hibiscus makes a delicious tea, but it may also help reverse thinning hair. A 2003 study found hibiscus salve improved hair growth.
Hibiscus tea is high in vitamin C and can be used as a hair rinse or drank to help hair growth. I do think it might get messy to rub hibiscus salve on your hair like in the study!
Exercise helps keep the body in shape and running at its best, but it also helps thinning hair. When we exercise it reduces stress and boosts circulation, both of which are important for hair growth.
Red light therapy or LLLT can help keep hair looking its best. A 2019 article reported positive results. In all eleven of the light therapy trials, participants saw improvement in hair loss and thickness compared to the control group.
5. Pumpkin Seed Oil
Pumpkin seed oil has phytosterols that reduce hormone imbalances that can lead to hair loss. In one study, people who took 400 mg of pumpkin seed oil every day for 24 weeks saw a 40% improvement in hair thickness.
6. Castor Oil
Castor oil is a thick, sticky liquid that’s fabulous for hair growth. It’s antibacterial and antifungal to help keep the scalp healthy. Even better castor oil has ricinoleic acid to boost circulation for thicker, stronger hair. Certain hair products (including overly alkaline no-poo options) can damage the scalp, but castor oil helps restore pH balance. Here’s how I use castor oil for fast hair growth.
7. Onion Juice
Yes, really! Who knows what prompted people to rub onion juice on their heads but I’m glad they did!
A 2012 article examined onion juice for hair loss. In this study men and women applied onion juice twice a day and saw hair growth after just 2 weeks. By week six 71 percent of women and nearly 94 percent of men had hair re-growth compared to just 13 percent in the control group.
Onions are rich in the antioxidant quercetin. In this animal study, researchers injected mice with quercetin to effectively treat and prevent hair loss caused by inflammation and autoimmune disease.
8. Green Tea
While I don’t drink green tea all the time (here’s why), it’s rich in antioxidant phytosterols that have been shown to prevent and treat thinning hair. A 2007 article found it can help with hair growth. These phytosterols lower inflammation and help inhibit hormone activity that leads to hair loss.
Also known as vitamin B3 Niacin is essential for a healthy scalp and hair. A 2005 study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology examined this vitamin. The study involved 60 women with genetic hair loss. Niacin supplementation greatly increased the women’s hair fullness over a 6 month period.
This vitamin (along with hair nourishing biotin) is rich in egg yolks. Grandma was onto something with her egg shampoo!
10. Essential Oils for Thinning Hair
Rosemary essential oil went head to head with a common hair loss drug and came out on top. Research from Skinmed yielded surprising results. In the study, rosemary essential oil increased scalp circulation and worked as well as the drug, but with less scalp irritation.
A 1998 study in JAMA Dermatology also looked at essential oils for hair loss. Study participants used a blend of cedarwood, lavender, and rosemary on their scalps. Compared to the control group, the essential oil group saw significant improvement in hair growth and thickness.
The Plant Therapy blog (one of my favorite brands) suggests the following essential oils for hair growth:
2 drops of Frankincense Carteri Essential Oil
2 drops of Geranium Essential Oil
1 tsp of Argan Carrier Oil
1 tsp of Evening Primrose Carrier Oil
11. Hair Shampoo & Products
Heavy hair care products weigh hair down and contribute to breakage. Conventional hair products are loaded with toxins that can contribute to hormone imbalances that make thinning hair worse.
Even many no-poo options aren’t pH balanced for the scalp and over time can cause hair loss. Here are some scalp healthy, natural options for those with thinning hair:
Here are some of my favorite recipes for thinning hair. If you’re short on time, I’ve also included links to healthy options to purchase.
- How to use castor oil for fast hair growth
- DIY herbal hair rinse for shiny strong hair
- How to use essential oils for healthy hair
- DIY hair mask to strengthen hair
- Deep conditioning molasses hair mask
- Hair growth serum
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
- Adhirajan, N., Ravi Kumar, T., Shanmugasundaram, N., & Babu, M. (2003). In vivo and in vitro evaluation of hair growth potential of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Linn. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 88(2-3), 235-9. DOI: 10.1016/s0378-8741(03)00231-9
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- Kwon, O., Han, J., Yoo, H., Chung, J., Cho, K., Eun, HC., & Kim, H. (2007). Human hair growth enhancement in vitro by green tea epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). Phytomedicine. 14(7-8), 551-5. DOI: 10.1016/j.phymed.2006.09.009
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- Murugusundram, S. (2009). Serenoa Repens: Does It have Any Role in the Management of Androgenetic Alopecia? Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery. 2(1), 31–32.doi: 10.4103/0974-2077.53097
- Panahi, Y., Taghizadeh, M., Marzony, E., & Sahebkar, A. (2015). Rosemary oil vs minoxidil 2% for the treatment of androgenetic alopecia: a randomized comparative trial. Skinmed. 13(1), 15-21.
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- Wikramanayake, T., Villasante, A., Mauro, L., Perez,C., Schachner, L., & Jimenez, J. (2012). Prevention and treatment of alopecia areata with quercetin in the C3H/HeJ mouse model. Cell Stress Chaperones. 17(2), 267-274. doi: 10.1007/s12192-011-0305-3