The Best Treatments For Thinning Hair
Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Grace Gallagher
A list of things you don’t want to see (in no particular order): a long line at self-checkout when you only need to buy one thing, your child falling asleep right as the plane lands and your scalp while looking at your hair in the mirror.
These are common frustrations — androgenic alopecia, also known as male pattern baldness or androgenetic alopecia, affects up to 50 percent of men 40 and older. But that doesn’t mean you want them to happen to you.
While you may not be able to control the checkout line or your kid’s sleep habits, you can do something about hair thinning.
Ahead, we’ll share the best products and treatments for thinning hair — from prescription hair loss medications to at-home remedies and hair loss products. We’ll also go over the causes of thinning hair.
Thinning Hair vs. Hair Loss
Here’s where things can get confusing. Thinning hair and hair loss aren’t exactly the same thing, but they share a bunch of commonalities.
Imagine a Venn diagram of thinning hair versus hair loss. In the overlapping section, you’d see that both cause more of your scalp to be visible (and both suck, if we’re being honest).
How Do You Know If Your Hair Is Thinning?
Thinning hair is related to hair density. This means if you’re noticing thinning hair, you either have fewer strands on your head or the individual strands are becoming thinner because of shrinking hair follicles.
Think of your scalp like a cheese grater for a second (just stay with us here). The follicles are the holes on the grater, and your hair is the cheese — the smaller the holes, the finer the shredded cheese. So, if your follicles are shrinking, each hair has a smaller diameter. That’s thinning hair.
Thinning hair doesn’t always cause baldness, but it can give the hair an uneven or sparse appearance. Maybe your part is wider, or if you have longer hair, you can wrap your elastic an additional time around your ponytail.
Hair thinning is generally considered progressive hair loss — it tends to develop slowly over time and is a common symptom of androgenetic alopecia (aka male pattern baldness).
More on this later, but the abridged version is that male pattern baldness shrinks hair follicles (also called hair follicle miniaturization). And now we’ve come full circle back to the cheese grater.
How Do You Know If You’re Losing Hair?
On the other hand, true hair loss is when you have a bald spot or concentrated round patches on the scalp. It’s often related to a condition called alopecia areata, which happens when the immune system attacks the hair follicles.
We’ll break this all down further below.
What Causes Thinning Hair?
There are several causes of thinning hair, which we’ll discuss in a second — but we know you’re probably not here for a full-blown science lesson.
You’re likely looking for answers to questions like: What’s the best treatment for thinning hair? Or maybe: What helps thinning hair? Yep, call us Miss Cleo.
Consider this the cliff-notes version, but if you’re interested in doing a deeper dive into any of the causes of thinning hair, our dedicated blog posts cover everything from the causes of hair loss (specifically in men under 25, though most hold true for all ages) and signs of hair loss.
Below are some common causes of thinning hair:
Male androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness)
Certain medical conditions, including autoimmune and thyroid disorders
And as you probably know, thinning hair can simply be part of the aging process.
Learn more about the various treatment options for thinning hair and hair loss below.
Treatments for Thinning Hair
Your buddy made a crack about your hair, and now you’re reaching for the baseball hat daily (and not because it’s especially sunny).
In all seriousness, hair loss and thinning can take a toll on your self-esteem. There needs to be more research on the topic, but alopecia often has a psychological impact, skewing a person’s sense of self and identity.
You’re probably looking for treatments for thinning hair, at least in part, to feel more confident by looking and feeling your best.
Wondering what to do for thinning hair? We spend lots of time mulling this over as well. Good news: Like your baseball cap, we have you covered with hair loss treatments.
Hair Loss Treatments
If you visit a hair loss dermatologist or turn to us, it’s pretty much a guarantee that one of these hair loss treatments will become part of your arsenal.
Read on to learn whether finasteride, minoxidil or low light therapy is right for you (or some combo of the three).
Finasteride (the active ingredient in the prescription oral medication Propecia®) is FDA-approved and proven to slow hair loss and stimulate hair growth in men. Studies show that finasteride can reduce the amount of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in the body, a male sex hormone that plays a role in hair loss.
This means finasteride is effective in treating baldness or thinning hair caused by hormones (aka androgenetic alopecia). So it won’t be your go-to for non-hormonal causes of hair loss, like telogen effluvium.
Topical Finasteride & Minoxidil Spray
The more, the merrier when it comes to topical finasteride & minoxidil spray. This formula combines two hero products, finasteride and minoxidil (the active ingredient in Rogaine®), and it’s as easy to use as hairspray.
These two hair-saving superheroes share a goal but work in different ways. As mentioned, finasteride blocks the male androgen DHT.
Minoxidil Foam and Liquid Solution
If you’re a one-ingredient kind of guy, you’ll be glad to learn minoxidil flies solo as well. It’s available as minoxidil 5% foam and minoxidil 2% liquid solution. Studies show that 5% topical minoxidil is more effective than 2%.
The foam is a good option if you’ve experienced the possible side effects of irritation or redness from the solution. This formula doesn’t contain propylene glycol, a water-soluble alcohol researchers think might be responsible for irritation in some users.
Low-Level Laser Light Therapy
Some research shows that low light therapy for hair loss is a promising hair loss remedy. Red or near-infrared laser light helps repair tissue and promote regeneration — for this reason, red light is often used to heal acne or scarring.
Then there’s low-intensity light called low-level laser therapy (LLLT), which stimulates cellular activity. One study suggests that these two properties combined may improve various non-scarring alopecias. But we should note that both humans and mice were studied, and there was only a small human sample size.
You can buy laser devices to treat hair loss at home (though, as you might expect, they’re not cheap). If you go this route, the American Academy of Dermatology mentions that some of these devices are FDA-cleared.
(Being “cleared” is different from being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but it’s still safer than nothing).
Another study compared people using a helmet-style LLLT device to those using a similar-looking sham placebo device. After 24 weeks of treatment, the LLLT group showed significantly greater hair density than the sham device group. They also had greater hair diameter, which is promising for those with thinning hair.
Remedies for Thinning Hair
If you’re not ready for an oral or topical hair loss medication, consider these remedies for thinning hair — they’re effective for all types of hair loss, no prescription required.
Keep Your Hair Clean
Picture that guy you know with the perpetually greasy hair (there’s always one). Even the fullest head of hair looks stringy, flat and thin when it’s dirty.
The point is, keeping your hair squeaky-clean is an easy way to make thinning hair appear fuller. To prevent breakage, which can cause hair to thin over time, be gentle when applying shampoo and use a conditioner.
Choose the Right Shampoo
Consider this a sign that it’s officially time to ditch the three-in-one soap. Investing in the right haircare products goes a long way in the fight against thinning hair.
A thickening shampoo with saw palmetto might be helpful for hair thinning caused by male androgenetic alopecia (the most common cause of hair loss in men). Saw palmetto is a plant extract that works like finasteride in that it can partially block DHT.
Treat Scalp Conditions
Scratching causes inflammation and damage to the follicle, sometimes resulting in hair thinning. To reduce hair loss from scalp conditions, keep your fingernails short, keep heat styling to a minimum (it can exacerbate dryness of the scalp) and avoid forcibly removing any scales, tempting as it may be.
Give Yourself a Scalp Massage
If all it took to cure baldness was a nice head massage, we’d probably be out of business. So, yeah, there isn’t much research supporting the idea that massaging your scalp aids in hair growth. However, scalp massage may affect hair thickness (but more research is needed there, too).
Here’s the deal: A 2016 study looked at the impact of four minutes of daily massage using a scalp massage device for 24 weeks. The results showed increased hair thickness, potentially due to the massage stretching the hair follicle.
But note that this study had its limitations, most notably that it was only performed on nine men who weren’t even experiencing hair loss.
In another 2019 study, nearly 70 percent of men reported hair loss stabilization or regrowth after six to eight months of a daily 11- to 20-minute standardized scalp massage.
While promising, take this with a grain of salt, as there was no control group, and the study was self-reported, meaning confirmation bias could be at play.
Hims has helped thousands of men regrow their hair
Consider Hair Vitamins and Supplements
If you eat the rainbow, you probably get the nutrients you need for healthy hair through your diet. But if you’re more Garfield than Popeye, you can supplement with vitamins and minerals.
Iron, zinc, vitamin D and vitamin A are all essential for hair health — but don’t overdo vitamin A, as too much can actually contribute to hair loss.
Some evidence supports the idea that supplementing with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and antioxidants helps thinning hair.
The 2015 study (which notably looked at female pattern hair loss, so it’s not a perfect one-to-one) showed that after six months of omega and antioxidant supplementation, hair density improved. What’s more, telogen percentage and the proportion of miniaturized anagen hair were reduced, meaning thicker strands and less shedding.
In fact, according to the National Institute of Health, “severe biotin deficiency in healthy individuals eating a normal mixed diet has never been reported.”
However, if you follow an extreme or limited diet (like if you’re a fruitarian, for example), it’s possible to not get adequate biotin from food sources. You can find out your biotin levels by getting a simple blood test done.
A quick aside: Since the words sound similar, many people mix up biotin and keratin. They’re very different things, though each is a must for healthy hair. Learn more about biotin versus keratin for hair loss in our blog.
Try Stress Management Techniques
You’re not going to immediately go bald after one tense meeting with your boss or while sitting in traffic for an hour. In fact, contrary to popular belief, stress isn’t a factor in male pattern hair loss.
However, that doesn’t mean stress hair loss isn’t a thing — it very much is.
Traumatic events, surgery, illness, chronic lifestyle stress (like traffic every time you commute) or even “good” stressors like a promotion or moving to a new home can trigger telogen effluvium.
“Telogen” refers to the resting stage of the hair growth cycle. When telogen effluvium (a type of nonscarring alopecia) occurs, hair that should be growing is abruptly thrust into the resting stage. About three to six months later, that hair shedding begins at once, causing hair thinning.
Consider Concealers for Thinning Hair
Consider hair loss concealers, the fake-it-til-you-make-it solution of the hair world.
Fiber hair loss concealers are typically made of proteins like keratin, which is what hair is primarily made up of. They cling (thanks to static electricity) to the hair you do have to help create the illusion of thickness.
Powder hair loss concealers are applied to the scalp in thinning areas to disguise bald spots and give your hair a fuller appearance.
Liquid hair loss concealers add artificial thickness to your natural hair, typically by coating it with ingredients that cling to the hair.
Not sure if concealers are right for you? A haircut can actually go a long way in camouflaging thinning hair. Ask your barber about haircuts for men with thin hair.
Research Hair Replacements
When you think of hair transplants, you probably picture the unnatural, patchy-looking hair plugs of the ‘80s. Thankfully, along with landlines and paper maps, those are left in the days of yore. And these days, hair replacement looks a lot more natural.
If you haven’t had success with hair regrowth, hair replacement can help you get the look of thicker hair.
Surgical hair replacement is generally recommended for men who’ve lost a significant amount of hair. Hair transplant surgery doesn’t replace the hair you’ve lost, but it can transplant hair from another part of your body to your scalp.
Non-surgical hair replacement options include hair replacement systems like wigs or toupees. There’s also scalp micropigmentation, a scalp tattoo made using a stippling technique to create the illusion of hair follicles (so it looks most natural when the existing hair is close-cropped).
Shop by treatment options
No matter the treatment plan, the best place to start is somewhere. Early action is the best hair loss prevention.
Finding the Best Products for Thinning Hair
If you have a receding hairline or find yourself strategically styling your hair to hide your scalp, it’s safe to assume your hair is thinning.
Here’s what to remember about thinning hair in men (because you don’t want to lose any more while you figure out the next steps):
The sooner you treat baldness, the more hair you’ll keep. Promote growth and prevent thinning by using proven prescription hair loss medications, such as minoxidil and finasteride. You don’t even have to leave the house to get a prescription (you can thank us later).
Camouflage thinning hair. There are plenty of over-the-counter hair products and at-home remedies for thinning hair. Try getting a haircut that minimizes hair loss and use the best products for thinning hair. Or opt for a treatment that’s more invasive but longer-lasting, like scalp micropigmentation or surgical hair replacement.
Hair loss is often reversible. If external factors like stress, diet or lifestyle are causing you to shed hair, new hair growth is possible (and expected) once you address the issue and work on stress management. Hair, hair to that!
If you’re concerned about thinning hair or hair loss, talk to a certified healthcare professional to identify the underlying cause. They may suggest hair loss treatments to restore the thickness and fullness of your hair.