To get thicker hair, eat a healthy diet with omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, iron, and vitamin D.
For thicker hair, it’s important to use a sulfate-free shampoo and to stop using heat styling products like flat irons or curling irons.
Thin hair can be the result of genetics, nutritional deficiencies, stress, or damaged hair.
There is no proven way to permanently thicken hair if you are healthy and have no underlying health conditions. But, there are lifestyle adjustments to improve your overall hair health and prevent breakage.
Here are common causes of thin hair and five tips for healthier, thicker hair.
What causes thin hair?
The causes of thin hair include:
Genetics. Some people naturally have thinner hair.
Hormonal changes, like during pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause.
Weak or damaged hair (typically from frequent heat styling), which breaks off before reaching its full length
Nutritional deficiencies, like not getting enough B vitamins, vitamin D, iron, or protein.
A major stressful event, like the loss of a loved one, surgery, or illness.
If you are concerned about frequent hair loss, reach out to a dermatologist, says Sara Wasserbauer, MD, a hair restoration surgeon and President of the Board of Directors for the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery.
“The earlier someone starts therapies, the more likely they are to be effective,” Wasserbauer says. “If you are losing more than 100 hairs per day, or if your hair is less thick when you run your hand through it, it is worth seeing a hair expert.”
A doctor can determine if you can treat thin hair without medical intervention, or if it is a sign of alopecia – a more severe condition in which hair falls out in patches or causes balding.
If your hair loss is not due to an underlying health condition, you may be able to thicken your hair with the following lifestyle changes:
1. Eat a healthy diet
A nutritious diet is critical to hair health, says Sanusi Umar, MD, CEO and medical director of Dr. U Skin and Hair Clinic in Manhattan Beach, California. This is because adequate nutrition ensures hair follicles construct hair shafts of normal thickness.
According to Umar, certain nutrients are essential to the thickness and growth of hair, like:
Protein, which makes up hair follicles. Sources of protein include eggs, meat, and dairy products.
Iron, which carries oxygen throughout your body, including hair follicles, and aids in cell repair and growth. Sources of iron include spinach, beans, and seafood.
B vitamins, particularly biotin. Studies linked biotin deficiency to hair loss. Biotin is found in many foods, including sweet potatoes, fish, seeds, and nuts.
Vitamin C has antioxidant properties, which protect hair follicles from damage. The body also uses vitamin C for collagen production, which can strengthen hair. Foods with vitamin C include berries and citrus fruits.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which, according to a 2015 study, are associated with hair growth. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, like salmon.
2. Reduce stress levels
Cortisol, the stress hormone, disrupts the functioning of the hair follicle and contributes to thinning hair. A 2016 study found high levels of cortisol can cause certain proteins in hair to break down.
It is important to differentiate between different types of stress, Wasserbauer says. If you experience a stressful event, you may notice a period of hair loss and accelerated thinning, but the hair usually recovers within a year. Ongoing hair loss is more serious, and unless it is caught, diagnosed, and treated, it may result in permanent loss.
If you’re concerned stress may be causing hair thinning, you can alleviate stress and lower cortisol levels by:
Practicing relaxation techniques, like meditation
Eating a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat
Sleeping seven to eight hours a night
3. Address a hormone imbalance
A hormone imbalance, such as during pregnancy or menopause, can cause thinning hair. A decrease in estrogen or an increase in testosterone levels can thin hair as well, Umar says.
Research found an imbalance of hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin can all contribute to hair loss. Hair loss can also be due to an imbalance of thyroid hormones, Umar says.
Signs of a hormone imbalance, like a thyroid condition, include:
Increased facial hair
Brittle hair and nails
If you think a hormone imbalance may be causing thin hair, reach out to your doctor, Umar says. A primary care physician may refer you to a dermatologist, who specializes in skin and hair, or an endocrinologist who specializes in hormonal imbalances.
4. Stop heat styling
Heat styling products, like blow dryers, straighteners, and curling irons all weaken the hair shaft and fiber, Umar says. These products damage the cuticle on the outer layer of the hair, especially if the heat setting is set too high or you use a heating product daily.
“Using heating styling products excessively can cause breakage and cause the scalp to become stressed thus leading to thinning hair,” Umar says.
A 2004 study found using a curling iron causes hair to weaken and break, though hair treated with a conditioner showed less damage than hair that was not.
Another 2011 study found using a blowdryer caused more surface damage to hair than natural drying, but how you use a blowdryer matters. For instance, the study found blow drying hair at a distance of 15 cm with continuous motion caused less damage than letting hair air dry or using a hair dryer without motion very close to your hair.
If you use heat styling products regularly and have noticed your hair thinning, try reducing how often you use these products. To prevent damage, you should also limit other treatments, like hair dye, bleach, and chemical treatments.
5. Use sulfate-free shampoo
Sulfates are chemicals found in most shampoos and soaps that provide the “sudsy” effect when you lather them up.
Sulfates also strip hair of its natural oils and moisture, Umar says, causing it to become dry and brittle, which makes it break more easily.
However, switching to a sulfate-free shampoo won’t stop hair loss, Umar says. Using a sulfate-free shampoo can help preserve the natural oils in your hair, reduce irritation, and potentially prevent future damage, like hair breakage.
If you have no underlying health conditions causing hair loss, there is no proven way to thicken your hair. However, you can improve overall hair health by eating a nutritious diet, limiting heat styling, and using a sulfate-free shampoo. Healthier hair means less damage and breakage, which can help hair grow longer and thicker.