What you can do about thinning hair

Created date

December 13th, 2018
A hand runs a round hairbrush through thin white hair

Studies show that hair loss could be related to a lack of protein or certain vitamins and minerals, chronic medical conditions, or medications you are taking.

It’s inevitable—you go gray and your hair thins as you get older. Grayness is determined by genetics, and thinning or baldness occurs because of genetics, a slowing rate of hair growth, or follicles that stop producing hair altogether. 

You cannot decrease graying or hair loss with over-the-counter nutritional supplements, vitamins, or other oral products, but you should use quality hair care products to keep hair healthy. “The proper products for your scalp and hair type are certainly important as well as a good quality, well-balanced nutritional intake,” says Alan Bauman, M.D., A.B.H.R.S., F.I.S.H.R.S., medical director and hair restoration surgeon at Bauman Medical Group, P.A., in Boca Raton, Fla. “However, genetic hair loss requires medical treatments in order to slow, stop, and reverse the hereditary hair loss process.”

Just to be safe, before you embark on a plan to deal with thinning hair, get checked out by your doctor. “You need a thorough medical investigation to rule out or address hair loss risk factors impacting the health of the hair follicles,” Bauman says.

Studies show that hair loss could be related to a lack of protein or certain vitamins and minerals, chronic medical conditions, or medications you are taking such as retinoids [a class of drugs related to vitamin A], blood pressure medicines, antidepressants, or anti-inflammatories.

“Thyroid problems, in particular, can contribute to brittle hair,” says Pamela Jakubowicz, M.D., attending dermatologist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y. “Biotin [vitamin B7] deficiency can contribute, or your ferritin level can.”

“Ferritin is a protein found inside cells that store iron,” Jakubowicz explains, “and although it may be at a normal level for your body’s needs, it may not be at an optimal level for healthy hair.”

Safe options for seniors

Some products on your store shelves have been shown by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be safe and effective for most seniors. “FDA-approved over-the-counter hair regrowth treatments, like minoxidil (Rogaine) and certain FDA-cleared consumer laser therapy devices, can certainly enhance hair growth,” Bauman says. “However, prescription treatments like compounded Formula 82M topical minoxidil with tretinoin for enhanced scalp penetration are more powerful and also leave a less greasy residue on the scalp. Doctor-prescribed laser therapy devices, such as the six-minute 312 diode CapillusRX or the 224 diode LaserCap LCPRO, are substantially more discreet, more powerful, and typically more convenient than consumer laser devices.”

Again, however, Bauman stresses that you check with your doctor before you try anything. “Every patient should be evaluated for medical conditions as well as their hair loss history to know if they’re a good candidate for treatment,” he says. “The good news is that finasteride and topical minoxidil have few side effects related to age and are not contraindicated with most other common medications taken orally.”

“We have many patients over age 60 who routinely use these medications to maintain and enhance their hair,” Bauman continues, “but we may need to make adjustments for some people. For example, if a man is already taking finasteride (Proscar) for his prostate, then we would need to reconsider or change the dose for the finasteride we prescribe for his hair.”

Newer techniques

Along with medical treatments, the science of hair transplantation has advanced in recent years. “Old-style strip-harvest hair transplant procedures, which left a telltale linear scar in the back of the scalp, are quickly becoming a thing of the past,” Bauman says. “Modern methods of hair follicle harvesting called follicular unit extraction, or FUE, are being performed by surgeons with sophisticated tools, which allows for harvesting of follicular units without the use of scalpel incision, stitches, or staples in the donor area.”

Minimally invasive techniques are good news for seniors. “Because hair transplants today use local anesthesia, very few medical conditions are contraindicated,” Bauman says. “Patients tend to have a shorter, more comfortable, and less restricted recovery.”

Be sure to tell your hair transplant specialist about all medical conditions and medications you take. “Bleeding disorders and blood thinners can put patients at risk, so you may not be a candidate,” Bauman says. “Your specialist should discuss all of your medical information with you as well as all options for thicker hair,” Bauman says. “Hair transplantation, for instance, is relatively permanent and you should have realistic expectations of results of any proposed procedure.”

Beyond board certification

The International Alliance of Hair Restoration Surgeons (iahrs.org) is a consumer organization that accepts surgeons based on their surgical skills, artistic ability, and professionalism.

Did you know?

Using certain products (such as hair color chemicals) can cause noticeable hair loss.

Important tip: Make sure your hair restoration specialist is board-certified by the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery. Source: Alan Bauman, M.D., Bauman Medical Group, P.A.