Nothing inspires dread quite like glancing at the bathtub drain to see how much of your hair is no longer on your head. Though hair changing over time is part of life (one might shed anywhere from 50 to 100 strands today alone), sudden hair loss can signal an underlying medical condition, and pattern hair loss is at best disappointing, and at worst, psychologically distressing.
Though pattern hair loss is dictated by genetics, there are hair growth products that can help combat the issue and work to prevent it in the first place. But before you buy some too-good-to-be-true elixir in a panic, it’s crucial to figure out what is causing your hair loss in the first place.
How we picked the best thinning hair shampoos and treatments
The experts we spoke to agreed that the best treatment for thinning hair depends on the cause of that hair loss. Below are a few things our experts recommend keeping in mind to aid regrowth:
- Ingredients that promote hair growth: Minoxidil is the most proven treatment for promoting hair growth in men and women and is the active ingredient in OTC products like Rogaine and Minoxidil (more below).
- Ingredients that keep hair healthy: Beyond using minoxidil-based OTC treatments or professional treatments at the dermatologist’s office, the best one can do is use gentle, hydrating shampoos with ingredients like argan oil and glycerin.
The best treatments and shampoos for thinning hair
We rounded up dermatologist- and trichologist-approved options to help promote hair growth and keep your strands healthy.
This shampoo, a Select Wellness Awards winner for best fine hair shampoo, has loquat leaf, biotin, willow bark and panthenol to boost hair volume, improve strength, exfoliate the scalp and hydrate hair, according to the brand. It’s also oil- and paraben-free, which means it’s safe to use on color-treated hair, according to Revitalash. For application, the brand recommends gently massaging it into the scalp and letting it sit for up to two minutes.
“Rogaine is probably one of the few things that’s been actually FDA-approved and worked out to help grow hair,” says Dr. Michele Green, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. The active ingredient in Rogaine products, including this foam, is minoxidil, which stimulates hair growth. Both the men and women’s foams contain 5% of minoxidil, but Rogaine recommends men apply a half capful twice a day directly to the scalp in the hair loss area. For women, the brand recommends applying half a capful just once a day. You can expect to see results in 120 days, but keep in mind that continued use is necessary to keep any results, according to the brand.
Similar to Rogaine’s foam product, this topical solution is sold separately in men and women’s versions. The women’s product, however, is less concentrated and contains just 2% minoxidil. You can expect to see results after 120 days of daily use, according to the brand.
A Select Wellness Awards winner for best hair treatment, this volume-enhancing foam is great for dry or wet hair to prevent breakage and brittleness, according to Revitalash. The foam contains with the brand’s BioPeptin Complex, which combines lipids, peptides, biotin and pantheonl to boost hair health, according to the brand. For application, Revitalash recommends parting your hair into sections and thoroughly massaging the product into your scalp and on roots.
Nioxin’s System Kits rely on peppermint oil, niacinamide and biotin to thicken hair and is a favorite among Green’s patients. The kits, which include a therapeutic shampoo, conditioner and scalp treatment, are formulated based on your hair’s unique needs: the System 1 kits target light thinning in natural hair, color treated hair and bleached hair. The System 2 kits target the same hair types, but for progressed thinning. Nioxin sells their shampoos, conditioners, leave-in products and other styling tools separately, too. If you prefer a hair growth treatment from the brand that contains minoxidil, consider the Nioxin Hair Regrowth Kit.
While this Avalon Organics shampoo isn’t formulated to spur hair growth, it is a notable favorite among Green’s patients that have an irritated scalp — in our guide to the best shampoos for head acne, multiple experts recommended tea tree oil-based products to soothe irritation. Tea tree oil also has antibacterial properties, according to our experts.
Many of Green’s patients love this argan oil shampoo. Argan oil (also an ingredient in a Select-favorite clarifying shampoo) can help hydrate dry hair and retain moisture. It’s also formulated with the cleanser cocamidopropyl betaine, which is a gentler alternative to harsh detergents and sulfates, according to Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City who specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology.
Nutrafol, a natural, drug-free shampoo line that makes oral supplements and various hair-care products, comes recommended by both King and Green. While it may be best to consult your doctor before taking any supplement, you could start by trying the Root Purifier Shampoo. Select editorial director Lauren Swanson tried the shampoo in the past and found it to “hydrate the scalp without being overly greasy or weighing hair down,” she says. The sulfate-free shampoo is formulated with gentle cleansers like cocamidopropyl betaine that cleanse while optimizing your scalp’s pH levels for improved hair health, according to the brand.
In general, “it is best to use a gentle shampoo free from harsh ingredients to ensure you are not contributing to the problem further,” says Taylor Rose, a hair health expert and trichologist. She recommends this gentle option from Grown Alchemist, which helps smooth the hair follicle and protects it from heat damage, according to the brand.
How to treat thinning hair
The best treatment for thinning hair depends on the cause of that hair loss, according to our experts. “There is no magic button,” says Green, but there are a few things that can help regrow hair, or at least protect the hair you still have:
- Minoxidil: Minoxidil is the most proven treatment for both men and women, according to King. Used in shampoos and popular products like Rogaine (more below), it essentially widens the blood cells, allowing “more oxygen, blood and nutrients to reach the follicles,” she says.
- Argan oil and/or tea tree oil: “Argan oil is rich in fatty acids and will protect your hair,” says Green. Plus, it can help your hair retain moisture. Green says many of her patients also like shampoos that contain tea tree oil, which has antimicrobial and antifungal properties that can soothe an irritated scalp.
- Glycerin-based styling products: Glycerin-based products are also good for keeping the hair hydrated, says King. “A hair care regimen that allows the protective layer or cuticle to remain intact as long as possible will decrease breakage,” she says.
Products like shampoos and serums can be used in conjunction with oral medication and various dermatology treatments, like platelet-rich plasma injections (PRP) or prescription-only laser caps. Most importantly, topical treatments need to remain on your head to work. If you’re washing it in and washing it out, as you would with shampoo, how much benefit you get “is arguable,” says Green. The most important ingredient of all is hard data. “There are many products out there that promise results that aren’t backed by hard science,” says King.
As for what else to avoid, look for shampoos free of harsh detergents, like Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), according to Rose. Some alcohols may dehydrate the hair too: “The ones to avoid usually have ‘prop’ in their name, like isopropyl or propanol,” she says.
What causes thinning hair?
“The most common cause of hair loss is androgenetic alopecia, which is called male pattern or female pattern baldness,” says Green. With this form of hair loss, hair follicles shrink and eventually stop growing. In women, it presents as a gradually widening part. In men, pattern baldness usually brings a receding hairline or bald spot.
But there are other things that can cause hair loss too, like underlying medical issues or stress, says Green. She recommends paying attention to the nature of your hair loss: is it suddenly all over, or is it gradually thinning in the front? Take note of those symptoms and consult a doctor, who will likely request blood work to check if you’re anemic, vitamin D deficient or if you have a thyroid disorder or autoimmune disease, according to Green. A lot of Green’s patients are shocked to learn their hair loss is a symptom of something like lupus, or even a tumor in one bizarre case.
Or, a patient might have telogen effluvium, a form of hair loss caused by stress to the body or mind. A loss of a loved one or job, a high fever, pregnancy or having surgery could all cause sudden hair loss.
“Hairs are usually found at all different stages of the hair cycle,” says King. But during an intense stress, the hair can become synchronized, leading many to fall out at the same time. “The good news is that this kind of hair loss is reversible,” says King. “It does grow back.” During the early stages of the pandemic, for example, many of Green’s patients’ hair loss worsened, not necessarily from infection, but the stress of isolation. (You can learn more on the causes behind hair loss at this fact sheet from the American Academy of Dermatology).
How to prevent hair loss
Frustratingly, genetics play a huge role in hair loss, but tackling the problem sooner rather than later can help: “You want to stop it before it gets bad because once you lose your hair, and those hair follicles are dead, they’re not growing back,” says Green. “It’s just gone.”
But you need not despair; there are multiple ways to stall the seemingly inevitable and some simple hair care tips and tricks to prevent hair loss in the first place:
- A healthy lifestyle: Practice habits that reduce stress and are good for your physical health, like meditation, yoga, journaling and eating a diet of whole foods, says Rose. “Make sure you are eating enough protein in your diet, as hair is made up of protein,” she says. Avoid alcohol and cigarettes as much as possible, too: “They definitely weaken hair and they are just bad for you in general. No crash dieting either,” says King.
- Protect your remaining hair: Wearing a really tight bun day after day pulls on your hair and can cause permanent damage, says Green. So can frequent use of heated hair styling tools. “A hair-care regimen that allows the protective layer, or cuticle, to remain intact for as long as possible will decrease breakage and drying out of the hair strands,” says King.
- Use gentle fabrics: Hair is very fragile when it’s wet. Rose recommends using a microfiber towel after showering and sleeping on a satin pillowcase or in a satin bonnet.
Also, if you notice your hair thinning, don’t hesitate to see a specialist and advocate for yourself during your appointment. “One of the most frustrating things is how many women get dismissed,” says Green. “They were blown off a few years ago and it’s so much worse now.” Avoid that fate and speak up. A good doctor will make time to chat and assess your unique situation.
Meet the experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Dr. Hadley King is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City who specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology.
- Dr. Michele Green is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City who specializes in cosmetic dermatology.
- Taylor Rose is a hair health expert and trichologist who runs the @thehealthyhur TikTok account.
Why trust Select?
Christina Colizza is a former editor at Select. For this article, she spoke to three hair care experts about how to best treat thinning hair and the best products to consider.