It’s kind of crazy to think over a year ago my hair was limp, thinning, my hairline severely receding and my scalp was constantly itchy, irritated and oily. I was desperate for a solution. And when I turned to the internet for answers I realized I’m not the only one battling hair thinning struggles.
Hair thinning is as common in women as it is in men, but is less talked about due to social stigma. Hair thinning and hair loss will affect one third of the female population in America this year; roughly 50 million women (Harvard Medical School). Stressful life events (pregnancy), medical conditions or treatments (cancer or chemotherapy), or malnutrition can cause periods of hair loss, but an overall hair thinning known as “miniaturization” and hair loss “alopecia” happen to many women due to natural aging (Bernstein Medical).
As my hair issues worsened, I started to feel a similar panic, obsession and worry that plagued me when my acne was at its worst. I decided to write a blog article about hair thinning/loss last year and reached out to Lucinda Ellery, founder of the Lucinda Ellery Hair Loss Consultancy with practices in London, Los Angeles and New York, to discuss why this happens, how lifestyle plays a role and preventative measures. Here’s a snippet of what she told me, but you can read the full article here.
“When we hit our thirties,” says Lucinda, “the amount of human growth hormone in our bodies begins to dissipate. And how this manifests in regards to our hair is each single follicle starts to shrink. The hair follicles producing healthy hairs begin to produce thinner, shorter and more brittle hairs with weaker shafts. This gives an overall thinning effect. Hair also loses the luster and shine it once had when we were younger. This shift is definitely linked to our genetics and hormonal shifts that happen as we age.”
One hormone that plays a critical role is Dihydrotestosterone (DHT). With the help of an enzyme found in the hair follicles’ oil glands, testosterone is converted into DHT aka “your hair’s worst enemy.” DHT binds to receptors in the scalp follicles causing them to shrink and/or fall out (American Hair Loss Association). As we age, Lucinda says, testosterone levels in women tend to rise resulting in more DHT and less hair.
Traditional haircare brands try to approach hair loss by using chemicals and hormones to combat DHT. Alterna Haircare’s Caviar Clinical line of products, as one example, defends against DHT by preventing it from building up, along with excess sebum and other residues known to clog follicles and exacerbate hair thinning or loss.
While this sounds like a great idea and yes, I found moderate success last year using these products from Alterna, my hair started falling out the second I stopped using the products. And the chemicals caused me to develop severe sensitivity and scalp dermatitis after months of use.
Why going green worked for me
Instead of turning to chemical treatments, switching to green products and focusing on really taking care of my hair and scalp like I do my face has improved my hair far beyond anything I could have imagined. My hair is thicker, stronger, shinier than it has ever been before. And my scalp issues rarely make an appearance these days.
I believe that years of neglecting my hair and scalp, using products with harsh surfactants (the detergent chemicals that cause intense foaming, but can weaken hair follicles and cause premature breakage), and not eating the right diet caused my hair loss.
(Left side images taken May 2017; right side images taken August 2017)
As you can see from the images above, my hair is still growing back. It’s been a long process. The images on the left side were taken only three months ago in May. The images on the right were taken at the beginning of this month. I had a hard time finding images when my hairline was worse since I avoided taking pictures…
Read on below for the products I use currently, the diet I follow and the supplements I take that have helped me regain my hair and my confidence.
Eliminated: sodium lauryl sulfates, stearklorium chloride, parabéns
I don’t subscribe to the notion that it’s better to limit how often you wash your hair per week. I just do what feels best for me. Which means I wash my hair about every other day, sometimes everyday. On days I don’t shampoo, I’ll simply rinse my hair with water.
- I have been consistently using the Rahua Voluminous Shampoo. The founders of this brand source the rahua oil used in their products from the Ecuadorian Amazon. It has omega-9 particles that are small enough to get inside the hair follicle and strengthen it from the inside out. (The Voluminous Shampoo I highly recommend for thin hair, but I’ve recently been using the original Rahua Shampoo which lathers much better!) Read my full review of the voluminous shampoo here.
- I also like Dr. Alkaitis’ Organic Shampoo a lot; it lathers better than the Rahua shampoo, so I recommend it for someone who is transitioning from traditional shampoos to green since the lack of foaming can be a tad shocking (green shampoos lack the harsh surfactant chemicals in traditional shampoos that cause intense foaming). And I am currently testing out green shampoos from Rare Elements and Under Luna – review to come soon.
*I categorize dry shampoos as styling products down below.
I use conditioner every time I’m in the shower whether I shampoo or not to hydrate my hair as the Los Angeles weather can be very drying. I personally apply it only mid-shaft to the ends to prevent a weighted feel at my roots.
- Rahua Voluminous Conditioner is my go-to; it’s very lightweight, does not make my hair greasy, nor does it leave a slippery coating. This works for me because I apply treatment products that add moisture after towel drying, but for those who don’t use post washing treatment oils it may not add enough moisture.
- If you need more moisture because you frequently color your hair or use heat styling tools, I recommend the Gloss Moderne Conditioner. The coconut oil and shea butter make it very, very rich. Tip: don’t use it too close to the roots to avoid a weighted feel.
My issues with scalp dryness, flakes, itchiness and irritation began around the same time my hair thinning woes started. I’m sure it’s all tied together. So now I am very diligent about making sure my scalp is healthy by alternating the below products.
- January Labs Restorative Tonic Mist is a great fix for scalp irritation, itchiness and flakes. This mist will rebalance the scalp pH, soothe skin with aloe, rosa centrifolia and calendula, and offer antiseptic properties with witch hazel. The only problem is: this mist is a temporary fix. I found that I needed to use this mist consistently to keep my scalp irritation at bay. I will forever be with this mist on hand, BUT I’ve found it works best in tandem with the below tonic for longer relief.
- I use the Reverie CAKE Scalp Tonic 2-3x per week completely saturating my scalp (typically 2 half pipettes) massaging it in. I tried this serum a year ago and fell in love with it, but the high price blocked me from repurchasing. But as my scalp and hair has worsened, I’ve returned to it and may never be without it again…The blend of essential oils (rose, frankincense, sandalwood, etc) soothe my scalp, while hydrolyzed lupine protein prevents the breakdown of collagen and elastin. AND apple stem cells (the pricey ingredient that propels the $72 price tag) works to prolong the growth phase of hair – read more about the different phases of hair follicles here and why a prolonged growth phase can lead to thicker, longer hair. I love all of these benefits, but what has me hooked is that this tonic improves the health of my scalp over time: I can go days without having to use the January Labs tonic mist, whereas before I needed to use it every day; on days I don’t shampoo my scalp pH feels balanced; and since using it again, I can’t remember the last time my scalp itched. It’s been a game changer.
- Sahajan Nurture Hair Oil: I also do 2-3x per week scalp oil massages for 5-15 minutes. The key is to oxygenate the scalp. The muscle underneath our scalp doesn’t really move a lot throughout the day meaning the circulation is relatively poor. By massaging the scalp, you’re bringing new blood flow to the scalp that has vitamins, nutrients and oxygen. Also, the oil coats the hair with moisture. I find doing this gives my hair a nice shine, but also promotes faster growth and prevents breakage associated with dry, brittle strands.
Using moisturizing and strengthening agents after every wash has allowed my hair to rapidly grow. It also gives it a gorgeous shine and luster. I alternate between the following oil and leave in conditioner treatment on damp hair.
- Rahua Elixir: it took a while for me to love this product. When I first reviewed it (read here) my review wasn’t glowing. I used about 1/4 of the bottle and found it confusing. The directions said to massage into scalp and ends using 1-3 drops. I did this and found I needed 7-10 drops to adequately massage into the roots, strands and ends, which resulted in greasy hair once my hair air dried. Also, the scent (slightly rubbery), small bottle and high price made this product hard to recommend. BUT as I continued to play around with the application, my feelings changed. This oil is very dense and is best used mid-shaft to ends ONLY. Also, anything more than 1-3 drops will create oiliness. While the scent is still mildly unpleasant, I got over it after I started seeing results. By consistently applying 1-3 drops on damp hair, I noticed my hair thickened and felt stronger over the course of three months.The cost also initially turned me off, but I found the bottle lasts a long time; it’s been more than six months and I still have 1/4 of the bottle left.I highly recommend this oil for anyone with severely dry and damaged hair from coloring or heat styling. And I love that they now sell small bottles for $105 so you can try it out before investing in the original large size bottle which costs $175.
- Reverie MILK Leave In Conditioner straddles the line between treatment and styling product. I like to apply 1-2 pumps (anymore and you’ll experience a heavy feeling) and let my hair air dry for the silkiest, flowing hair ever! It makes my hair look like I blow dried it with a round brush (minus the lift) when it’s just air dried. Hands down this has to be one of my favorite haircare products.
I rarely blow dry my hair anymore (it happens maybe 1-2x a month), and I don’t use my curling iron which has helped to avoid heat damage. My strategy for styling without these two: I wash my hair in the evenings, air dry over night, in the morning I twist my hair in a low bun while I get ready (to give a natural wave) and once done with my makeup, I let it loose from the bun and add styling products for texture and oomph.
- Salt Sprays: I’ve traded in my curling iron for salt sprays. They create texture, oomph, volume and enhance a subtle curl (when sprayed on hair that’s been set in a low bun). But they can dry out the hair, which is why it’s important to use a hydrating treatment oil or leave in treatment like the MILK a few times a week. I particularly like the nontoxic salt sprays from Playa, Reverie and Rahua, but for different reasons. Read my full review here.
- Dry Shampoo: I love the Playa Dry Shampoo. It’s super lightweight, smells amazing, and it leaves hair feeling like there’s nothing in it! (I hate the cakey, wax-y feeling of some dry shampoos). While I’ve tried other green dry shampoos, I really can’t get past the shaker “baking soda-esque” containers most come in. The Rahua Dry Shampoo is better, but once I tried Playa’s that was it. My heart was committed. You can even use it as a texturizing spray.
DIET & SUPPLEMENTS
When it comes to diet and supplements, everyone is different and everyone’s body needs nutrients specific to their bodies. I am in no way recommending this as a cure all path for everyone, I’m simply sharing what has worked for me. If you have health conditions or specific concerns, definitely speak to your healthcare provider before changing up your diet or supplements.
Overall I try to follow an anti-inflammatory diet aka paleo. I’ve tried other diets before like vegan, low-fat, or avoiding red meat, but once I started following an anti-inflammatory diet (after reading up on the Bulletproof Diet), my hair became thick and lustrous; my PD outbreaks disappeared; and my energy levels went through the roof! This means:
• Processed foods
• Food additives and food colorings
• Lots of organic, cold pressed healthy fats (avocados, coconut oil, olive oil)
• Organic fruits (mainly berries)
• Organic leafy green vegetables
• Grass fed meats
• Wild caught seafood
• Bone broths
• Some nuts and seeds
How this affects the body
By eating paleo you are eliminating foods that cause inflammation in the body and insulin spikes; insulin spikes happen from fast absorbing carbohydrates and sugars, and are able to affect your hormones which play a big role in your skin and hair. I won’t go into too much detail, but if you want to read more about the Bulletproof Diet I suggest you read here.
Why this works for me
Last week I had an ultrasound done on my ovaries and uterus. My husband and I have been trying to get pregnant for some time now, but it has been taking a long time, so I decided to have a full pelvic examination. What my OBGYN found was a little startling.
Typically a woman my age (early thirties) will have around 12-14 follicles on each ovary making it relatively easy to get pregnant; each follicle is capable of producing one egg each month. With age the number of follicles decreases. My ovaries have 22-25 follicles per ovary and the size of them is abnormally large. I thought, oh, more must be better right? No, not in this case. She said it appears each month my hormones have been trying to tell the follicles to release an egg, so they swell, but because my hormone levels are imbalanced the follicles aren’t able to burst and release an egg. She is going to have me start taking a drug, Clomid, that will prompt the follicles to release an egg each month – phew – relatively easy fix. But after this appointment, it was clear why the paleo diet works so well for me; it regulates my insulin, which in turn helps to balance my hormones.
It has also helped to explain why I might have developed perioral dermatitis which is hormone related.
I am a big believer in supplements for overall health and subsequent hair and skin health. I take pill and powder supplements every day. While they do say it’s better to space out your supplements (i.e. take 1 fish oil pill at 3 different times of the day versus all at once) I take everything in the morning otherwise I will forget to take them. Here’s my morning supplement routine:
8:00am: Wake up, take my probiotics on an empty stomach and walk my dog for 20min
8:30am: Return from my walk, make/drink my morning smoothie and take my supplements
Probiotics are essential for a healthy gut. This is where the immune system resides, where nutrients get absorbed and it’s immperative to have a well working digestive system to be able to properly absorb what your body needs. This is why probiotics are the foundation of any good supplement program IMO.
Now, not all probiotics are made equal. Taking a high quality probiotic on an empty stomach can make all the difference. You want to look for the following when choosing a good probiotic:
- diverse blend of bacteria, since different bacteria have different benefits
- high potency, meaning at least 15 billion culture count
I’ve been taking BioK for years ever since taking oral antibiotics (what was my dermatologist thinking?!) wreaked havoc on my digestive system. My acupuncturist recommended I take this brand. I love their fermented brown rice formulation that has over 50 billion cultures!
Superfood Morning Smoothie
My morning smoothies are so important to me. Not only do I use them to wash down my morning supplements, but I make sure they are chock full of antioxidants, fiber, and healthy protein. Some days I don’t eat as healthy as I should, but if I drink my morning smoothie then at least I know I gave my body a healthy does of nutrients if I fall short later in the day. My morning smoothie includes:
- Bulletproof Collagen Protein Powder: studies have shown by taking it orally, the collagen is absorbed by the blood stream and can travel to the deepest layer of the skin to provide the building blocks for new collagen and elastin to be formed. Read more here and why I think everyone should take collagen powder here.
- Navitas Organics Hemp Protein Powder: Hemp protein powder is the easiest plant protein for the body to digest. I used to use pea protein, but I took a food sensitivity panel a year ago and found out I am highly sensitive to legumes. Eating them resulted in inflammation and subsequent hair loss. If your hair is thinning and you can’t figure out why, you may want to have a food sensitivity panel done. Read about how a food sensitivity panel works and if you should take one.
- Spirulina Powder: is a blue algae mega superfood that’s high in protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. One teaspoon has two grams of protein, over 2800% more beta carotene than carrots, 3900% more iron than spinach, and is rich in vitamins A, K, B12, manganese and chromium. I take the powder form or the pill form when I travel.
- Then to top it all off I throw in a teaspoon of Navitas Organics Maca Powder (known colloquially as “Indian Ginseng”), Navitas Organics Acai Powder (rich in antioxidants and gives a great berry flavor to smoothies), and Navitas Organics Raw Cacao Powder (another tasty antioxidant boost).
If you read the first post I wrote up about my perioral dermatitis, you may be surprised by how pared down my supplement list is now. For me, I like to listen to my body and give it what it needs. Right now my hair and skin are in a really good place, so I eliminated a few supplements and added a new one, Berberine, to help regulate my blood sugar levels.
- Care/Of custom supplement pack that includes: Astaxanthin, Ashwagandha, Calcium, Bacopa, Probiotics, Fish Oil
- Garden of Life Raw Prenatal
- Berberine I recently discovered this metabolism booster via Sara Gottfried MD. It’s been used in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries and more recently studies have shown its ability to lower blood sugar, control lipids and body weight. Read more about it here and why you should only take this herb for two months at a time. With supplements, I’m always weary about the quality. I’m not familiar with a lot of brands, but I do know the brand Thorne. My acupuncturist recommended it a while back and she is even more OCD about eating clean than me, so I trust this brand. This is the Berberine I take.
And finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the power of a good haircut.
For years I neglected taking care of my hair opting to buy the cheapest grocery store haircare products. I applied this same lack of thought to my haircuts. I opted for $30 Chinatown haircuts all my life. But a few months ago, I had THE BEST HAIRCUT of my life that completely changed my feelings about investing in a good stylist haircut. And I feel indebted to the amazing stylist, Kristen Shaw, whom cut my hair.
She charges $250 for a haircut, but honestly, I would pay more if she asked it. She has changed how I feel about my hair; the cut is balanced and even creating the perfect soft curve when air dried and it has grown out beautifully. I am able to style my hair easily with salt sprays thanks to her flawless cut.
I plan on visiting the talented celebrity hairstyle, Kristen Shaw, for a long, long time.
And if you’re ever in LA or NYC, I highly recommend you take the plunge and have her cut your hair. Life changing is an understatement.
Okay, phew! That was one heck of a long blog post. And if you’re not too exhausted from that one, read PART II of this hair loss series where I explain how eating raw kale and pink Himalayan salt can affect your thyroid and may be causing hair loss like I recently discovered it has been for me…
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and I really hope it helps a few of you out there dealing with hair thinning issues. I know how awful, confidence bruising and stressful it can be, but I want you to know that just like anything in life – it can be overcome. It just takes patience, the right products and figuring out the right diet to help support your body’s needs.
I am still fine tuning my process and as you can see from the images above, my hairline is still thickening and coming back! So make sure to be patient with yourself and your hair. It took time for my hair to grow back. Sometimes it would grow back and then I’d change something in my routine and it would fall out again. Sigh. But I kept at it and still am.
I wish you the best of luck on this hair journey and feel free to reach out with any questions on Instagram!