Is Your Hair Thin or Thinning? How to Tell the Difference
Whether you have thin hair or not, we’re all guilty of getting up close and personal with the bathroom mirror, analyzing our strands to see how they’re holding up. But how do you actually figure out if your hair is thinning or if it’s just naturally thin? Kind of a stressful investigation, but no worries–– we did the work for you. Here’s our guide to differentiating between hair types, and how to make the call on thin or thinning hair.
First things first, let’s get clear on how fine and thin hair are defined. Fine hair actually refers to the width, diameter, or circumference of the individual hairs on your head. If you have fine hair, the individual strands of hairs on your head are smaller–– roughly 50 microns (that’s the term for measuring human hair strands) in diameter. It’s important to note that just because the individual hairs might have a small diameter, it doesn’t affect how many hairs you have on your head. You can have fine hair and still have a lot of it! Coarse hair, on the other hand, is typically about 120 microns in diameter.
Some other characteristics common to fine hair include silky softness, lack of volume, sometimes fragile and prone to breakage, and easily greasy. Here’s the crazy thing about fine hair, because it has nothing to do with the amount of hair on your head and everything to do with the kind of strands on your head, you can still have fine hair made up of course strands and it doesn’t mean the overall density of your hair is thick. Still with us?
Thin hair refers to the actual amount of hairs on your head and the distance between them per square inch of your scalp. People with thin hair typically have 80,000 total fibers on their heads while people with thicker manes will have about 150,000 hair fibers. To put it simply, people with thin hair have fewer hair strands on their heads than people with thick hair.
Thin hair has the potential to grow in a little bit uneven or patchy, and thin hair is often due to genetics, hormones, or natural hair loss from stress, aging, or a number of other factors.
Now, for the real reason you’re probably here: is your hair actually thinning or does it fall under one of the categories above?! There are, of course, a few different things to know before you jump into conclusions…
Thinning hair is not the same thing as hair loss or hair shedding. Hair shedding, which is sometimes referred to as “hair fall”, is a normal pattern that moves in four stages and causes hairs to fall out, only to be replaced by new hairs. It’s normal to lose between 100-125 hairs a day, and if you have particularly thick hair, you may even lose more but it’s all part of your scalp’s natural replenishing process. Hair loss, on the other hand, differs in that there is actually a factor that stops your hair from growing. Hair loss can occur because of a genetic predisposition, stress or traumatic events, hormone fluctuations, immune system issues, iron issues, poor diet, and more (this is a whole different post for another day).
Thinning hair, then, is a gradual reduction of the diameter of individual hairs over time. This is why it’s easy for people with fine hair to confuse it with thinning hair. Thinning hair happens slowly and doesn’t necessarily mean you’re shedding it in high quantities (you may not actually shed at all) which means it’s easy not to notice it’s happening until you suddenly really notice it’s happening. Hair thinning occurs when hair follicles that once produced healthy hairs begin producing shorter, thinner, more brittle strands that are weak and prone to breakage. These hairs are naturally less dense and eventually lead to the appearance of thinning, patchy hair or hair loss. Thinning hair is usually a result of the aging process but can also occur because of pregnancy or overuse of harsh hair products and treatments.
Signs Your Hair is Thinning
If you’re up close to the mirror analyzing (and possibly obsessing? We won’t judge) your hair follicles and you’re convinced your hair is indeed thinning, here are some signs to help confirm it:
- Bald Patches - Probably the most significant and noticeable of the signs, if you’re seeing faint bald patches in your hair, this could be an indicator that your hair is starting to thin out.
- Exposed Scalp - Like bald patches, exposed scalps are easy to notice if you know how to check for it. If you can see your scalp through your hair (especially when you run your hands through it), this could be a sign your hair is thinning.
- Lightweight-feeling Hair - Like we mentioned before, thinning hair can happen gradually and you might not notice that it’s happening at first. Start regularly feeling the weight of your hair when you comb it or run your fingers through it. If it feels like there’s less there and it’s lighter all around, this could be a first sign that you’re losing hair.
- Your Ponytail Got Smaller - If you’ve always been able to pop your hair in a pony with only one or two wraps of a hairband but you’ve noticed you need to wrap it multiple times and the ponytail itself feels thinner than it used to, this also might be a sign your hair is starting to thin.
While we understand it might be a bummer to discover that your hair might not just be thin and is actually thinning, the good news is there are changes you can make and products you can use to achieve the looks you want. Rather than quickly reaching for a possibly harsh hair growth product, using products that seamlessly cover up thinning patches, or even finding new ways to style your hair can dramatically alter the way thinning hair looks. While growing your hair back is certainly an option, you might find that easing into it by way of fun new styles or temporary cover-ups are just as effective!
Got questions about how to manage your mane in the midst of changes? Thin or thinning, we’ve got you covered. Sign up for our email list below and get access to all of our styling tips and tricks - as well as inside info on Boldify products!