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The Thinning Hair Playbook

As we round the bend into autumn, some of us find our hair starts to fall out faster than leaves on a tree.

Except it’s not as pretty and doesn’t smell good when burning.

The good news is, hair care manufacturers are finally waking up to the business opportunity and developing products to treat delicate scalps and thinning hair, like Aveda’s new Invati hair care line (which I haven’t tried yet).

More hope in the hair loss pipeline includes an investigation by Allergan on the potential for miracle eyelash growth serum Latisse (which I swear by on my lashes) to treat baldness.  There are some tricky barriers though; cost being one and there’s a question about irritation and color change on a larger skin surface.  Still, fingers crossed.


There are also some laser combs in the works, but again, cost is a barrier and the jury’s still out on it’s effectiveness because you have to rub a comb over your head for 15 or more minutes a day.  Or, wear this creepy helmet.

igrow woman

In the meantime, I bring you the Thinning Hair Playbook.

Most of these products are ones I’ve used over time that have made a difference in keeping all 7 strands of hair on my head as I search for a miracle to stem the decline of my mane.

Thinning Hair Playbook


  • Rogaine 5% – $50 for a month’s supply.  This is a must for anyone with thinning hair.  It basically slows down the velocity of hair loss and may even grow new hair.  But, check with your doctor; the 5% version should not be used by women who could become pregnant and has been known to cause heart palpitations in others.  I prefer the drops because the application is more precise. To use it correctly, apply to a clean, dry scalp (wetness will dilute it) and wait a half hour before going to bed or additional styling.
  • Viviscal Extra Strength – about $40. My French hair colorist Sophie, who too has thin hair turned me onto this last year.  “Modelz pop ziz like pez” she tells me in a heavy French accent.  The main ingredient is something called AminoMar, but that’s just fancy talk for a good amino acid, which is one of the supplements recommended by Cunnane-Phillips.
  • Philip Kingsley Flakey, Itchy Scalp Tonic – $31.  I just started using this and so far it’s nice as an everyday treatment in that it doesn’t leave my hair sticky or messy.  It also calms the irritation that can sometimes come from Rogaine.
  • Kerestase Specifique Intensive Scalp Treatment – $60. Difficult to find so grab it when you can.  This easy to use treatment saved my scalp from the winter itchies last year.
  • Philip Kingsley Stimulating Scalp Mask – $9. I’ve had this professionally applied which is lovely, and have tried the DIY version at home a few times at home.  It’s a little tough to apply yourself; it has the consistency of toothpaste and you have to be diligent to make sure it reaches your scalp.  Hard to tell after only a few treatments, but my scalp feels great.  The true acid test will come in the winter when my itchy dandruff kicks up and my scalp feels tight.

Clean & Condition


  • Phyto Phytovolume Actif – $25. This stuff really works as a root lifter. The only downside is it can really irritate my scalp during the dead of winter when it’s at it’s most tender.  Aside from that, this is one of the best root volumizers I’ve tried.
  • Kerestase Mousse Bouffante – $36. This is a nice mouse I just started using.  It provides a lot of all over body and better structure than some of the others I’ve tried, even the ones supposedly for fine hair.  There are a few volumizing gels out there (Shu Umera makes a nice one) but the gels always seem to be too much for my fine hairs to handle.
  • Harry Josh Ion Pro Hairdryer – $250I haven’t tried this baby yet, but every beauty editor in the universe is giddy with PR buzz over this.  It’s cute, it’s green, Gwyneth and Gisele use it and it blows your hair at out at 80 MPH.  But the real reason to be tempted is the convenient ion on/off switch.  As fabulous as ionic hair dryers are for smoothing hair, they can actually be flattening your volume so you want this option.  If you don’t want to spend $300 clams , there’s also the Sedu Revolution Pro Tourmaline Ionic 4000i Hair Dryer  available for a humble $169.  But not sure if Gisele uses it.
  • Philip Kingsley Radial Brush and Vented Paddle Brush – $38 each.  What I learned from my visit to the trichologist is that when you have thin hair and a tender scalp, it’s important to use brushes that have widely spaced bristles with rounded pins on a cushioned base because they’re more gentle on your scalp.  Even better if it’s made out of wood instead because it doesn’t get as hot when styling the way ceramic brushes do.
  • Spornette Battalia Ceramic Thermal Rollers – $6.  After you blow dry your hair, just roll these all over your head – you barely need hair clips to hold them into place – and then blast them with heat.  Let them sit for 10 minutes while you get dressed or put on your makeup, and voila, volume and va va voom.
  • Kerastase Resistance Double Force Hair Spray – $39.  Hate to say it, but I like this even better than Elnett. It’s light and more flexible, but it doesn’t last as long.  I don’t get that crispy layer on top when I spray, just lots of umph, bounce and body.


  • Highlights $150-$500.  Highlights give texture to the hair shaft, making it appear thicker.  They also add dimension to visually create more depth, density and texture.  While I’m a straight up brunette, my colorist, Sophie at Sharon Dorram at Sally Hershberger uses a technique called balayage where she hand paints very subtle highlights (midlights?) onto my hair so the effect is natural, not streaky.
  • A damn good haircut.  You don’t have to go short!  But, if you love your long hair, it helps to get it cut more often.  I get mine cut every 2-3 months to keep the bounce and avoid looking straggly.  My hairdresser, Lionel Renard gently guides me shorter or longer, depending on what shedding phase I’m in.
  • TOPPIK Hair Building Fibers Starter Kit $35.  This is in almost every stylists’ bag of secret tricks.  When used with a light touch; it fills in those patches of scalp show thru which are essential when you’re a brunette like me.  I don’t use it a lot, but it’s essential if I’m at an event where I’m under harsh stage lights, being photographed (flash sees right through to that thinning scalp) or when my hair is in a tightly pulled bun or pony tail.  Application takes practice though; you need a light touch and it can’t cover up a true bald spot, just fill in the blanks.
  • One last product I would love to try but haven’t yet is the Keratin Complex Dry Shampoo.  I’m usually not a dry shampoo fan – it always leaves this slight dusty layer on my hair.  This one is colored and might just do the trick, but we’ll see.

But before you run out and part with hundreds of dollars on hair hope, start from the inside out with these three steps.  You might need medicine more than you need a new shampoo.

1. Get checked out by a doctor.  There are a host of medical conditions that can make your hair fall out, but some of the ones that are easily overlooked are your thyroid, low iron or ferritin and of course, hormones.   Even if you’ve been tested for thyroid issues in the past, it can crop on you quickly, causing boatloads of hair shed.

In my thinning hair journey, I’ve seen a dermatologist that specializes in hair loss for a battery of blood tests and a super fun scalp biopsy (you can read about it here), and most recently saw a trichologist Elizabeth Cunnane-Phillips at Philip Kingsley (which you can read here).

On the upside, all health issues have been ruled out.  On the downside, I’ve been officially told I hit the genetic bingo with early stage female pattern baldness.

2. Eat 5 small meals a day with high quality protein and exercise.  Hair is a secondary organ, which means, it’s at the bottom of your body’s food chain.  You don’t need hair to survive the way you do lets say your liver or your brain.

When you eat a little less, a little more often, your body believes there is plenty of nutrients for everyone and distributes them more evenly so your hair and skin become well nourished in contrast to when your body is in feast or famine mode.   Exercise helps balance your hormones and increase blood flow to the scalp.

3. Wash you hair more often.  I know it’s counter to urban myth, but Cunnane-Phillips insists a cleaner scalp helps it breathe and makes products like minoxidil absorb better.

Have a tip for holding on to your mane asset?  If so, bring it on.


  1. Well, you’ve certainly done your homework! But isn’t it a full-time job taking care of your scalp? And, it sounds like it takes a full salary just to pay for the treatments. But, more importantly, what do you do when someone rings the doorbell and you’ve got the shower cap/ treatment thing going on?

    • It’s a royal pain the ass, no doubt about it.

  2. Folic acid that I get for $3 a bottle has made my hair not only grow longer but thicker. Side effect – hair grows everywhere, so shaving is a pain but worth thick long hair. I discovered this after a bad hair cut and just continued to take it when I realized how heathly my hair was and eye lashes.

    I have used Latisse and it stops working when you stop using it. I worked at a spa and all the girls had beautiful super long lashes, but I was really concerned that I would be one in the million where this would darken my green eyes and my vanity stopped there.

  3. I read in a magazine just the other day that you should never wrap your wet hair in a towel on top of your head, as it caused the roots to lie flat. I have also read that you should put styling products in your hair while it is still very wet and then blow dry the roots right away. Again, the reason there being so that the roots do not have time to lie flat on your head.
    I simply do not style my hair enough to test this theory for myself and am wondering if you have experienced more/less volume in adding/deleting these types of things to your styling routine?

  4. I have two tips that have worked for me.

    1) I use this pre shampoo wash about once a month:

    It removes build up and makes my hair insanely fluffy.

    2) I follow up with “clear henna” which is not henna, but cassia obovata:

    You can add lemon juice or some other acidic liquid IF you want to add blonde highlights to your grey(ing) hair. I did that once and it truly turned the grey at my temples blonde! You need to let the mixture sit overnight to release the dye if you want this effect. This last time I mixed with water only, so no overnight set required, and immediately applied. Cassia leaves my hair shiny, thicker feeling, and very soft. The result increase as you continue to use it.

    I have a friend with red hair who started to go brown/grey, and her hair lost its bounce and luster. She started using henna regularly to cover grey and add color. It truly reverted her hair to its original appearance. Henna and cassia are very conditioning, but don’t weigh down your hair follicles. The last time I used cassia, I did it the night before a road trip. I slept on my washed hair, wore a cap on the way to LA, styled upon arrival, and my friend stopped mid sentence to tell me how amazing my hair looked.

    One note – you must do a skin test with all henna and henna like products first to make sure you have no adverse reactions. Natural does not mean without side effects for some!

    I get the stress of thinning hair. I’ve always had “stop in the street” hair. Meaning, people would run after me, yell out from cars, or pass by and exclaim what amazing hair I had. I’ve lost half of it due to illness and perhaps genetics. It’s nothing like it was before, and that is something I am learning to live with. I will def try the Viviscal pills. Thanks for the tip.

    Good luck everyone in your quest for the tresses of your dreams!

    • Thanks so much Lulubella and good luck!

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