The earliest stages of hair loss can sometimes be difficult to spot but, fortunately, there are signs to look out for. One such sign is a thinning appearance to your hair when it’s wet.
But does thinning when wet mean you’re doomed to baldness? In this post, you’ll find the answer to that question, and more.
Read on to learn more about hair loss, how you can spot it, and what you should do if you suspect thinning.
What Causes Hair Thinning and Loss?
When one thinks of hair loss, their most common thought is of Male-Pattern Baldness (MPB).
Also known as Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA), pattern baldness is a genetic condition that’s present in 30 to 50 percent of men by the age of 50 (1).
And contrary to popular belief, this condition can also appear in women and even in teens and young adults.
The exact cause of pattern hair loss is unknown, though there are a few theories.
One theory which gained great acceptance was that of androgen sensitivity (2).
In short, androgens are hormones that play various roles throughout the body. But one particular hormone, DHT, plays a significant role in male sexual development (3).
Androgens, and especially DHT, are naturally found at the hair follicle. In those without a genetic predisposition to hair loss, that shouldn’t cause a problem.
But in men and women who are predisposed to AGA, the presence of DHT at the follicle may trigger a process called miniaturization.
Miniaturization is inflammation of the follicle which eventually leads to premature shedding. It also makes it difficult for new, healthy hairs to grow.
In the end, the hair follicle will slowly stop producing hair and then eventually die.
There are other theories surrounding AGA, including mechanical stress and scalp calcification (4).
Whatever the cause, one thing is clear – pattern hair loss is progressive, and the earlier you treat it the better.
Is Thin Hair When Wet an Early Sign of Balding?
If your hair has begun to look thinner, especially when wet, it may be a sign of a hair loss condition.
It could indicate the start of androgenetic alopecia as mentioned above, or it could also be caused by temporary illnesses or even prescription medications.
The main question to ask yourself is, “when did this thinning become apparent?”
If the thinning seems sudden – especially if it coincides with an illness or the start of a new medication – then it’s likely caused by telogen effluvium.
But if the thinning has been gradual, then AGA may be the cause.
The Early Signs of Balding
While wet hair that looks thin may be an early sign of balding, it’s not the only one to look out for. In fact, the signs below are a much more reliable way of knowing if early hair loss is occuring.
So, what should you look for if you’re concerned with early thinning and balding?
An Uneven Hairline
The hairline is a line of follicles at the temples and forehead.
There are three main types of hairlines: juvenile, mature, and receding.
A juvenile hairline is present in children and young teens. It has rounded edges and, very often, there is no distinguishable setback at the follicles.
A mature hairline is next, and it often begins to appear in the late teens and early 20s.
The main difference between a juvenile hairline and a mature one is the distinct edges which appear at the temples.
With a mature hairline, there is a distinguished shape that has begun to take form.
A receding hairline is what happens when a mature hairline has continued to “mature” past its usual point.
So, where does the uneven hairline come in?
An uneven hairline is one that is noticeably further back on the temples than the front-most part of the forehead. But it’s also one where one temple appears to have a deeper shape than the other.
In other words, an unevenness at the temples is the tell-tale sign of a receding hairline.
When your hairline has begun to recede, you may be wondering where all of that hair has gone.
Excessive shedding is a sign of hair loss that is most noticeable on your pillow and in the shower drain.
It occurs when the hair strands are prematurely pushed from the follicles.
The most common cause for this is an interruption to the hair growth cycle which may be triggered by genetics, illness, or medication.
Thin, Wispy Hairs
What happens when your follicles have begun to miniaturize?
Well, if the follicles are left untreated, then they transition from terminal hairs to vellus.
Terminal hairs are thick, pigmented hairs found throughout the body. These hairs are most associated with the scalp, beard, and armpits.
Vellus hairs, on the other hand, are thinner and non-pigmented. They are seen all over the body in both children and adults, and their primary role is temperature regulation (5).
While hairs will more commonly transition from vellus to terminal during puberty, the reverse can also occur. This is due to miniaturization which has cut off blood supply to the follicles and left them with no oxygen or nutrients.
If you’re a man, these thinner hairs will appear most noticeably at the temples. If you’re a woman, they may be harder to see as they’re likely to be found throughout the scalp but especially at the crown.
Two Ways to Treat Thinning Hair
There’s no surefire way to treat thinning and hair loss. However, there are steps you can take to get on the right track.
1. Discover the True Cause
If you’re suffering from hair loss, your first thought may be how you can possibly treat it.
Before you can begin treating the problem, though, you’ll need to know what it actually is.
As discussed above, there are many causes of hair loss.
The most common of those is androgenetic alopecia. Other ones include:
- Alopecia areata
- Telogen effluvium
- Anagen effluvium
- Fungal infections
- Food sensitivities
- Illness or medications
- Traction alopecia
- Hormonal imbalance
And that’s not even the entire list!
The point is, there are many ways that thinning and balding can occur. But if you want to treat the problem at its source, you must know the cause.
This will ensure you have the greatest chance of recovery.
So, what steps can you take to begin the discovery process?
If you’re otherwise healthy, you can likely rule out illness or prescription medications as a cause. The same can often be said for malnutrition (which is rare if you’re eating a balanced diet) and hormonal imbalance (6).
Next, it’s time to rule out hidden food allergies or intolerances.
Foods such as dairy, wheat, and corn can cause internal inflammation that may trigger an array of symptoms (7).
These symptoms may include fatigue, gastrointestinal distress, respiratory complaints, and dermatological effects such as hives and itching.
The easiest way to rule out such intolerances is with an allergy test.
An allergist can perform two tests – a skin prick test, and a blood test (8).
The results will help to pinpoint the most likely causes of your chronic inflammation so you can begin to eliminate them from your diet.
However, there is room for error with both the skin prick test and the blood test. This is why you may also consider an elimination diet for foods you are unsure of (9).
And finally, you can visit a dermatologist for a more thorough examination.
A dermatologist who specializes in hair loss, also known as a trichologist, can perform a physical examination as well as run blood tests and take a family medical history.
These efforts combined can help your doctor to pinpoint a likely cause of hair thinning, as well as a potential treatment plan.
The treatments most often recommended by doctors are minoxidil and finasteride.
These drugs certainly have their place in treating thinning and baldness, but they may not be the right choice for everyone.
You can talk with your doctor about alternative options, or consider taking a more holistic approach as outlined below.
2. Create a Healthy Scalp Environment
Whether you choose to use this method alone or in combination with a traditional treatment, it’s important to remember one thing: consistency is key.
You won’t always make the right choices for your overall and hair health, but as long as you do so the majority of the time you’re likely to see positive results.
Now, let’s take a look at what it means to create a healthy environment for hair growth.
There are two elements that are absolutely necessary for a healthy scalp environment. They are:
- Proper moisture and hydration
- Substantial blood flow
The scalp, just like most of the rest of the body’s skin, contains pores. These pores house the hair follicle, as well as a structure known as the sebaceous gland.
The sebaceous gland secretes sebum, which is an oily substance that coats the skin and hair (10).
One of sebum’s main roles is to protect against sun damage (11). The lipids that make up sebum are also beneficial for skin and hair elasticity, and they even act as a barrier to prevent infection.
While it’s common for many Westerners to wash their hair once per day, this is actually detrimental to the scalp.
When you strip sebum from the skin and hair, the sebaceous glands will work to replace it. This may lead to overproduction of sebum which can clog the pores and hair follicles.
But it can also lead to dryness which causes easily damaged skin and hair breakage.
Perhaps even more important than moisture and hydration, though, is blood flow.
Blood carries vital nutrients and oxygen to the follicles, and it also removes natural waste and buildup.
There are blood vessels which connect the hair follicle to the circulatory system. When the follicle is healthy, the blood flow remains stable.
But when miniaturization sets in, the flow is slowly cut off and the hair strand will suffer as a result.
So, what can you do to ensure proper moisture/hydration and blood circulation? Scalp massage!
Scalp massage is mechanical stimulation of the scalp using your fingers or a specialized tool.
Massage is known to stimulate blood flow to the immediate area (12).
This is a great way to combat miniaturization and prevent calcification and fibrosis (13).
The movements associated with massage are also a way to naturally spread sebum throughout the skin and hair.
You can use this technique, then, to improve moisture and hydration.
And best of all, standardized scalp massage has even been proven to increase hair thickness when performed on a daily basis (14)!
There are other ways to create a healthy scalp, though, including a clean diet and a cleaner lifestyle.
There are certain foods, particularly those with a high-glycemic load, that may be linked to sebum overproduction (15). This can create an imbalance in the scalp which may trigger further thinning and loss.
Other lifestyle choices, too, such as smoking and drinking can lead to overall poor health. As you might expect, this can lead to poor hair growth and perhaps even active balding.
The first signs of hair loss can be shocking. This is especially true when thinning and bald spots aren’t actually apparent unless your hair is wet.
The good news is, it’s possible to 1) pinpoint the cause of the thinning; and 2) implement a treatment routine to target the condition.
And remember, the earlier you begin treatment, the better outcome you’re likely to see.
So if you suspect hair loss, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor immediately. They can help you to pinpoint the issue and even suggest various treatment options.
But you may also be able to troubleshoot the problem on your own and, therefore, take control of your hair loss situation.