Before we get specific about the best cuts and color solutions for fine, thinning hair, you need to know that hair loss doctors do not expect you to stop coloring your hair (if you do) or resist using heat to style it. What they do suggest is being strategic about chemical processing and styling:
- You might consider downsizing your color routine from double process with highlights to just highlights or going closer to your natural color.
- You may want to give up a few inches (do you really need stringy hair hanging down your back?) to get extra fullness and volume.
- But ditch the tight ponytails and cornrows — that kind of traction is non-negotiable.
- Hair loss specialist Dr. Catherine A. Orentreich of the Orentreich Medical Group in New York City adds, “If you get a salon straightening treatment, opt for the Brazilian keratin one, not the Japanese method, which is more destructive to the hair shaft.”
Let’s get a few basics straight about hair. Hair is dead — the part that is alive is under your scalp in the follicle. The hair that we style and color — the hair shaft — is made up of a protein called keratin. The outer layer of the hair shaft is called the cuticle and when that is smooth, resilient and strong, your hair looks healthy. The cuticle covers the inner cortex and medulla of the hair and is composed of layers that overlap like a tiered skirt.
When you blow-dry your hair in a certain way and add a styling product, the layers of the cuticle get fluffed up instead of being smooth — and your hair appears fuller. There’s one pro I’ve worked with for years who knows this topic cold: celebrity hair (and makeup) artist Jim Crawford, who specializes in women over 50. His clients include Helen Mirren, Susan Sarandon, Cybill Shepherd, Isabella Rossellini, Valerie Bertinelli, Shirley MacLaine and Christine Baranski – all known for their trademark hair. Jim insists that most celebs do not have great hair. “You always see them after pros have worked to transform their thin, fragile, chemically fried hair.
Most bring hairpieces matched to their hair to the set or ask me to bring them along. Thinning hair, bald spots and receding hairlines can be camouflaged – trust me, I do it all the time.” Crawford relies on one of these four basic cuts to create the illusion of more hair and hide sparse areas. At least one will work for you.
The four best cuts to flatter thin hair
- A short, classic bob
This blunt, chic, chin-length cut is a foolproof disguise for hair that has all-over thinning and/or skimpy areas at the crown or back or the head. You can add full side-swept bangs to camouflage a skimpy hairline. It’s low-maintenance and can get blown up easily for a fuller look with a blow-out and styling lotion. It’s versatile and can be worn on or off the face. Inspirations: Jackie O, Cybill Shepherd, Kim Cattrall, Christine Baranski, Anna Wintour, Ellen Barkin.
- A short, choppy bob
Add irregular length layers and pieces for a fuller look. The tousled, shaggy look can give the effect of more hair and texture. It’s especially valuable for women wanting to camouflage thinning at the crown or back of the head. Inspirations: Meg Ryan, Diane Sawyer, Glenn Close, Helen Mirren.
- A mid-length, shoulder-grazing cut angled in long layers around the face
This length is as long as a woman with thin hair should go, but it has the feel of longer hair. Have your hairdresser remove all weight from the ends so the hair moves. Inspirations: Susan Sarandon, Sharon Stone, Iman, Jaclyn Smith, Suzanne Somers.
- A short, layered crop with bangs
This look is gamine in spirit but sophisticated and still sexy. If you have a great neck, fairly crisp jaw-line and your thinning is most obvious along the front hairline this cut can be an ally. Inspirations: Annette Bening, Judy Dench, Shirley MacLaine.
Once you have the right cut for you, there are two more secrets to building in fullness:
- Using the right blow-dry technique
- Choosing the right texture styling product.
Professional styling secrets for thin hair
Here are Jim Crawford’s behind-the scenes styling tricks:
- Quickly rough dry your hair with your blow-dryer on a high heat setting using your hands and fingers to lift and move the hair. You want to be fast as possible and not use any brushes.
- Your goal is to eliminate 80 % of the water in your hair before applying styling product. The reason? If you leave water in your hair when you apply volumizers, the result is diluted.
- Don’t worry at this point about frizz or perfection, just get it nearly dry.
- Then spray on a styling lotion or a mousse to build in body. These formulas are light, non-greasy and provide just enough lift and texture. You must avoid all waxes, gels, pastes, polishers, styling creams, shine boosting mists and silicone serums. They will weigh your hair down, make it oily and revealing sparse areas. Even if the label on one of these seven products says volumizing or for fine thin hair or body-boosting, ignore them — they are not for you.
- Finish the look by continuing to rough dry once the styling spray or mousse is in you hair. Then just polish the ends with a round or flat brush as a final step in your blow-out.
- An alternative finish is to continue to blow dry using your hands to direct the hair in the direction you want it to go. When your hair is totally dry, very lightly and quickly run a flat iron or a barrel iron from mid-hair shaft to ends only. Don’t run the iron over and over through the hair or linger over a spot.
Hair color tricks for thin hair
“Women feel more comfortable now discussing thinning hair issues with their colorist and hair stylist,” says New York City color guru Beth Minardi of Minardi Salon. “You need to take charge of the problem from a medical and cosmetic standpoint to really get an effective result. Think of each strand of hair as a fiber. At twenty it was like a stand of yarn, by 50 it’s more like thread.”
- Use permanent color to thicken hair.
Thinning hair can be improved by using a permanent hair color which penetrates the outer cuticle of the hair and swells the hair shaft. Minardi urges women to “Take advantage of the thickening benefits of permanent color. It fattens each individual hair so cumulatively your hair feels thicker.”
- Variations in tone create depth.
Some women experiencing thinning hair decide this is the moment to go blonde or if they are already blonde to go lighter. A big mistake, according to Minardi: “If you go too blonde when your hair is thinning, your hair will look transparent and sparseness at the scalp actually will become more visible. Instead, go for variations in blonde tones with a dark blonde or even light brown base and lighter brighter shades on top to create depth and the illusion of more hair. Brunettes should do their variation aiming for a tone on tone multi-color effect too, keeping the darkest color at the scalp as your base. A solid allover color will reveal any thinning or sparse areas while a multi-color look adds camouflage and creates the illusion of thicker hair.”
- Color-camouflage a thin hairline.
How about the sparse or thinning hairline area where color seems to grab more quickly? As Minardi explains, ” Brunettes with thin hairlines usually notice their color going darker-nearly black in that area and here’s why: color grabs more easily where your hair is thinnest. Highlighting around the hairline in brown on brown shades to vary the color helps in this instance. If you’re a brunette who colors her hair at home, go a shade lighter than you think.”