Horses have it all: excellent morning breath, people petting them all the time, built-in highlighter when groomed properly. The number one thing they have that everyone wants, however, is thick hair. Grab a fistful of a horse’s mane or tail and you have in your palms the ultimate hirsute dream.
Because you are not a horse ( 🙁 ), thick hair may not be the given. In fact, you, like Alexa Chung, may literally only have three hairs on your head. But you have an advantage where horses do not, and please don’t tell them I said that: you have the ability to read. I asked a nutritionist, three hair stylists, one dermatologist and two product line co-founders how to get thicker hair without extensions (which horses sometimes wear, by the way). Their answers are below for you to peruse, ignore or follow. I also asked myself how I’ve arrived at this point in my life, stretching an equestrian metaphor well past its lifespan. Not all questions are meant to be answered, of course. And with that, I present the following:
Start With Your Diet
McKel Hill, Dietitian, Nutritionist and Founder of Nutrition Stripped, a website dedicated to help make healthy eating simple, said that it wasn’t until she changed her lifestyle and diet in college that her hair began to grow. “Like a weed,” she stressed.
Foods she recommends: “Quality proteins (from plant-based hemp seeds, nuts, tempeh and tofu to animal proteins like salmon, other fish, chicken, etc.), healthy fats (i.e. avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, coconut oil), and micro-nutrients such as minerals (especially zinc and iron), phytonutrients and antioxidants. (We can easily obtain antioxidants from eating vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and healthy fats throughout the day.) B vitamins are also important, but if you’re consuming a diet based in whole foods, you’re already getting plenty of Bs. If not, try adding a couple tablespoons of nutritional yeast a day. It’s packed with B vitamins and protein.”
When I asked her about vitamins, she said “supplements are just that, something to supplement your diet and lifestyle that are already up to par.” Knowing that, in addition to the above healthy-living tips, boosters include omega-3s, protein powders and probiotics (“keeping our gut microbe is KEY to an overall healthy body including nutrient absorption, which, in the long run, means healthy hair”). She recommends New Chapter Perfect Hair, Skin and Nails. (Nutrition Stripped partnered with New Chapter this year but McKel endorses this product regardless. “We wouldn’t have them on our site otherwise,” she told me.)
Foods to avoid: “In the bigger picture of happier hormones, avoid refined sugars and trans fats, plus anything you know doesn’t jive with you (i.e. food allergies or intolerances). More importantly, eat enough food and calories! I see this a lot: As soon as clients increase their calories, their body becomes more nourished, which leads to happier hormones, which leads to healthier hair in the long run.
Marc R. Avram, MD is New York City-based doctor who specializes in hair loss and hair transplantation. “In the US, many of our foods our fortified so there are no foods or vitamins that we commonly recommend. Taking a multivitamin that contains biotin is adequate.”
Meanwhile, Yessenia Reyes, an independent Texture Specialist at Foster Glorioso, loves turmeric and Sun Potion’s He Shou Wu. “Both are great for promoting hair growth. The more your hair grows the thicker it will be.”
Think About Your Actual Hair Cut
Matt Fugate, Kérastase Consulting Hairstylist, suggested asking your stylist for a crosshatching cut. “This is where you basically create shorter pieces of layers that push up on the top pieces of layers in the cut. You can’t get that done on the surface, though, as tiny hairs will pop up, but underneath this helps to give a full appearance.”
Roxie Darling, hair expert (and my go-to colorist), stressed diet first, then “working with what you’ve got.” She recommends bobs for those with finer hair. “A bob will make your hair look and feel thicker because the cleanliness of a chic bob makes fine hair look really supple.” If you have longer hair, trim it frequently to keep the ends from splitting. She also recommends that you brush your hair often (while dry) to distribute “the beautiful natural oils that your scalp makes.”
Yessenia Reyes recommends hair trims every two to three months. “This will help get rid of any sparse hair. Sparse ends make the hair appear thin.”
Consider the Product You Use and How You Style Your Hair
Chase Kusero and Aaron Grenia, Co-Founders of IGK Hair, want you to stop over-washing your tresses. “Shampoo less and your hair will be more hydrated,” they said, which helps promote thickness. “Be sure to use sulfate-free products to preserve your hair’s natural oils. (Their whole line of products is sulfate-free, should you be in the market.)
If you blow dry your hair: Kusero and Grenia recommend their Trust Fund Thickening Foam on damp hair for great volume and texture.
“You can actually let the cuticle frizz up just a little bit,” says Kérastase’s Matt Fugate. “Blow dry the ‘not camera-ready sections’ a little rougher — i.e. the underneath sections, then keep the top polished. This helps create body and volume.”
If you prefer to air dry: The IGK co-founders say texture is your friend. “Apply Beach Club Texture Spray mid-shaft through ends and Jet Lag Dry Shampoo at the root, then massage the scalp to encourage lift.”
Yessenia Reyes endorses the dry-shampoo hack and likes a product that plumps. “To give the illusion of thicker hair, go for volumizing products. One of my favorites is Phyto’s Phytovolume Actif Intense Volume Spray. The product helps to plump up strands of hair by making them appear thicker and fuller. Dry shampoos are also great. They absorb oils which might weigh the hair down, making it appear thin and flat.”
If you have thinning hair: Matt Fugate recommends Kérastase’s Specifique Traitement Intensif Anti-Affinement. “They are these little ampules that you can either get in-salon or buy online and help with adding volume and shine so hair doesn’t have that thinning appearance. The shampoo in the collection stimulates fiber production and increases hair metabolism, so it too helps with thinning hair.”
If We’re Talking Genetic Hair Loss, That’s Treatable
“There are many causes of thinning hair,” said Dr. Avram. “Genetic hair loss is the most common. Other causes of hair loss include medications, chronic medical conditions, poor nutrition and telogen effluvium, stress-related hair loss.”
Don’t go diagnosing yourself on WebMD just yet.
“When evaluating hair loss in women, it is important to obtain a complete medical history and perform a physical exam of the scalp,” he said. “If there are any doubts in the diagnosis, a scalp biopsy can be performed.”
If your hair loss is genetic, Dr. Avram says it’s treatable. “Platelet rich plasma (PRP) is the most significant new treatment option. PRP is done in the office by drawing blood from the patient and then centrifuging the blood for 10 minutes. The platelet rich clear part of the blood is then injected into the scalp at monthly intervals for three months, then roughly in nine to 12 months for maintenance. Approximately 50% of patients have had regrowth. Patients like it because it is not something done daily at home.”
The most recommended and clinically proven medication for hair loss is Minoxidil. (The brand-name version of Minoxidil is Rogaine). Minoxidil comes in both foam and solution forms and is applied daily. It’s used to hold on to your existing hair and in some cases, to regrow hair. Another medical treatment option for hair loss is low-level l laser light therapy (LLLT). LLLT is done at home 30 minutes every other day. All these treatments have variable results and take about six to nine months to judge.”
Another option is hair transplantation, which Dr. Avram says is, “a safe, effective surgical treatment option. It is done under local anesthesia in the office setting. We remove thousands of follicles from the posterior scalp and place them into thinning spaces in the frontal scalp individual hair grouping at a time. Hair transplantation is consistently natural.”
Things to Avoid When Trying to Make Your Hair More Thick
Over-washing: Roxie Darling, Chase Kusero and Aaron Grenia all said to wash thin hair less. Roxie specified that you wash it no more than three times a week. “This way your scalp has an opportunity to create the good oils that you need to brush through your hair.”
Too much moisture: “Anything super-moisturizing may weigh the hair down,” said Matt Fugate. “Be careful with anything in this vein, like coconut oil. They’re better for when you’re trying to slick hair down, or if you have super-thick hair.”
Making the problem worse: For anyone with thinning hair, Dr. Avram recommends avoiding extra tension on hair follicles, like tight braiding, Brazilian hair straightening and hot combs. “Thin hair breaks easily and can worsen the problem. Shampooing, coloring and blow drying on a regular basis is fine,” he said.
Stress: Man oh man does it always come back to stress. Kérastase’s Matt Fugate, IGK’s Chase Kusero and Aaron Grenia and McKel Hill of Nutrition Stripped said to avoid stress, while Dr. Avram confirmed it contributes to hair loss. Easier said than done, of course, but it’s worth trying.
I wonder if low stress is the horse community’s secret. It totally is. I bet they meditate.
Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi; Pawaka sunglasses featured throughout.