What was your hair like as a kid? Was it a different color than it is now? Perhaps it was a different texture too. Are you wondering, is it true your hair changes every 7 years?
Yes, it does!
You’re totally not imagining anything. Even in your adult years, which includes those years where you are legally and technically an adult but need to ask a ‘real’ adult (like your Mom who you can hear rolling her eyes through the phone when you ask her if you can microwave paper plates) because you still don’t feel like a full-fledged adult.
When we’re really young, we take the thick and luscious hair we have for granted. Then we only start paying attention to it in our 20s and 30s. From there we’re told, it can be pretty iffy. While hair naturally falls out at every age you pass through, it becomes more noticeable the older you get.
Experts say we come into this world with about 100,000 hair follicles on our heads. All of them are meant to go through growth cycles at varying stages. This is to keep your hair on your head. For if every strand on your head were in the last stage of hair growth and all fell out at once, that would be horrible.
What’s more, your hair has a growth cycle that runs about 4 to 7 years, at least in the beginning. So when you’re young, this is a regular thing. And then your hair naturally sheds and the anagen phase (we’ll talk about that one further down) gets shorter and shorter. And the hair that comes back? Well, it’s just not the same. It’s thinner. It grows in smaller bundles and it these hairs have a shorter growth phase. Eek.
Hair most certainly can change completely every 7 years. It goes a little something like this:
- Hair grows in bundles in the follicle
- Over time, those bundles become less dense
- Hair thins slowly
- As you get older, you have less hair
Ok, that seems a tad more dramatic than it should be. You don’t need to panic and grab a wig or anything like that. Keep reading and we’ll give you some tips to help with your hair even if you’ve already noticed it thinning out a bit.
Thinness isn’t the only concern with hair changes anyway. Let’s talk puberty. Or more specifically, how hair changes when your hormones shift. You could have had really silky and straight hair. Then, your first period shows up and suddenly, you’ve got major curls. Why is this happening?!?
Hair grows and changes with us in more than just length. It changes in diameter too. Babies have that thin hair (hence why we call it baby-fine hair) and then as they grow into toddlers and bigger kids, the hair strands thicken up a bit. But they get thin again as we move on into those perimenopausal and menopausal years ahead of us in our 40s and 50s.
Despite knowing that hormones have a hand in this, it’s still not very clear to experts why this happens, or how. If you have curly hair, your hair follicles are flat, meanwhile straight-haired people have rounder hair follicles. And sometimes, that changes and it is an absolute mystery!
While we have only about 100,000 hair follicles on our heads, millions of hairs grow from them. We can’t grow new hair follicles but we can grow new hair. So, why does it seem like our hair density is less than it was when we were kids, tweens, and teens than now as adults? The answer is that our scalps expand to grow along with us.
That’s why it looks less dense, but the lack of density continues to wane as we get older. That 7-year renewal changes and becomes much less so you will begin to notice you have less and less hair with every passing year, unless you do something about it.
What can you do? Panicking is not allowed here. Besides, the stress will only compound hair loss problems. We’ll discuss how to help your hair thrive below, but first, you should understand the growth cycle of your hair so you know how to use science to your advantage!
It has to do with the hair growth cycle
All the hair on your head grows every day. It’s so miniscule that you won’t notice it if you check it every day though. The length ranges from 0.3 to 0.4 mm per day. This is roughly 6 inches (15.24 cm) per year, something you’d definitely notice.
Something else you notice is how you shed hair, which is NORMAL at every age. It’s part of the life cycle of each strand. Unlike other mammals though, our hair growth and shedding is completely random. Other mammals shed in cycles or by seasons. For us though, you can look at the top of your head right now and all the hairs you see will be in one of 3 growth stages and shedding. The stages are anagen, catagen, and telogen.
In short, anagen is the growth phase, catagen is the regressing phase, and telogen is the resting phase. These are all derived from Greek prefixes, in case you were wondering.
Before the start of this cycling, there is a follicular morphogenesis phase that takes place. And there’s a shedding phase too, called exogen, that is not related to anagen or telogen phases. This is when one or more hairs that come from a single follicle fall out.
Usually, somewhere around 90% of the hair follicles on your head are in that anagen phase. A smaller amount (about 10% to 14%) of them are in the telogen phase. And the rest (about 1% to 2% of your hair) is in the catagen phase. This growth cycle applies to ALL the hair on your body. Each body part has a different cycle length, and thank goodness for that because while you want eyebrows, you certainly don’t want them growing down to your chin!
How does your body know to stop the length before you look like Cousin It? Simple! It has a chemical signal, DLX3. This is a critical regulator for hair follicle cycling and differentiation.
So now, let’s delve into the particulars of each phase to understand our hair growth better and make the best of it.
Phase 1: Anagen
The first phase is the active growth phase for your hair. In the root of your hair, the cells are dividing quickly. The new hair forms and pushes any hair that has stopped growing, or hence, not in the anagen phase, up and out from the hair follicle. When your hair is in the anagen phase, it will grow roughly 1 cm every 28 days. It stays in this growth phase for 2 to 6 years.
Now, knowing this, you may be saying, “Aha!” Because this might be why you can’t get your hair to grow past a certain length. You just might have a short active phase of growth. Meanwhile, your bestie might be making you jealous with her ultra-long hair which is enjoying a long anagen phase.
All of us have very short active growth phases for the hairs on our arms and legs as well as our eyelashes and eyebrows. That time of growth is between 30 to 45 days.
Phase 2: Catagen
Once your hair exits the anagen phase, it moves in the transitional catagen phase. At any given time, about 3% of your hairs are in this phase. It’s a short phase that lasts around 2 to 3 weeks. The growth stops and then the outer sheath of the root shrinks, then attaches to the root of that hair. It creates what they call a ‘club’ hair.
Phase 3: Telogen
After that transitional phase, your hair moves into the telogen phase. This is about 6% to 8% of all your current hairs right now. It’s a 100-day phase for the hair on your head though for the other shorter hairs on your body (eyebrows, eyelashes and the like), it’s longer. The hair follicle is in a complete stage of rest at this point. The club hair is fully formed. If you were to pull a hair out of your head in the telogen phase, you’ll see a solid, white, hard material where it came from your head. You can expect to find between 25 and 100 telogen hairs shedding from your head every day.
The aging process plays a role too
Oh, but the hands of time! How they love to mess with this cycle of repeated growth! As you age, there are many changes that can affect the follicles of your hair. They come in the form of biochemical and hormonal impacts. Plus, there’s also all that wear and tear you put on your hair from the styles you create.
So, if you feel like you had thicker hair a few years ago, or the texture seemed different, it’s not your imagination. It’s reality, one that’s a bit harsh at times, if we’re honest.
It all starts in our 20s, when we’re deliriously ignorant of it. We’re still having gobs of fun and not seeing the consequences of our actions. Yet.
Hormones are one of the largest factors for hair texture. In fact, if you have a thyroid problem, hair can weaken and fall out, or even break with more ease. It’s not all bad news though. If you decide to start your family in your 20s, your pregnancy hormones will make your hair really thick and shiny.
But then in your 30s, whether you have babies or not, you’ll start to see another shift. With every decade that we move through, those bundles of hair in your follicles become smaller. There are less strands to them now and as your hair goes through the phases of growth, you’ll notice it is starting to thin. The 30s are when you might see your first gray hair too, but this can vary greatly. We’ve known some people in their 20s to get gray hairs while we’ve known some in their 40s who have yet to spot one!
Speaking of the 40s, the end is nigh! Just kidding, but in all seriousness, your body starts moving closer to menopause. Surely your mom has warned you about it in a “Beware the Ides of March” type of ominous way. Or maybe not. Anyway, your hormones go completely crazy and are rather unpredictable. This can start well in advance of actual menopause, sometimes 10 years before you get to the real thing.
As if the symptoms of menopause aren’t tortuous enough, you’ll start finding your hair thins even more and may even encounter noticeable bald spots. More hair will fall out as you brush or shower too. And you thought that shower drain was clogged already!
Some preliminary research about hair loss during menopause points to hormonal imbalances with a lower production of both estrogen and progesterone. When you have enough of these hormones, it helps your hair grow faster and stay put on your head for longer. In addition to thinning hair on your head, you may notice your eyebrows and eyelashes becoming thinner and more sparse too.
It’s inevitable. Tempting as it is to cry, especially if you’re closer to menopause now, you don’t have to sit back and wait until you see your scalp even when you comb your hair over. Keep reading to find out what to do!
How to make the most out of your hair change
Ideally, you’ll want to look for ways to extend your anagen phase. Yes, it’s possible! But how can you do that and get it to grow longer and stronger before it sheds away?
– Avoid stress
Stress doesn’t just put us closer to heart problems and other diseases. It can cause hair loss and give your hair follicles a violent shove into the telogen phase. When life is stressful, stop and take a moment to release that stress in a positive way. Do yoga, meditate, go for a walk or run, or anything that helps you drop that stress like a hot potato fast.
Removing severe sources of stress from your life, especially while you’re still young, can help you bolster your hair growth before it’s too late. You can and should talk to your doctor about ways to manage stress that will help your hair and your overall health.
– Choose a healthy diet
We’re all tired of that old saying about being what you eat. You know it and we do too. But it’s incredibly true. If your diet is lacking in key nutrients, you can kiss your beautiful tresses goodbye. Another great bonus of eating a proper diet with lean protein and plenty of iron is that it can naturally improve your mood and keep you from feeling stressed out.
Protein and iron are among the biggest nutrients for hair growth. So many women have iron deficiencies. So cue the salmon and a side of spinach, pronto! Additionally, cut out processed foods. Once in a while, a little treat is fine. But if you’re constantly snacking on chips and candies, that habit needs to end. Find healthy replacements for your sweet cravings, like dried fruits without added sugar on top of Greek yogurt, and you’ll be in business.
It’s always a good idea to take vitamins too. Talking to your doctor about your health needs can help you choose one that helps you specifically, though adding in a biotin supplement can help you get thicker, fuller hair that radiates with good health. B vitamins are essential too because they help bring more oxygen to your scalp to renew hair growth. You can take them as a supplement or simply eat more whole grains, lean meat, fresh seafood, and dark, leafy veggies.
– Adopt a good hair regimen
Now that you know these hair growth phases, it’s so important to be in tune with your hair. In that growing stage, you need to keep your hair in the best condition possible so it stays beautiful and healthy during that up to 7-year period. In the catagen phase, you should keep your hair nourished to keep blood flowing to the scalp with that precious oxygen. A hair mask like this one by Moroccanoil Intense Hydrating Hair Mask, can really work wonders, amazing for color_treated and all hair types, especially with it’s unique formula rich with antioxidants that will promote cell growth allowing new cells to replace damaged ones giving you a thicker, silkier hair.
And if you’d like something that’s 100% organic, check out this Honey Myrtle Deep Conditioning Hair Mask
Watch how you handle your hair though. As a child, you probably didn’t blow out your hair unless it was cold out and your mom decided to pamper you. Maybe in your teens, you played with curling irons or flat irons to get your look just right. And now as an adult, how do you treat your hair? If you’re always inflicting it with heat styling tools, it’s time to give it a rest.
We’re not saying to toss out your heat styling tools, but DO take the proper precautions when using them. Always use a heat protection spray and section your hair off, spraying it as you go to maximize your protection. Make sure you take regular breaks from that heat too. And always nourish your hair with quality products that feed it the hydration it needs to thrive. Anything with sulfates, parabens, phthalates, or other chemical nasties should never come anywhere near your precious hair.
And we’re sorry to say this, but if you’re coloring your hair, you’ve got to be extra careful too. That will majorly thin things out. Make sure you’re doing it right if you’re doing it at home and keep up with a nourishing routine to care for your locks. Your stylist will likely tell you that if you keep up with trimming it regularly and deep conditioning it with a hair mask once or twice a week, you can chase away any grays and retain healthy hair.
Something else that’s important for hair care is how you wash it. You really shouldn’t wash it every single day as that strips the sebum from your scalp.
No matter your age, if you think your thinning hair is the result of all your styling and dye-jobs, you can take a break from them for a few weeks. You’ll start to notice an improvement. Replace your products with gentle ones that are free from the chemicals mentioned above and look into using Tifara Beauty Flexible Curling Rods (Amazon link) to get your hair wavy or straight without heating it.
Unfortunately, you can’t stop getting older. And really, why would you want to? It sure beats dying. You can stave off the look of aging though by maintaining your hair’s health to keep it strong. Caffeine, niacinamide, and panthenol are all quite good for aging hair so give them a try.
– Check with your physician about certain medications
Along with hormonal issues, you might be experiencing hair loss due to medications to manage a condition. Particularly medications that help with hormones can make a major impact on the texture of your hair. Often, thyroid and birth control pills can result in fragile hair. Some women even lose hair despite that some of these medicines are prescribed to deal with hair loss.
If you’re taking prescriptions for any reason and you notice thinning hair, make an appointment to talk to your doctor about it. There might be an alternative medication to use that won’t cause you to shed.
There are times when hair loss is permanent. You can consider a hair transplant, something that can be done regardless of your age. You can even have it done for eyebrows. Follicles are harvested and placed in the areas of baldness to replicate the hairline. You can also look into laser treatments, PRP treatments, and other prescriptions. Your doctor can help you explore the possibilities in the case of permanent hair loss to help you feel more confident.
Is thinning hair in your family history? If so, there’s no time like right now to approach it by being proactive. Low-level laser therapy is approved by the FDA as are trichology scalp treatments that can help keep your hair in that anagen growth phase longer.
While your hair does grow and replace every 7 years at maximum, this span of time shortens as the years go by. Once you’re an adult, that 7-year span decreases. And it keeps getting shorter. What you can do is take care of your hair and scalp to ensure your hair looks its best even as you age.
Aging is inevitable and some hair loss is too, but with the tips we mentioned above, you can keep the visible signs of aging from showing up in your hair until you’re ready to reveal the more mature, grayer you!