How To Choose Hair Styling Products For Thinning Hair

Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated

While it is crucial to take care of the wellbeing of your strands, many people also find it important to look their best in their day-to-day. That’s where styling products come into the picture, helping you to shape your hair and create versatile styles.

However, many find that often there’s a trade-off with these useful products.

They can make our hair look better in the moment, but they also have the potential to compromise its long-term wellbeing with regular use.

Choosing the right hair styling products with good styling ability that will not worsen the condition of the hair can be especially challenging for those with hair thinning. It requires careful consideration to ensure that you can create your desired styles while also promoting your hair’s health.

If you experience thinning hair, your primary goal may be to make your strands appear fuller and thicker. At the same time, it’s also important to consider the product’s impact on your scalp health and your hair’s integrity with long-term use.

This article will guide you through the process of choosing the appropriate hair styling products for thinning hair. Below, we’ll go through the main factors to consider, taking an evidence-based approach.

 

Summary

Choosing styling products for thinning hair can be especially challenging. In addition to the product’s ability to create your desired look with varying degrees of hold, there are other factors to consider:

  • Is the product damaging to the hair?
  • Can it create a fuller, thicker look?
  • Is it gentle on the scalp?

The answer to these questions, perhaps not surprisingly, lies in the ingredient list. If you’re looking to grow fuller, healthier-looking hair, it’s important to choose ingredients that can nourish and protect your strands and scalp, while avoiding those that have the potential to damage them.

You may also want to look for ingredients that are lightweight and won’t weigh your hair down, making it look thinner, as well as ingredients that can add thickness and texture, creating an overall fuller look.

3 BIG Questions To Ask Before Choosing Your Styling Products

1. Does it damage hair?

Making sure that you use products that are as gentle on your strands as possible is especially important if you have thinning and/or weak hair. Looking after your strands and ensuring they’re in their best shape is crucial to grow fuller, healthier-looking hair.

Does it contain harsh ingredients?

Part of this is avoiding ingredients that have the potential to compromise the integrity of your hair, such as sulfates. While sulfates are generally safe and may not cause any problems for many, their regular use might strip the hair of its natural oils in some individuals, leading to damage. According to studies, such ingredients can damage integral hair lipids in the hair follicle, which has the important function as hair barrier [1]. This, in turn, causes hair damage.

Does it contain nourishing ingredients?

Another part of this is ingredients that have the ability to nourish and protect your strands. Choosing products that contain moisturising ingredients can be beneficial for your hair. Some examples include glycerin that acts as a hair conditioning agent and humectant [2] and aloe vera which is used for moisturising, cleansing, and thickening, and has the potential for hair growth [3]. Furthermore, argan oil is an effective (pre-) treatment in protecting hair against oxidative damage [4].

In case of hair thinning, and/or hair loss, it is important to seek ingredients for hair regeneration which also promote hair growth. In this case, looking for products with, for example, tocopherol, can have a great impact on your hair [5]. We will discuss the other beneficial ingredients to look for in more detail below.

2. Does it make your hair look fuller, thicker?

In addition to having a positive impact on your hair’s wellbeing, another crucial aspect to consider is the product’s ability to create your desired look. After all, that’s what styling products are used for.

Most of us look for the ability to craft different shapes and styles with varying degrees of hold. But those of us experiencing hair thinning may also look for products that can create an overall fuller, thicker look.

For example, if you have thinning hair, wet-look gels and creams may not be your best friend, as they can easily expose the scalp and highlight any thinning areas. Be sure to check the label for the intended finish of the product as well as the ingredients. These types of products are often based on silicones, petrolatum, or mineral oils, which have a heavy texture and can therefore make thinning hair feel sticky, tacky, and weighed-down.

Opting for matte or low-shine products including more lightweight, water-soluble alternatives could therefore be a better option. Products with kaolin or other types of clay typically have a matte finish as clays are excellent at absorbing moisture. They are also known to add texture and volume to hair, helping to create a fuller, more voluminous look.

3. Is it easy on the scalp?

If you’re trying to grow fuller, thicker hair, it goes without saying that the wellbeing of your scalp is of great importance.

Does it have the potential for irritation?

Artificial fragrances are the number one allergen in the cosmetic industry [7], and high concentrations of essential oils are also known to irritate the skin in some cases. So it’s best to opt for fragrance-free products to avoid any irritation caused by these compounds. Choosing products with soothing ingredients like chamomile, aloe vera, and rosemary [8] may also help you maintain a calm scalp.

Note: It’s important to mention that any ingredient, natural or not, can lead to irritation, so if you have a sensitive skin or you’re unsure, it’s always best to perform a patch test or consult a dermatologist before use.

Could it lead to buildup on the scalp?

Another aspect to consider is whether the product could lead to any buildup on the scalp, as that can clog follicles and have a negative impact on hair growth. Opt for non-comedogenic options that are easier to wash out and therefore less likely to cause buildup, like aloe vera, glycerin, Candelilla wax, or sunflower seed oil.

Is it the right pH?

Opt for products with balanced pH levels to maintain an optimal scalp environment. Balanced pH is a key factor for hair growth. The optimal pH level of the scalp is generally considered to be slightly acidic, ranging between 4.5 and 5.5.

Controversial Ingredients To Be Avoided?

In recents years, a handful of ingredients have been put in the spotlight as the “bad guys” of the cosmetic industry. Let’s take a look at some that are often found in styling products and whether they should really be avoided.

Parabens

Various forms of parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isopropyl paraben, and isobutyl paraben) are used as preservatives in many hair care products.

Studies suggest a link between parabens and hormonal disruption [6], which may lead to hair loss.

However, more research is needed to prove that parabens could lead to human health issues. Thus, making the claims that parabens are associated with hazardous health concerns at this point in time is unfounded.

Silicones

Another ingredient you might consider when checking your hairstyling products is silicones.

Acting as a protective seal, these ingredients leave the hair with a smooth, glossy finish. Meanwhile, they can help improve manageability and decrease breakage when combing.

Unfortunately, certain silicones can be hard to wash out, resulting in residue buildups that could cause further issues. Indeed, researchers have classified silicones into three groups according to their ability to wane off with water.

To minimise any potential negative effects, you may want to bypass those silicones classified as stubborn, such as dimethicone

Proteins and alcohols

Protein-rich products, the most common in “quick drying” protein gel formulas, provide structural support to the hair strand by filling broken spaces. However, excessive use of such products can lead to protein overload, resulting in breakage due to hair dryness.

Short-chain alcohols, such as ethanol, propanol, and isopropanol, are often referred to as drying alcohols. This type of ingredient can be found in many hair styling products as an additive. Not only does it speed up the drying time, but it also allows the product to spread evenly across the hair.

However, due to their drying characteristics, drying alcohols may cause dehydration issues for cuticles. Stripping away oil and water from the hair shaft, these ingredients have the potential to cause dryness and frizz. 

Petrolatum

Petrolatum, derived from petroleum (petroleum jelly), has earned its popularity in hair styling products for several reasons. Its occlusive nature makes it an effective moisturizing agent, sealing in moisture and preventing water loss from the hair shaft. Moreover, its stickiness plays a pivotal role in achieving hold. When applied to the hair, petrolatum creates a film, providing structure and definition to the hairstyle.

However, these effects are achieved at the expense of its washability. Several studies have demonstrated the resistance of petrolatum to water, making it challenging to wash out with conventional water-based cleansers [11,12].

This can result in a buildup on both hair strands and the scalp. Over time, the buildup may contribute to various issues, including dullness, heaviness, and potential scalp irritation, and dandruff. Studies have linked prolonged use of non-water-soluble substances to these concerns [13].

Beneficial Ingredients To Look For

While the above ingredients are generally considered safe, they may lead to issues in certain individuals and hair types. They are also synthetic for the most part, so those taking a more natural, plant-based approach may prefer not to have them on their shelves.

Luckily, there are plenty of natural or naturally-derived options with great benefits to hair that can be used in styling products.

Biotin, also known as vitamin B7, for example, is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in the metabolism of macronutrients, including proteins that are essential for hair growth. It is often associated with promoting hair health and growth. It is believed for biotin to strengthen the hair structure, prevent hair breakage, and promote the overall health of hair follicles. Furthermore, it is involved in the production of keratin, a protein that forms the structure of the hair.

Panthenol (Pro-Vitamin B5). When applied to the hair, it gets converted to pantothenic acid (vitamin B). Panthenol is known for its moisturizing properties. It attracts and retains water, helping to keep your hair shaft hydrated. This can improve the flexibility and elasticity of the hair, reducing the likelihood of breakage. It can also make the hair shaft swell, adding thickness and volume to it, contributing to a fuller and more luscious appearance.

Vitamins. Vitamins E and C are antioxidants that help protect the hair and scalp from oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Antioxidants play a key role in maintaining a healthy scalp environment, which is crucial for optimal hair growth.

Kaolin Clay. Kaolin clay, also known as China clay, is a naturally occurring clay mineral primarily composed of kaolinite. In hair care products, kaolin clay is known for its ability to absorb excess oil and impurities without causing excessive dryness. It provides a lightweight hold and adds texture to the hair [9].

Sunflower Wax. Derived from sunflower oil, sunflower wax adds a protective layer to the hair, helping to retain moisture and prevent dehydration. Plus, it can promote hair growth, too. These effects are present thanks to the fatty acids and tocopherol in sunflower seed extract [10].

Candelilla Wax: Derived from the candelilla plant, it offers a plant-based alternative to petrolatum, providing texture and hold without being heavy or greasy. The latter is especially problematic on thin hair, as heavy and greasy waxes can make thin hair look even thinner. With Candelila Wax, however, this is not an issue.

Quinoa. Quinoa is a protein-rich grain that contains all nine essential amino acids. In hair care, it helps repair damaged hair by strengthening the protein structure. Amino acids contribute to the overall health and resilience of the hair.

Rosemary Leaf. Rosemary has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. When applied to the scalp, it can help soothe irritation, improve circulation, and revitalize your hair follicles. This may contribute to a healthier scalp environment for hair growth [8].

These ingredients work synergically to provide hair styling products that not only help in styling but also offer benefits like moisture retention, protection from damage, and support for overall hair health – including hair growth.

Firm Hybrid Clay
Firm Hybrid Clay
A clay-wax hybrid to craft sleek styles with a strong hold and a semi-matte finish
 

Flexible Hybrid Clay
Flexible Hybrid Clay
A clay-wax hybrid to create flexible styles with a medium hold and a natural finish

Consult A Dermatologist

If you have specific concerns about hair loss or thinning, especially if you have some underlying conditions, consider consulting a dermatologist for personalised advice.

Remember that everyone's hair is unique, so it may take some experimentation to find the perfect styling products for your thinning hair. Additionally, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet with appropriate amounts of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, and proper hair care routine, can contribute to overall hair health.

Disclaimer:

The information we provide is not intended to mitigate, prevent, treat, cure or diagnose any disease or condition. If you have any concerns about your health, please consult your doctor.

References:

[1] Lee WS. Integral hair lipid in human hair follicle. J Dermatol Sci. 2011 Dec;64(3):153-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jdermsci.2011.08.004. Epub 2011 Aug 22. PMID: 21906914.

[2]Becker LC, Bergfeld WF, Belsito DV, Hill RA, Klaassen CD, Liebler DC, Marks JG Jr, Shank RC, Slaga TJ, Snyder PW, Gill LJ, Heldreth B. Safety Assessment of Glycerin as Used in Cosmetics. Int J Toxicol. 2019 Nov/Dec;38(3_suppl):6S-22S. doi: 10.1177/1091581819883820. PMID: 31840548.

[3] Varpe BD, Kulkarni AA, Mali AS. Aloe vera Compositions Used for Medicinal Applications: A Patent Review (2013-till 2020). Recent Pat Food Nutr Agric. 2021;12(2):104-111. doi: 10.2174/2212798411999201228192616. PMID: 33371842.

[4] Sharifi N, Hamedeyazdan S, Shokri J, Monajjemzadeh F. Argan oil as a pretreatment of human hair before exposure to oxidative damage: Attenuated total reflectance and protein loss studies. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2022 Oct;21(10):5010-5017. doi: 10.1111/jocd.14885. Epub 2022 Mar 14. PMID: 35226791.

[5] Hu L, Kimura S, Haga M, Kashiwagi S, Takagi K, Shimizu T, Ishii T, Ohyama M. Vitamins and their derivatives synergistically promote hair shaft elongation ex vivo via PlGF/VEGFR-1 signalling activation. J Dermatol Sci. 2022 Oct;108(1):2-11. doi: 10.1016/j.jdermsci.2022.09.003. Epub 2022 Sep 28. PMID: 36210234.

[6] Robin J, Binson G, Albouy M, Sauvaget A, Pierre-Eugène P, Migeot V, Dupuis A, Venisse N. Analytical method for the biomonitoring of bisphenols and parabens by liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry in human hair. Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2022 Sep 15;243:113986. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2022.113986. Epub 2022 Aug 24. PMID: 36027714.

[7] González-Muñoz P, Conde-Salazar L, Vañó-Galván S. Allergic contact dermatitis caused by cosmetic products. Actas Dermosifiliogr. 2014 Nov;105(9):822-32. English, Spanish. doi: 10.1016/j.ad.2013.12.018. Epub 2014 Mar 20. PMID: 24656778.

[8] al-Sereiti MR, Abu-Amer KM, Sen P. Pharmacology of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis Linn.) and its therapeutic potentials. Indian J Exp Biol. 1999 Feb;37(2):124-30. PMID: 10641130.

[9] Panchal A , Fakhrullina G , Fakhrullin R , Lvov Y . Self-assembly of clay nanotubes on hair surface for medical and cosmetic formulations. Nanoscale. 2018 Oct 4;10(38):18205-18216. doi: 10.1039/c8nr05949g. PMID: 30211430.

[10] Yan A, Ruan R, Zhu X, Qiang W, Guan Y, Yu Q, Sun H, Liu M, Zhu H. Co-delivery of minoxidil and tocopherol acetate ethosomes to reshape the hair Follicular Microenvironment and promote hair regeneration in androgenetic alopecia. Int J Pharm. 2023 Nov 5;646:123498. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpharm.2023.123498. Epub 2023 Oct 10. PMID: 37820942.

[11] De Paepe K, Sieg A, Le Meur M, Rogiers V. Silicones as nonocclusive topical agents. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27(3):164-71. doi: 10.1159/000354914. Epub 2014 Jan 18. PMID: 24457536.

[12] McGee JS, Kirkorian AY, Pappert AS, Milgraum SS. An adolescent boy with urticaria to water: review of current treatments for aquagenic urticaria. Pediatr Dermatol. 2014 Jan-Feb;31(1):116-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-1470.2012.01801.x. Epub 2012 Sep 20. PMID: 22994854.

[13] Galliano A, Ye C, Su F, Wang C, Rakshit R, Guerin M, Flament F, Steel A. Assessing the effect of cleansing products on artificially polluted human hairs and skin through in vivo and in vitro models. Skin Res Technol. 2023 Jan;29(1):e13220. doi: 10.1111/srt.13220. Epub 2023 Jan 7. PMID: 36609868; PMCID: PMC10155848.