Hair Miniaturization: What is it & 8 Ways to Help Stop It


  • Medically reviewed by: Debra Rose Wilson, PhD MSN RN IBCLC AHN-BC CHT
  • Written by: William Slator
  • Last updated: 31/03/2021

Hair follicle miniaturization is the process hair goes through before it falls out.

This article will explain why the miniaturization process takes place, how it leads to thinning and recession of the hair.

This article will also outline 8 proven ways to stop the process so you can prevent yourself from going bald.

What is Hair Miniaturization?

Hair strands are long chains of proteins – referred to as protein filaments – that grow from special follicles located on most parts of the body.

In individuals with healthy follicles, hair growth will follow the cycle of growth, rest, and shedding for the entirety of one’s life.

This means a full head of hair with little to no thinning or loss.

Unfortunately, not all people will be so lucky.

In the photo below you can see the beginning stages of thinning and recession, starting with the frontal hairline.

Actually, a large number of the world’s population will at some point or another struggle with baldness, and those individuals will likely undergo a process known as hair miniaturization.

In simplest terms, hair miniaturization is the shrinking of the hair follicle that is accompanied by a thinner hair shaft. This is common in those with male pattern baldness (Androgenetic Alopecia – AGA). It is actually a hallmark of pattern baldness, and one of the easiest ways for doctors to distinguish AGA from other types of hair loss.

Follicle miniaturization is a hallmark of pattern baldness, and one of the easiest ways for doctors to distinguish it from other types of hair loss.

If you don’t treat hair miniaturization in time, it will be irreversible.

(Are you showing early signs of balding? Find out here.)

How is Hair Miniaturization Linked to Genetic Alopecia?

To understand the role that miniaturization plays in hair loss, it is important to first look at the hair growth cycle.

All hairs – even the hairs on our scalp – begin as vellus hairs. Eventually, vellus hairs morph into terminal hairs. This typically occurs within the womb but also happens as part of puberty. Terminal hairs have a darker, thicker, and more noticeable appearance.

As terminal hairs grow, they go through three main phases (1):

Anagen (growth) Phase – This phase lasts anywhere from 3-5 years, and it is the main growing phase within the hair growth cycle.

Catagen (transition) Phase – This is the shortest phase in the cycle – lasting only 1-2 weeks – and is the intermediate between growth and rest.

Telogen (rest) Phase – Finally, this phase takes place for 3-4 months. At this point, hair shedding increases, and old hairs fall out so new hairs can take their place. This then restarts the cycle of hair growth, leading back into anagen.

In those with hair miniaturization, the cycle is altered in two ways:

  • a shortening of the anagen growth phase during which the hair shaft actually grows
  • a corresponding lengthening of the telogen resting phase, during which the hair is not growing.

These two changes combined lead to hairs that are growing out for less time, are shorter, and thinner. At the same time, the hair follicles themselves literally shrink in size.  Eventually, they disappear completely.

When hair follicles miniaturize, they literally shrink in size. Their growth cycle is also altered.

Hair Follicle Miniaturization Under The Microscope

As we mentioned above, the presence of hair follicle miniaturization is one of the easiest ways for doctors to distinguish AGA from other types of hair loss.

In healthy heads, or the heads of those who suffer from other types of hair loss, most hairs are generally similar in diameter (thickness). Zooming in at the scalp of someone with AGA, however, reveals a different picture. Between healthy hairs are interspersed hairs that are undergoing various stages of miniaturization. The result is hair strands of distinctly unequal size, i.e. greater hair diameter diversity (2). You can see how healthy hair compares to miniaturized follicles here.

Miniaturized hairs will be most common in parts of the head that are actively thinning, (e.g. temples or crown). Over time, all the remaining hairs in the affected area will miniaturize and eventually disappear. The result is then complete baldness.

What are the Causes?

Miniaturization of the hair is linked to pattern baldness.

Male-Pattern Baldness

MPB is caused by sensitivity to the androgen hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) (3). This sensitivity leads to hair miniaturization. Scientists do not yet understand the exact mechanism by which this happens.

As DHT continues to exert its influence on the affected hair follicles, the terminal hair transitions to vellus hair. Eventually, even the vellus hair fails to appear, and total baldness ensues.

The Norwood scale from 1-6
The Norwood scale shows the tell-tale pattern of MPB.

 

Aging

Pattern hair loss is strongly related to age. It will first affect some men by puberty, and by the age of thirty approximately a quarter of men will show the first signs of hair loss. By the time they are 50, nearly one in two men will suffer from hair loss. This percentage rises to well over 80% by old age.

Genetics

Male pattern hair loss has a strong genetic component. This means that the more affected relatives you have, the more likely you are to develop the condition yourself.

Can Hair Miniaturization Be Reversed?

The question that all hair loss sufferers have is whether they can reverse it. The answer is that it depends on various factors.

One such factor involves the Arrector Pili Muscle (APM), an attachment between the hair follicles and a source of stem cells.

In a study performed by Yazdabadi et. al., the connection of the APM to the hair follicle was compared in individuals with hair loss (4). In those with Alopecia Areata (AA), connection to the APM was significantly higher than in those with pattern baldness (both male and female).

With the knowledge that reversal of AA is much easier than that of pattern baldness, researchers concluded that the APM played a significant role in reversal determination. With the APM still attached, stem cells could continue to be delivered to the follicle. Once the APM detaches, however, reviving the follicle is not possible (5).

In essence, this research shows that in the miniaturization of hair, early treatment is key. If you catch miniaturization quickly enough, connection to the APM may still remain and a reversal may still be possible.

How to Reverse Hair Miniaturization

Now that you know it is possible to reverse miniaturization – assuming it is treated as quickly as possible – what exactly can you do?

Reduce DHT Within the Body

If DHT is the main trigger for individuals with AGA, then reducing DHT levels within the body is one of the best steps you can take. Read on to find out how to do this.

Inhibit 5-Alpha-Reductase

Our bodies produce DHT when 5-alpha-reductase, an enzyme, combines with testosterone, the male sex hormone. In the absence of 5-alpha-reductase our body is essentially unable to synthesize DHT, except in tiny quantities.

5AR used to convert testosterone into DHT

This means that inhibition of 5-alpha-reductase can lower the levels of DHT in the body. Finasteride, the first oral medication that the FDA approved against hair loss, works exactly this way, namely by inhibiting the action of 5-alpha-reductase.

For those who are not inclined to pharmaceutical drugs, there are a number of milder natural supplements that work in a similar way.  Herbs such as reishi mushroom and saw palmetto can significantly decrease levels when consumed.

Other natural DHT blockers are green tea, flax seeds, sesame seeds, ecklonia cava, and pumpkin seed oil.

Ecklonia cava inhibits 5AR
Here we can see that the seaweed Ecklonia Cava inhibits the production of DHT in a similar way to the pharmaceutical finasteride.

All of these can be easily added to your diet, either in the form of smoothies, with the help of vegetable juicing, or through direct supplementation.

Remove DHT From the Scalp

With DHT levels reduced within the body, you can now focus on removing DHT from your scalp.

Over time, waste like DHT can slowly build up on the scalp. It can then be trapped within sebum, dead skin cells, and dirt, and can continue to further irritate the hair follicle.

To strip all this debris from the scalp, I recommend an all-natural scalp peel.

Ingredients:

  • Himalayan or Celtic sea salt (½ tbsp)
  • Powdered activated charcoal (1 tsp)
  • Lemon juice (1 whole)

Directions:

Combine salt, powdered activated charcoal, and lemon juice in the container of your choice.

Mix well, and shake thoroughly before use. Pour directly into your palm, and then massage into your scalp. Focus on trouble areas (including those with excess hair thinning, itching, or flaking), and then allow to sit for 5-10 minutes.

Rinse your scalp completely, and gently remove the remaining peel from your scalp. Do so slowly, avoiding quick movements or yanks.

Repeat the process as necessary.

Increase Circulation (and Nutrient Delivery)

Blood circulation is essential for full-body health, but many people fail to remember that circulation also plays a key role in healthy hair development and growth.

Circulation plays two major roles in hair health:

  1. It delivers oxygen.
  2. It delivers vital nutrients.

Both of these contribute to the health of your hair, and this makes circulation an essential focus for those who want to regrow their hair.

A few signs of poor circulation to the scalp include:

  • Hair thinning and loss
  • Tingling and/or numbness
  • Skin discoloration

Fortunately, if you are suffering from one (or more) of the above symptoms, there are a few things you can do.

Practice Scalp Massages

Massage has been utilized as a health practice for thousands of years. In recent years, however, scalp massage has been directly linked to increased hair growth and thickness (6).

A 2016 study performed by researchers in Tokyo aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of scalp massage on hair growth in men. After 24 weeks, hair thickness improved significantly in the scalp massage group. The hair shaft diameters literally increased in size!

A man performing a scalp massage on his hairline
Scalp massages can be effective in preventing or partially reversing hair miniaturization.

The reasons behind this effect are not entirely clear. Very interestingly, however, the researchers discovered the manual stimulation of the scalp could literally alter the expression of certain genes related to the hair growth cycle.

The great thing about scalp massage is you can do it anytime and anywhere. With just five minutes every day, you can positively impact hair growth and perhaps even put an end to miniaturization and future shedding.

Start Microneedling Therapy

While massage has its place, microneedling is a hair growth promotion method that can reverse hair miniaturization for those in the early stages of balding.

Microneedling is a therapy technique that utilizes pin-sized needles. These needles are gently rolled over the scalp, creating small wounds. As the wounds heal, a process occurs that results in remodeling of the injured skin. This can lead to the proliferation of new skin cells, as well as the revival of dormant hair follicles (7).

(a) Female patient after 1 session; (b) Female patient after 2nd session
(a) Female patient after 1 microneedling session; (b) Female patient after 2nd microneedling session.

You can get started at home with the use of a dermaroller. This is the most effective manner of microneedling if you plan to perform this at home, and you can even see results in a matter of weeks (8)!

Hair count increases dramatically by using a dermaroller.
Dramatically increased hair count after 12 weeks using the dermaroller in combination with minoxidil (compared to minoxidil alone).

Revitalize Damaged Hair Follicles

To prepare your follicles for healthy hair growth, here are a few ways to repair damaged follicles.

Stop Using Chemical-Laden Hair Products

Shampoos, conditioners, heat protectants, and more – all of these over-the-counter products include chemicals that can further damage your hair follicles and contribute to miniaturization.

The answer for some is to go No ‘Poo – a recent movement that involves the use of no shampoos whatsoever. However, this can be extreme for some. What other alternatives are there?

Making your own shampoos is one option, and here’s a simple recipe to get you started:

Ingredients: 

  • Nettle (2-3 bunches)
  • Coconut Oil (1 teaspoon)
  • Rosemary Oil (10 drops)
  • Powdered Turmeric (1 teaspoon)
  • Apple cider vinegar (1 cup)
  • Baking soda (1 teaspoon)

Directions: 

Bring water to a boil, and then add the nettles and allow them to steep until cooled to room temperature. Remove and discard nettles from the cooled nettle tea, and then pour the nettle tea into the container of your choice.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the container, and mix thoroughly. Lather onto wet hair, and allow to sit for 5 minutes before rinsing completely in lukewarm water.

Hair Benefits: 

This shampoo formula combines stinging nettle’s vitamins with rosemary oil’s circulatory effects and apple cider vinegar and baking soda’s gentle cleansing abilities.

 

Using homemade shampoo in the shower

Optimize Your Diet

Hair follicles are a body part. As such, they are just as affected by what you eat as any other part of your body. With this in mind, an optimized diet can help to unclog and unblock your follicles and provide your hair with a healthier, cleaner environment for full growth.

Optimization can be subjective, but here are four main components that can improve your hair follicles and, as a direct by-product, your hair:

  1. Fibrous foods
  2. Probiotic foods
  3. Micro-nutrient foods
  4. Plant-based foods

With a solid diet built around the above five components, you can feed your hair all of the nutrients it needs. This, in turn, can lead to cleaner, unclogged hair follicles and stronger, thicker hair.

Conclusion

Hair miniaturization is a central component in the process of thinning and recession of the hair. For this reason, stopping miniaturization is closely linked to stopping (or even reversing) the hair loss process.

If you are unsure, your doctor will usually be able to confirm whether your hair is miniaturizing through a routine clinical examination.

With a proactive approach, as well as effective and scientifically proven techniques in place, you can fight the good fight. In advanced cases, this may not mean completely reversing miniaturization, but it can put an end to it.


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