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Diffuse Thinning: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Options
Dr. Michael May (FRCS)
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Michael May (FRCS)
Updated on April 22, 2024

Hair loss can be a completely normal part of life and most often does not pose a concern, especially when it comes to aging. In fact, over 85% of men [1], and 50% of women [2], will experience hair loss in their lifetime. However, it can sometimes be an incredibly difficult experience when adjusting to the reality of hair loss, both physically and psychologically.

Diffuse thinning is one of the most common types of hair loss, with two-thirds of men experiencing appreciable hair loss by the age of 35 [3], and hair thinning in women becoming increasingly common by the age of 50. So, if you’re worried that your hair is suddenly looking thin, you’re certainly not alone.

In this article, we’ll explore diffuse thinning along with the signs, causes, and treatment options available to you.

Table of Contents

What is diffuse thinning?

Diffuse thinning is a type of hair loss which, through hair shedding, thins the hair and gives an almost see-through appearance, making the scalp visible through the hair.

Another name for this form of hair loss is ‘diffuse unpatterned alopecia’. Diffuse hair loss differs from other forms of hair loss as it does not follow androgenetic alopecia patterns and instead affects the entire scalp, rather than creating a receding hairline or affecting specific patches of the scalp.

This form of hair loss affects both men and women at any age, and though hereditary factors can cause it, there are many other reasons why you could be experiencing diffuse thinning.

What causes diffuse thinning?

There are several reasons why someone might experience diffuse hair thinning. Here are some of the most common reasons your hair feels thinner than before.

Telogen effluvium

While there are a few reasons that you may develop diffuse thinning, one of the most common causes is a condition called telogen effluvium.

This form of hair loss is characterised by excessive hair shedding and is usually temporary. Telogen effluvium can be brought on by stress and/or trauma. However, there are myriad other reasons why you may develop this form of hair loss. For example, changes in hormone levels, certain medications, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, and thyroid disorders can cause hair loss.

Examples of diffuse hair loss due to telogen effluvium
Examples of diffuse hair loss due to telogen effluvium

Some of the common symptoms that accompany telogen effluvium (apart from thinning hair) are bald patches, and losing visible clumps of hair when showering, or brushing hair.

A healthy scalp has some hair follicles which are in the anagen (growth) phase, and the catagen (resting) phase. A small percentage of the hairs are usually in the telogen (shedding) phase. Telogen effluvium occurs when anagen hairs prematurely enter into the telogen (shedding) phase.

Hair growth cycle
Hair growth cycle
Telogen effluvium doesn’t usually happen straight away, as it can take time for the hairs to transition between phases and shed. This form of diffuse hair loss usually isn’t permanent either, as it will grow back once the condition has been treated.


One of the most common causes of diffuse thinning is age. Though it can be normal to experience hair loss in your younger years, the inevitability of age is a natural cause of diffuse thinning.

Some people who experience diffuse thinning due to age may choose to receive treatment for it, others may choose to embrace it. Either way is valid, and completely up to the individual experiencing hair loss.

informational graphic showing how hair gets thinner overtime

Androgenetic alopecia (pattern hair loss)

Androgenetic alopecia can appear as male pattern hair loss in individuals who were assigned male at birth or as female pattern hair loss in individuals who were assigned female at birth.

Male pattern baldness, most commonly affects 50% of men over the age of 50, however, it can affect men of any age [5]. This form of pattern hair loss can be hereditary, being passed down through families. It is associated with the male sex hormones, androgens, which regulate hair growth.

According to the Norwood Scale [6], the further along your male pattern baldness is, the more likely you are to experience visible diffuse thinning.

The Norwood Scale used to diagnose the level of hair loss in male pattern baldness
The Norwood Scale

Female pattern hair loss is a hereditary type of hair loss. This hair loss condition affects the scalp and part-line. When female pattern hair loss reaches later stages, diffuse thinning can develop, affecting the whole scalp.

The Ludwig Scale can help to classify the progression of female pattern hair loss and is a good scale of referral for those who may be experiencing this form of hair loss.

Ludwig Scale used to diagnose the level of hair loss in individuals with female pattern hair loss
Ludwig Scale

Anagen effluvium

This form of hair loss can develop due to severe trauma such as medications with high toxicity, or harsh medical treatment like chemotherapy. As the condition causes you to lose a large amount of hair at once, diffuse thinning will be visible across the whole scalp. The condition weakens the hair which allows breakage to occur more easily.

Anagen effluvium is usually reversible, with the hair growing back once the treatment has ceased.

Chemotherapy induced hair loss (anagen effluvium)

Alopecia areata incognita

This form of alopecia areata can occur suddenly, causing hair shedding and overall diffuse thinning. Instead of losing hair over a longer course of time, you will usually see a change within a few weeks.

Alopecia incognita
Alopecia areata incognita

Diffuse alopecia areata

Diffuse alopecia areata is another form of alopecia areata, however, it occurs over a longer period of time. Widespread thinning usually accompanies this form of hair loss, eventually affecting the whole scalp.

Diffuse alopecia areata
Example of diffuse alopecia areata

Signs and symptoms of diffuse thinning

With diffuse thinning, you may suddenly see a change in your hair growth, or over a longer period. These are a few of the signs that you may be experiencing diffuse thinning:

1. You can usually see a portion of your scalp through where your hairline parts.

Diffuse thinning will cause your hair to thin to the point that your whole scalp will be visible under any lighting conditions. This is the most common sign of diffuse thinning. Your hair will start to visibly thin out, revealing your hairline, crown, and mid-scalp easier.

2. Excessive hair shedding

We will usually lose between 50 and 100 hairs each day, which is totally normal. However, with diffuse thinning, you may notice that you are losing a lot more than this. A common sign can be excessive hair on your pillow or in your shower drain.

Treatment for diffuse thinning

Diffuse thinning is usually temporary, and therefore reversible with the right medication and/or lifestyle changes. It is always best to approach a professional when looking for treatment for diffuse thinning.

Lifestyle changes

If your diffuse thinning is caused by telogen effluvium, it will almost always reduce when the problem at hand has been dealt with. This could mean ceasing certain medications (at your doctor’s approval) or reducing stress.

A good healthcare provider will be able to advise you on how to stop diffuse thinning caused by telogen effluvium. They’ll perform a hair pull test, biopsy, and blood count to ensure that it is what you are experiencing.

Medications for treating hair loss

Minoxidil is a medication that comes in the form of either liquid or foam and is applied directly to the scalp, twice daily. Its most common brand name is Rogaine®.

This medication works to widen the blood vessels which promotes hair growth. However, there is a current lack of research that helps us to understand exactly how Minoxidil works to promote hair growth. Existing studies [6] support the theory that Minoxidil works as a vasodilator, improving blood flow to the scalp.

Before and 1 year after using Minoxidil to treat male pattern baldness
Before and 1 year after using Minoxidil to treat male pattern baldness

Finasteride is a commonly prescribed drug for hair loss and hair thinning. Like any other medication, Finasteride’s effectiveness depends on the stage of hair loss. The medication is prescribed in the form of an oral tablet. The two most common brand names are Proscar and Propecia.

Finasteride works by decreasing the amount of the dihydrotestosterone hormone (DHT) in a male’s body, which slows down male hair growth.

Finasteride is not usually prescribed to women. Studies have also shown that women using Finasteride were more likely to need a higher dose to see results, and therefore would experience harsher side effects. Learn more about Finasteride safety.

Growth shampoo

It can be difficult trying to find hair loss products that work, however according to research [7-8], some caffeine shampoos can work for stress-based hair loss and telogen effluvium, given that they are used accordingly and frequently.

However, research does show that the efficacy of caffeine shampoos is limited due to the brief exposure time of the shampoo on the scalp hair. Using a caffeine-containing topical liquid is significantly more efficient at combatting hair loss as it can be left on the scalp for a longer period. [8-9].

When to speak to a hair loss specialist

If you suddenly begin to experience hair loss, or you’re worried about hair loss having a negative impact on your life, you should consult your doctor before making any decisions. Once underlying issues have been ruled out, you may wish to start your hair restoration journey. That’s where we can help.

We offer treatments such as:

If you’re unsure where to begin, our trichology team is on-hand to advise and guide you toward the best male or female hair loss treatment for you. Hair transplants can effectively treat thinning hair, so it’s worth discussing this with a hair loss specialist.

At the Wimpole Clinic, you can get answers to any questions you may have from our hair loss specialists. Book your consultation with our team.

Diffuse Thinning: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Options, Wimpole Clinic

Dr. Michael May (FRCS)
Medically reviewed by Dr. Michael May (FRCS)Updated on April 22, 2024
The Wimpole Clinic offers FUE Hair, Beard & Eyebrow Transplants & Trichology.
Talk to a specialist ☎ 020 7935 1861.

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