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How to Make Thin Hair Act Fat

The right products and cut can give skimpy strands extra oomph


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Whether your hair has always been baby fine or has gotten thinner over the years, you are not alone. It’s a common 50-plus issue. Hair only grows a half-inch a month, so even if you pop hair gummies daily, you’ll still be dealing with the same wimpy locks for at least six months to a year (and opinions vary greatly in the medical and hair community as to whether these extras really help). Many women want a faster fix — something less drastic than extensions but more immediately visible than daily applications of minoxidil (the topical regrowth treatment). Here are six easy ways to make thin hair act fat.

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(Left to right) Parker Posey, Emily Mortimer and Robin Wright
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1. Snip in plumpness with a bob or lob.

Long hair may be trending for women 50-plus, but long thin hair just looks stringy. Do it a favor and stop confusing length with density. For a guaranteed and super-fashionable solution, head to the salon for a chin-length bob or mid-to-shoulder-length lob (long bob), either with a blunt edge. Both chops eliminate straggly ends pronto, while the crisp bottom line hangs together for a fuller look. If your hair is thin at the front but thicker at the back, ask your stylist about a swingy A-line version — slighter shorter at the nape (thanks to invisible stacked layers) but longer at the sides. If your hair is sparse at the temples, adding long sideswept bangs or feathery full ones to your bob or lob provides stylish camouflage in front.

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(Left to right) Savannah Guthrie, Jennifer Garner and Allison Janney
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2. Get highlights to make hair look and feel fatter.

Whether you opt for foils or balayage (freehand-painted highlights), a full head of highlights or just superfine baby lights around the face, adding contrasting tones of color (instead of keeping hair a solid tone) turns visually scrawny strands zaftig. It’s not just an illusion — color physically coats the hair shaft and expands it for textural heft. If your thinning hair is also weak or baby fine, a pro colorist can choose the right “lights” to minimize the stress of chemicals. Ask for low-contrast highlights (a.k.a. blended highlights) to give multi-tone hair the most natural effect and avoid a stripy zebra look.

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(Left to right) Helen Mirren, Marg Helgenberger and Calista Flockhart
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3. Flip the part to get instant volume.

A wide part is one of the signs and effects of thinning hair. Since most of us tend to wear our hair parted in the same spot every day, the problem becomes more visible even with diligent root touch-ups. Flipping the part from side to side is one of the oldest but most effective ways to create instant lift at the roots. You can also scramble the part to create an imperfect line rather than an absolutely straight one for a more tousled look. This trick works best on side parts where the swoop-over provides extra height and volume on top. Keep switching it up.

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spinner image L’Oréal Paris Elvive Volume Filler Thickening Shampoo; RevitaLash Thickening Shampoo; Pantene Pro-V Volume & Body Shampoo; Virtue Flourish Volumizing Shampoo for Thinning Hair
(Left to right) L’Oréal Paris Elvive Volume Filler Thickening Shampoo and Conditioner; RevitaLash Cosmetics Thickening Shampoo and Conditioner; Pantene Pro-V Volume & Body Shampoo and Conditioner; Virtue Flourish Volumizing Shampoo and Conditioner for Thinning Hair
Walgreens; Pantene; Saks Fifth Avenue; Ulta Beauty

4. Change your shampoo and conditioner to beef up body.

It sounds subtle, but the wrong shampoo and conditioner duo can compound thinning hair by stripping natural oils so that your hair goes flat and limp. On the flip side, some formulas are too heavy and leave a greasy residue or dull your color. Switching to formulas designed for thin hair with words like “densifying,” “thickening,” “volumizing” or “volume” on the label makes a difference. They emphasize ingredients like protein (usually keratin, hydrolyzed silk, rice or wheat protein), which coats the outer layer of the hair (a.k.a. the cuticle) to fill it out and add grip to slippery strands; biotin, which helps rebuild weakened hair; and B5 (panthenol), which attracts moisture and swells hair from within. Try those designed specifically for thin hair like L’Oréal Paris Elvive Volume Filler Thickening Shampoo and Conditioner ($5 each, walgreens.com), RevitaLash Cosmetics Thickening Shampoo and Conditioner ($38 and $39, respectively; saksfifthavenue.com), Pantene Pro-V Volume & Body Shampoo and Conditioner ($6 each, cvs.com) and Virtue Flourish Volumizing Shampoo and Conditioner for Thinning Hair ($44 and $46, respectively; ulta.com). And in case you’re wondering, yes, use a light leave-in conditioner too. Just because your hair is thin doesn’t mean you should avoid this detangling and heat-protecting step.

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(Left to right) Cate Blanchett, Bo Derek and Sharon Stone
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5. Style in realistic-for-you body.

You can encourage your hair to its beautiful maximum fullness, but you are not going to have a va-va-voom mane. Remember: Thin hair can be fine or coarse in texture. It can be straight, wavy or curly, skimpy all over or just sparse in specific spots. Avoid forcing it straight with flat irons when its natural inclination is wavy or curly, or insisting on curls with a curling iron. Thin hair can be due to any number of things, from your genes to menopause-related hormonal changes to a poor diet or even the daily traction of ponytails. And it can still be fabulous, head-turning hair … no apologies or extensions necessary.

spinner image John Frieda Volume Lift Air-Whipped Foam for Fine or Flat Hair; Kerastase Densifique Densimorphose Hair Mousse; Amika Plus Size Perfect Body Mousse; Color Wow Xtra Large Bombshell Volumizer
(Left to right) John Frieda Volume Lift Air-Whipped Foam for Fine or Flat Hair; Kerastase Densifique Densimorphose Hair Mousse; Amika Plus Size Perfect Body Mousse; Color Wow Xtra Large Bombshell Volumizer
Walgreens; eCosmetics; Amazon; Kohl's

6. Use mousse and a blow-dryer for lift.

The right cut is essential for faking thicker hair, but be sure to pair it with an airy styling foam for post-shampoo styling assistance. Mousse (not gels or creams) is thin hair’s best bet to defy gravity and restore bounce, height and lift since it’s weightless and provides a clean, fresh finish. For allover volume, apply it to freshly washed damp hair from roots to ends. For spot volume, apply mousse only as needed — for example, to your roots, crown or bangs. Flip your hair over and rough dry it from underneath — on a healthy medium setting — to project lift and volume. Then finish by throwing in a few Velcro rollers for shape or by using a round brush and your dryer for a final quick heat set (the latter prevents bangs from lying flat too). What about dry shampoo? Use it as an in-between body builder. Those with fine hair can also spot-mist areas like bangs to prevent fringe from looking oily or going flat. Try John Frieda Volume Lift Air-Whipped Foam for Fine or Flat Hair ($12, walgreens.com), Kerastase Densifique Densimorphose Hair Mousse ($45, ecosmetics.com), Amika Plus Size Perfect Body Mousse ($11, amazon.com) or Color Wow Xtra Large Bombshell Volumizer (1.7 ounces, $12; 6.7 ounces, $26; kohls.com), all designed to add moisture without a sticky, tacky, crunchy feel.

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