Is There Really a Difference Between Fine and Thin Hair?

Experts clarify the confusion between the two.

Fine vs. Thin Hair: What's the Difference?
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Your skin type dictates what products you use in your skincare routine, and the same goes for your hair. There are dozens of charts, graphs, and quizzes created by haircare brands to help you determine your hair type and its needs, but all of the available resources can be confusing – and overwhelming.

Plus, everyone's hair texture is unique, so your strands don't always fit neatly into the hair type categories. This is particularly true if you have fine or thin hair, as the two hair types are often mistaken for one another as the terms are often used interchangeably.

In reality, there are a few key differences between fine and thin hair. Below, a dermatologist and trichologist help us break down both hair types and provide tips on how to determine whether your hair is fine or thin.

What Is Fine Hair?

Fine hair refers to the density of each individual strand, and any hair texture (straight or curly) can be classified as fine. "For the sake of a visual, think of fine hair as angel hair pasta and thick hair as spaghetti," says Dr. Iris Rubin, board-certified dermatologist and founder of SEEN Haircare.

There are three levels of density (fine, thick, and coarse), and which one you have is determined by genetics and can't be changed.

It's also important to note that someone with fine stands can still appear to have a full head of hair. "You could have a thick density of fine hair and look much fuller than someone with thin-looking coarse hair," says Shab Reslan a trichologist and hair expert based in New York City.

What Is Thin Hair?

Thin hair means there is less density of hairs on the scalp, so you'll see bigger gaps between each strand, which results in visible skin. "All hair types (including fine and thick hair) can be thin," Dr. Rubin adds.

This hair type can also be determined by genetics, but other factors can lead to thinning or excessive shedding. "These include stress, diet, medications, and even product build-up that affects the hair follicles," says Dr. Rubin.

The major concern for those with thin or thinning hair is regrowth. This can be possible with the help of a board-certified dermatologist, and/or an at-home regimen recommended by a trained trichologist.

"The best combination that can create thicker and healthier hair growth when performed daily and for an extended period consists firstly of the use of a scalp topical that will nourish and stimulate the cells of your follicles and slow down the inevitable shrinkage of each hair," Reslan shares. "Secondly, a complete diet including hair supplements, will aid in nourishing hair from the inside and out and extend the life of the follicle and allow for optimal hair growth."

Why Is It Important to Know Whether You Have Fine or Thin Hair?

Understanding your hair type is key to choosing the right products to use in your haircare routine.

"It's important to know whether you have fine or thin hair so you can take the right approach to improve its appearance," Dr. Rubin says. "In the case of fine hair, some haircare products can temporarily plump strands to make them feel thicker. Increasing the density of thin hair can require paying extra attention to your hair care products, and seeking the help of a dermatologist who can recommend medically-based treatments if necessary."

How Do You Figure Out Whether You Have Fine or Thin Hair?

To determine if your hair is fine, Reslan recommends touching it. "Fine hair is typically barely felt when running your thumb and index finger through a single strand," she says.

Dr. Rubin adds that if your hair is fine, it's always been this way, whereas thin hair tends to develop during adulthood, and is characterized by a wider part or a visible scalp, or even a change in shedding. "Perhaps you've noticed that you can see more of your scalp when you create a part, or maybe you've started to notice more shedding than usual," she says.

VIDEO: What to Do If You Notice Thinning Around Your Edges

How to Care for Fine Hair

Since fine hair tends to be delicate, it's important to be extra gentle on your hair, from the brushes you use to keeping in mind how often you bleach it. "Highly dense brushes with metal bases should not be used on fine hair as they can create too much tension and burn the hair when used with a blowdryer. Skinny hair ties should be avoided at all costs as they can create breakage when used on delicate fine hair," says Reslan. "And bleaching hair too frequently and with high developers can also easily damage thin hair."

As far as products go, look for shampoos and conditioners void of harsh cleansers and lightweight formulas that won't weigh it down. "Fine hair should avoid heavy oils and waxes that can make it fall flat," says Dr. Rubin. "Styling creams are a great way to increase the look and feel of volume and thickness." She recommends the Blow-Out Creme from SEEN, which has been proven to provide a 300+% increase in volume that lasts for eight hours.

Reslan recommends adding a scalp treatment into your routine to keep your scalp balanced, which in turn will help boost volume. She's a fan of The INKEY List's Salicylic Acid Exfoliating Scalp Treatment. "This gentle daily or weekly treatment can balance and regulate oil production and maintain a healthy scalp environment. This will help maintain clean and fuller-looking roots, keeping them free from build-up and excess weight," she says.

How to Care for Thin Hair

The goal for those with thin hair is to boost growth and make hair appear thicker in the interim. To achieve this, Dr. Rubin recommends washing your hair with a gentle shampoo and conditioner that will support the optimal scalp conditions for growth. She suggests SEEN's Fragrance-Free Shampoo and Conditioner, which has been proven to reduce hair shedding by 44% in a Harvard clinical trial.

It's also wise to go light on styling products, too. "Those with thin hair should avoid heavy oils and waxes that can build-up on the scalp — and weigh hair down," she says.

You may also want to reconsider how light you dye your hair because it can exacerbate the thinness of your hair. "Thin hair can appear even thinner if highlighted too light as the scalp can become more apparent and the structure of the hair strand itself can become finer," says Reslan.

And when in doubt about whether your thinning hair should be a concern, consulting a board-certified dermatologist is always the best course of action.

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