Hair Shedding Vs. Hair Loss: Know The Key Differences

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Sonam Jeswani Ramrakhiani, MBBS, DDV
Written by Anjali Sayee

Noticing more hair on your comb every day can be a cause for concern. While shedding 50 to 100 hair strands in a day is normal, anything beyond that may make you wonder if you have hair loss. But how do you tell the difference between hair shedding vs. hair loss? Irrespective of one’s hair length and thickness, everyone may experience these hair conditions (1).

This article explores the difference between these hair conditions, their causes, the signs you must watch out for, and certain tips to counter them. Keep reading.

What Is Hair Shedding?

Hair shedding is a normal process and is medically called telogen effluvium (2). An individual sheds 50-100 hairs per day on average, which accounts for less than 1% of our total hair strands (3). The extent to which hair sheds depends on one’s hair thickness and pattern (1).

Hair shedding is often reversible. However, this may not be the case with hair loss. We discuss the differences between the two in the following section.

How Hair Loss Differs From Hair Shedding – A Brief

Hair loss can be due to a variety of reasons:

  • Acute (also called anagen effluvium) post medications like chemotherapy
  • Autoimmune conditions like alopecia areata
  • Slow ongoing and chronic like in cases of PCOS and hyperandrogenism
  • Scarring alopecia due to fungal infections or inflammatory diseases in the skin

Hair shedding, on the other hand, occurs in the resting phase (telogen) of the hair growth cycle. It may be caused due to external stressors and can be reversed if the trigger factors are reduced. This may not be the case with hair loss. It most often leads to balding.

In the upcoming sections, we discuss the causes of hair shedding and hair loss, which can shed more light on their differences.

What Causes Excessive Hair Shedding?

Hair shedding is a normal phenomenon often experienced by both men and women. But excessive hair shedding may have the following causes:

  • Rapid Weight Loss

Rapid weight loss of 20 lbs or more in a short period may result in excessive hair shedding. Gastric bypass surgery or other methods of rapid weight loss may result in hair shedding within 3-6 months. Nutritional deficiencies may also impact the growth stage of the hair cycle (3).

  • Postpartum Hair Fall

Postpartum hair fall is thought to be associated with the psychological/physiological stress a woman undergoes after childbirth. However, more research is warranted to further understand this condition (4).

  • Stress

Anxiety and stress can inhibit hair growth and also cause hair damage (5).

  • Chemical Processing Of Hair

Using harsh hair products may cause temporary hair shedding. Sometimes, the high levels of peroxide and ammonia in the hair dyes can damage hair proteins and lead to hair shedding. Such chemicals also may cause scalp inflammation.

  • Seasonal Changes

The telogen phase (resting phase) is more pronounced in summers and reduces in late winters (6).

  • Excess Hair Styling

Heat styling tools like dryers, wands, and straighteners may also cause hair shedding. These tools can dry out the hair shaft. Using a tight hairband can pull your hair at the roots and lead to shedding.

What Causes Hair Loss?

Patches on your head with visibly thinner hair than normal or bald spots may mean hair loss.

  • Heredity

Hair loss is also called male- or female-pattern baldness. It usually runs in the family. One may experience it if they have inherited the genes that cause their hair follicles to shrink. Hair loss in women is characterized by the overall thinning of scalp hair, while in men, it manifests as a receding hairline or a bald spot at the top of the head.

  • Age

Most people show slow hair growth and hair loss with age due to decreased hair protein synthesis.

  • Overreaction Of The Immune System

Overreaction of the immune system results in hair loss, medically known as alopecia areata. It is an autoimmune disorder characterized by non-scarring hair loss. It affects nearly 2% of the population during their lifetime (7).

  • Hormonal Imbalances

Hormonal imbalances increase the sensitivity of hair follicles, weaken the hair roots, and cause hair loss. Such hair loss is medically termed as androgenic alopecia and may affect both men and women. Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is the major cause of male- and female-pattern baldness. Abnormal hormonal changes decrease the duration of anagen and increase the percentage of hair follicles in the telogen phase, resulting in hair loss (8).

  • Scalp Infections

Fungal or bacterial scalp infections can result in seborrheic dermatitis, which can weaken the hair roots and damage hair follicles.

  • Medical Treatments And Medications

Certain medical treatments, like chemotherapy or surgery, often lead to hair loss (9). Medications for thyroid, anxiety, stress, endocrinal (hormonal) disorders, and epilepsy may also lead to hair loss (10).

Have you been experiencing hair fall lately? Is it normal, or does it warrant medical intervention? A couple of simple tests can help you determine the same.

How To Check If Your Hair Fall Is Normal

  • Pull Test: Take hold of about 60 hair strands and gently tug them away from your scalp. If you could pull out more than 10% of the hairs, you may have active hair shedding (11). Ensure you do not shampoo at least a day before the pull test.
  • Comb Test: Before shampooing, comb your hair for 60 seconds over a light-colored pillow or bed sheet. Count the number of hairs in the comb and on the pillow. If you see 15 or more hair strands, you are experiencing severe hair fall.

Let us briefly look into the hair growth cycle in the following section.

The Hair Growth Cycle

Hair growth (and hair loss) naturally happens in 4 phases (12).

  • Anagen (Growing Phase): This is an active phase where the hair fiber grows and increases in length. This stage lasts for about 2-7 years, based on one’s lifestyle.
  • Catagen (Transition Phase): This phase lasts for a few weeks, where the hair follicle shrinks and gets detached from the root.
  • Telogen (Resting Phase): The hair follicle is dormant, and hair growth does not happen. About 10% to 15% of your hairs are in this phase for at least 3 months.
  • Exogen (New Hair Phase): The old hair sheds and new hair continues to grow. This is where your hair sheds when you comb. This phase lasts for 3 months.

Hair fall (hair shedding or hair loss) is a common problem. The following section discusses certain tips that may help combat this issue.

Tips To Counter Excessive Hair Shedding Or Loss

  • Find out the root causes. Check with a dermatologist/trichologist whether it is just hair shedding or a severe case of hair loss. This is the most effective way with the highest possible chances of finding a perfect solution to your problem.
  • Do not stress or panic. Destress yourself by practicing yoga or meditation.
  • Take vitamin supplements. Biotin may help with hair growth, but not all will benefit by it. A detailed blood work up is crucial to decide which supplements you really need (13).
  • Use natural oils and organic ingredients to nourish your hair.
  • Eat healthy to nourish your hair follicles from within.

It is critical to understand the difference between hair shedding and hair loss so that you can take the appropriate measures to fight it. Hair shedding is a normal process where we lose 50 to 100 strands of hair daily, while hair loss may lead to androgenic alopecia. While factors such as rapid weight loss and stress influence hair shedding, genetics and medical conditions lead to hair loss. Eat a healthy diet and use hair oils to nourish your hair. If you are experiencing severe hair loss, consult your dermatologist.

Key Takeaways

  • Hair shedding is a part of the hair growth cycle, and 50-100 strands are shed in a day.
  • Hair shedding may be due to weight loss, stress, excessive styling, and seasonal changes.
  • Genetics, age, hormonal imbalances, medications, and immune reactions may trigger hair loss.
  • Destressing, a balanced diet, and an active lifestyle can manage hair shedding and hair loss.

13 Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. The Hair Shedding Visual Scale: A Quick Tool to Assess Hair Loss in Women
  2. Telogen Effluvium
  3. Nutrition and hair
  4. The Postpartum Telogen Effluvium Fallacy
  5. Burden of hair loss: stress and the underestimated psychosocial impact of telogen effluvium and androgenetic alopecia
  6. Seasonality of hair shedding in healthy women complaining of hair loss
  7. Alopecia areata
  8. Sex Hormones and Hair Loss in Men From the General Population of Northeastern Germany
  9. Hair Loss: Common Causes and Treatment
  10. Telogen Effluvium: A Review
  11. Hair evaluation methods: merits and demerits
  12. Physiology Hair
  13. Biotin
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Dr. Sonam Jeswani Ramrakhiani

Dr. Sonam Jeswani Ramrakhiani is a renowned dermatologist with over 11 years of experience. She has a sharp eye for... more