Frequent hair shedding or hair loss can get worrisome. One may experience any of these conditions irrespective of their hair length or thickness (1). While shedding about 50 to 100 strands a day is normal, anything beyond this would warrant medical advice.
The first step towards treating any of the conditions is understanding the differences. Though hair shedding and hair loss sound similar, they do have certain differences. Here, we discuss these differences, the causes of these conditions, and what you can do to treat them.
Table Of Contents
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 is medically known as anagen effluvium. It is characterized by abnormal hair loss in the growing phase (anagen) of the hair growth cycle. It often leads to male- or female-pattern alopecia (baldness) (4).
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 (5).
- 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 (6).
Anxiety and stress can inhibit hair growth and also cause hair damage (7).
- 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 (8).
- 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.
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.
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 (9).
- 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 (10).
- Scalp Infections
Fungal or bacterial scalp infections can result in seborrhoeic 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 (11). Medications for thyroid, anxiety, stress, endocrinal (hormonal) disorders, and epilepsy may also lead to hair loss (12).
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 (13). 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 (14).
- 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.
- Do not stress or panic. Destress yourself by practicing yoga or meditation.
- Use natural oils and organic ingredients to nourish your hair.
- Eat healthy to nourish your hair follicles from within.
Hair shedding and hair loss have different symptoms and causes. Understanding the differences helps you take the right treatment or preventive measures. Hair shedding is most often reversible, while hair loss may not be. Focus on a proper hair care routine, healthy eating habits, and proper supplementation and exercise. More importantly, maintain an upbeat attitude and do not take unnecessary stress.
- The Hair Shedding Visual Scale: A Quick Tool to Assess Hair Loss in Women.
- Telogen Effluvium.
- Anagen Effluvium.
- Anagen effluvium.
- Nutrition and hair.
- The Postpartum Telogen Effluvium Fallacy.
- Burden of hair loss: stress and the underestimated psychosocial impact of telogen effluvium and androgenetic alopecia.
- Seasonality of hair shedding in healthy women complaining of hair loss.
- Alopecia areata.
- Sex Hormones and Hair Loss in Men From the General Population of Northeastern Germany.
- Hair Loss: Common Causes and Treatment.
- Telogen Effluvium: A Review.
- Hair evaluation methods: merits and demerits.
- Physiology, Hair.