Your hairbrush is full of it. Your shower is covered in it. Seems like your hair is everywhere.
Cleaning it is a pain, but it's nothing to panic about - shedding hair is actually perfectly normal.
At any given time, about 80-90% of your hair is growing and 10-15% is in a resting phase, where it doesn't grow or fall out. Every two or three months, the resting hairs shed, and new hairs grow in their place. So you could be losing between 150 and 200 hairs from your head per day.
But what happens when it feels like your hair is shedding in gobs, like way more than 150 to 200 strands every day? We spoke with Jeffrey Hurley, MD, a dermatologist on the medical staff at Chester County Hospital, to find out.
Loss vs. Shedding
"Hair loss and hair shedding are technically two different problems. Hair loss is when something stops the hairs on your head from growing. Unless you treat the cause, the hair doesn't start growing again," says Dr. Hurley.
"Shedding is when your hair is still growing, but more hairs than usual fall out each day. It’s usually temporary and stops on its own. This can often be caused by stress," he adds.
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
There are many reasons why you might experience hair loss or shedding.
- Hereditary hair loss: Also known as "androgenetic alopecia," "male-pattern baldness,"or "female-pattern baldness," this is the most common cause of hair loss. Men usually have a receding hairline and bald spots, while women keep their hairline and have thinning hair. This happens gradually, as you age.
- Alopecia areata: This is a condition where your body attacks its own hair. You don't just lose hair on your head - you can lose it on other parts of your body, too. The hair usually grows back, but the loss could start again. You might have the loss-regrow cycle for a few years.
- Brushing your hair too much: Resist the urge to channel your inner Marcia Brady and brush your hair 1,000 times.
- Too much styling: Frequently using a flat iron, curling iron, blow dryer, gels, dyes, or bleach can make your hair brittle, increasing the risk of it breaking and falling out. Hair clips, pins, or rubber bands that hold your hair tightly can have the same effect.
- A medical condition: Thyroid disease, anemia, anorexia, and more - there are about 30 diseases that can cause hair loss. The good news? Treating the underlying disorder usually stops or reverses hair loss.
- Medications: Some prescription drugs, such as oral contraceptives (birth control pills), blood thinners, muscle-building steroids, or medications to treat depression, heart disease, or arthritis can make your hair fall out.
- Not getting enough protein: When your body doesn't get enough protein, it rations out the protein it does have - and that might mean shutting down hair growth. Eating eggs, meats, and fish can get you your much-needed protein. If you're a vegetarian, try adding more seeds, nuts, or beans to your diet.
- Too much vitamin A: Vitamin A can help your hair grow, but too much can actually make it fall out. Vitamin A is found mainly in liver or fish oils, but it's also found in beef, dairy products, carrots, broccoli, or fortified cereal. A vitamin A-rich diet alone probably won't cause an overdose - you're more likely to get too much vitamin A from supplements.
- Stress: Whether you're in panic mode while studying for finals, going through a divorce, or losing a loved one, too much stress can cause shedding. In some cases, this may be a delayed reaction — the big shed might not occur until a few months after a stressful event.
- Weight loss: Shedding pounds can sometimes mean shedding hair. Many people who suddenly lose a significant amount of weight - more than 15 pounds - don't take in enough protein, which causes hair loss. But don't panic. Once you stop losing weight, your hair loss problem should fix itself, no treatment needed.
- Acute illnesses (medical conditions that are not long-lasting): Some illnesses - like the flu, a fever, an infection, or even just the process of recovering from surgery - can cause you to lose hairs. Again, treating the condition can typically stop the hair loss.
- Menopause: Around menopause - when women stop having menstrual periods - hormone changes can make hair dryer and thinner. And that can make it fall out.
- Giving birth: While you're pregnant, an increased number of hairs may go into the resting phase. This means that when that phase is over, you might lose a lot of hairs.
So - What Next?
"Since shedding is generally a response to a type of stressor, the problem should take care of itself within a few months after the stress leaves," says Dr. Hurley.
"Hair loss, however, is a different story. The problem won't go away on its own - it will requiring treating the underlying condition causing the hair loss. For example, if you're losing hair because you're not getting enough protein, the hair loss won't stop until you've adopted a higher protein diet."
There are a few treatments you may be able to try if your hair loss problem isn't going away or if your hair isn't growing back, such as:
- Minoxidil - an over-the-counter cream that you rub on your scalp to stop hairs from thinning and stimulate hair growth
- Special brushes, combs, or other handheld devices that emit laser light on your scalp to stimulate hair growth
- Prescription medications to slow down hair loss
- Hair transplantation, where your provider will remove the skin on your scalp with healthy hair growth and transplant it to parts of the scalp that need hair
You can also try these hair-care tricks to keep shedding and hair loss to a minimum:
- Avoid brushing your hair while it's still wet.
- Let your hair air-dry whenever possible.
- Limit your use of curling or flat irons. When you do use them, use the lowest heat setting.
- Try not to pull your hair back too tightly - opt for a loose 'do rather than a slicked-back ponytail.
- If you're a swimmer, use a swim cap, rinse your hair immediately after swimming, and use special swimmers' shampoo. Pool chemicals, such as chlorine, can damage your hair.
If you're concerned about shedding or hair loss, talk to your dermatologist - they can help you discover the root of the problem and how to solve it.
Do you have questions about hair shedding or loss? Call 610-738-2300 to find a dermatologist near you.