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Last updated: May 18, 2022
4 min read

Hair shedding vs. hair loss: what’s the difference?

steve silvestrochimene richa

Medically Reviewed by Steve Silvestro, MD

Written by Chimene Richa, MD

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Losing a certain amount of hair is a normal part of life. But how do you know if what you’re experiencing is normal hair shedding vs. hair loss? When is it time to get treatment? Keep reading to find out the answers to these questions and more, along with a review of some of the best hair loss treatments. 

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What is hair shedding? 

Hair shedding is part of the natural life cycle of your hair. Your hair goes through three phases before falling out (Hoover, 2021):

  • Anagen phase (growth phase)—Around 85–90% of your hair sits in this phase for years.
  • Catagen phase (transition phase)—The hair stops growing and regresses a little.
  • Telogen phase (resting phase)—The resting hair follicle is dormant for weeks to months.

At the end of the telogen phase, your hair finally falls out (also called exogen), and the hair growth cycle restarts. 

How much hair loss is normal? 

Around 10–15% of your hair follicles are in the resting or shedding phases at any given time, so it’s normal to lose some hair each day. Experts estimate that normal hair shedding is around 50–150 hairs over a 24-hour period (Hoover, 2021; Kovacevic, 2017).

Why is my hair falling out? 

If you find yourself shedding what seems like more than 100–150 strands of hair per day, you likely have excessive shedding or telogen effluvium. Telogen effluvium happens when a stressful event bumps 25% or more of your hair follicles into the telogen stage, leading to more hair falling out than normal. 

Researchers don’t know exactly why this happens, but excessive shedding seems to be linked to certain factors, including (Hughes, 2021):

  • Infections
  • Hormonal changes, like pregnancy or thyroid problems
  • Surgery
  • Trauma
  • Low protein intake
  • Certain medications
  • Extreme weight loss

Telogen effluvium generally leads to abrupt and widespread hair shedding; fortunately, it usually resolves within a few months of treating the cause (Hughes, 2022).

A more common cause of hair loss is androgenic alopecia (better known as male pattern baldness or female pattern baldness). This form of hair thinning generally affects the top of the head and the hair at the temples and may lead to a receding hairline. This type of hair loss generally takes longer to notice than telogen effluvium, and family history is the biggest risk factor (Ho, 2021).

Lastly, immune system disorders (like alopecia areata), styling techniques (like tight ponytails or braids), and harsh hair care products can also cause your hair to fall out (Al Aboud, 2021).

How to stop hair shedding

Sudden episodes of excessive hair shedding, while distressing, are usually short-lived. In most cases, your normal hair will return a few months after the stressor has been taken care of, usually without any specific hair treatments (Hughes, 2021). But you will need to identify and treat the underlying cause of the telogen effluvium to stop your hair from falling out

For instance, if your hair shedding was due to a hormonal or dietary imbalance, trauma, or infection, treating these medical issues will also improve the shedding. Hair growth often restarts after you resolve these conditions. If you are unsure of the cause of your hair shedding, talk to your healthcare provider or dermatologist (Hughes, 2021).

Lastly, ignore what you’ve heard about healthy hair needing 100 brushstrokes a day—over-brushing your hair will increase your chances of excessive shedding.

Best hair loss treatments

If you’re experiencing more than just short-term hair shedding and you’re concerned about ongoing hair loss, the good news is there are several effective hair loss treatments available, including (Ho, 2021; Nazarian, 2019): 

  • Minoxidil (brand name Rogaine): An over-the-counter (OTC) topical treatment, minoxidil stimulates hair follicles and promotes growth. It is the only FDA-approved medication for androgenic alopecia in both men and women. It needs to be applied to the scalp twice a day, every day (if you stop using it, your hair loss will return within a few months) (Badri, 2021).
  • Finasteride (brand name Propecia): Finasteride (see Important Safety Information) is a prescription pill that stops the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone or DHT. By blocking DHT production, finasteride effectively slows hair loss and promotes hair regrowth. It is only approved for use in men, and its effects can last for up to a year after you stop taking the drug (Zito, 2022).
  • Low-level laser therapy (LLLT): LLLT, or red light therapy, is one of the newer hair loss treatments. Scientists don’t know precisely how it works, but the theory is that LLLT may trigger your hair follicle stem cells to stimulate new hair growth. 
  • Microneedling: During this hair loss treatment technique, small needles are used to puncture the outer layers of the skin. Microneedling is thought to promote hair regrowth by triggering a wound healing response and encouraging hair growth. 
  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP): PRP is made by taking your blood and separating a component called plasma from the red and white blood cells. The plasma then gets injected into your deep skin layers in the areas where you have thinning hair. The theory is that since plasma contains many different growth factors, it can potentially stimulate hair growth.

Whether you are going through hair shedding or hair loss, know that you have treatment options. Determining the underlying cause of your thinning hair can help guide you and your healthcare provider down the right path to restoring normal hair growth. 

References

  1. Al Aboud, A. M. & Zito, P. M. (2021). Alopecia. StatPearls. Retrieved on May 2, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538178/
  2. Badri, T., Nessel, T. A., & Kumar, D. D. (2021). Minoxidil. StatPearls. Retrieved on May 2, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482378/
  3. Ho, C. H., Sood, T., & Zito, P. M. (2021). Androgenetic alopecia. StatPearls. Retrieved on May 2, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430924/
  4. Hoover, E., Alhajj, M., & Flores, J. L. (2021). Physiology, hair. StatPearls. Retrieved on May 2, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499948/
  5. Hughes, E. C. & Saleh, D. (2021). Telogen effluvium. StatPearls. Retrieved on May 2, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430848/
  6. Kovacevic, M., Goren, A., Shapiro, J., et al. (2017). Prevalence of hair shedding among women. Dermatologic Therapy, 30(1), e12415. doi:10.1111/dth.12415. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27712018/
  7. Nazarian, R. S., Farberg, A. S., Hashim, P. W., et al. (2019). Nonsurgical hair restoration treatment. Cutis, 104(1), 17–24. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31487342/
  8. Zito, P. M., Bistas, K. G., & Syed, K. (2022). Finasteride. StatPearls. Retrieved on May 2, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513329/