Hair Shedding vs Hair Loss: What's The Difference?
If seeing a few extra hairs by the drain or seeing numerous strands of hair on your pillow is starting to freak you out, now is the time to queue your “Peaceful Piano” playlist on Spotify and take a pause. It could just be normal hair shedding, vs. hair loss. But what’s the difference?
First off, it’s totally normal to shed hair, especially with normal brushing and washing.
But if you’re finding a lot more hair than usual around the house, it could be a red flag.
But don’t sweat it yet. Hair shedding and hair loss are different issues and require different treatments — here’s how to get ahead of either issue.
TLDR; Hair Shedding vs. Hair Loss
There’s a difference between normal hair shedding and actual hair loss.
You can lose 50-100 hairs a day from normal shedding.
If you’re losing more than 100+ hairs, you may be dealing with hair loss.
Hair loss can be triggered by various causes, including genetics, stress or your diet. Figuring out the root cause and type of hair loss you have will help you find the right treatment.
Speaking of treatments, you can help thinning hair by using FDA-approved hair loss medications like minoxidil, spironolactone and/or finasteride.
Below, we get into the difference between hair shedding and hair loss, and arm you with more info on the treatment options that can address hair thinning.
Hair Shedding vs. Hair Loss
First, that pause we suggested earlier — there is a difference between normal hair shedding and hair loss. But differentiating between the two, especially in the early stages of hair loss, can be tricky. Let’s dive into both so you can get a better understanding of what’s going on up there.
Your hair growth cycle involves three different phases — the anagen phase (or growth phase), the catagen phase (or transition phase) and the telogen phase (or resting phase).
In the third, the telogen phase, it’s totally normal for hair to naturally shed, so that the follicle can start the cycle all over again. This phase of the hair cycle lasts about three months.
Check out our article on the hair growth process to get a deeper understanding of the hair growth cycle.
Humans have a lot of hair follicles — roughly 100,000 on your head alone, give or take — and each hair on your head goes through the growth cycle independently of other hairs. This means you’ll experience some shedding daily — again, normal.
Buuuuuttt, how do you know when it’s becoming too much, you ask?
Signs of Hair Loss
Wonder what you can look for to figure out if you’re experiencing more than everyday shedding? Signs of hair loss include:
Widening part (look at photos to see if it has grown wider over time)
A receding hairline that becomes more visible and falls further back year after year
Gradual diffuse thinning of hair, causing scalp to peek through
Bald spot that grows slowly
Hair that takes longer to grow (see if your hair cuts are spaced out further than before)
Causes of Hair Loss
When you know what the root cause of your hair loss is, you’re better able to find the treatment or plan that will help you reverse hair thinning. Keep in mind that there are various types of hair loss and multiple factors that can cause you to lose hair.
We can give you some basic information, but meeting with your healthcare provider is the best way to rule out any underlying medical conditions and find the cause of your hair loss.
Below, a few common types of hair loss:
Traction alopecia: Big fan of the man bun? Sorry to break it to ya, fella, but tight hairstyles can pull on the hair follicle, causing a form of hair loss known as traction alopecia. Tight hairstyles can cause hair breakage not only where the hair elastic wraps around your hair, but also around the hairline and temples.
Androgenetic alopecia. This form of hereditary hair loss, also called androgenic alopecia and male pattern baldness, is caused by an excessive response to androgens — a type of hormone. It’s a sucky club to be in, but it’s probably more common than you think. In fact, research indicates that up to 50 percent of males and females experience this kind of hair loss to varying degrees in their adult lives.
Alopecia areata: This type of hair loss causes baldness in patches, typically on the top of the head. It can also be a genetic form of hair loss, specifically an autoimmune condition where the body attacks its own hair follicles, causing patchy hair loss.
Stress-related hair loss: As if a stressful situation ever needed to get more stressful, things like a sudden illness or a toxic job really can make your hair fall out. This type of excess shedding after a stressful event is known as telogen effluvium. Telogen effluvium usually results in sudden thinning of your hair across your entire scalp, resulting in more hairs on your pillow, in the shower or on your hairbrush. Fortunately, unlike male pattern hair loss, it usually isn’t permanent.
Treatments for Hair Shedding and Hair Loss
Since hair shedding is normal, the only thing you really need to do when you see some hairs on your pillow is to make sure you have a good hair care routine in place. And just be careful when combing out wet strands, k?
But if you think you’re experiencing hair loss, there are some treatment options you can try. Again, we’ll give you the basics below, but you can learn more about the best hair loss treatments for men in our guide.
Commonly sold under the brand name Rogaine®, minoxidil is a topical or oral medication that stimulates hair growth. Though its exact mechanism of action is still unknown, it’s believed to work by encouraging more oxygen, blood and nutrients to the hair follicle.
Learn more about the efficacy of minoxidil in our guide to this hair loss treatment.
It also has the science to back it up. In a 2014 placebo-controlled trial, researchers found that both minoxidil improves hair thinning.
There are a few different varieties of topical minoxidil solutions that you can try:
It’s official. Hims is a hit.
Finasteride, also sold under the brand names Propecia® and Proscar®, is an oral tablet used to treat hair loss in men. It works by stopping your body from converting testosterone into a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is believed to be a primary factor in male pattern baldness.
Studies show that, for most men, oral finasteride works very well to slow or even completely stop hair loss.
You can learn more about finasteride, including more about how it works and its side effects, in our guide to finasteride for hair loss.
If you need support, or if you’re experiencing hair loss as a result of stress or anxiety, it may be time to speak with a therapy professional about what’s going on. You can also check with your healthcare provider to rule out any nutritional disorders like anemia.
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No matter the treatment plan, the best place to start is somewhere. Early action is the best hair loss prevention.
The Takeaway: Hair Shedding vs Hair Loss
There is a difference between hair loss and hair shedding, even if you may think of them as the same thing. While light shedding is typical, excessive hair shedding may be something you want to look into, as it can quickly lead to hair loss.
If you're unsure if you're experiencing hair loss, consult a dermatologist or healthcare provider.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment or medication.