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Hair Shedding Vs Hair Loss: What’s The Difference?

Are you experiencing hair shedding or hair loss? Both hair loss and hair shedding are a natural part of life; but what’s the difference between shedding and hair loss, and when should you seek treatment?

What is hair shedding?

It’s important to note that the loose hairs we encounter on our pillows, clothing and combs, are entirely normal. Hair shedding is part of the hair growth cycle, and it never stops. There are over 100,000 hair follicles on the human scalp, and they are all in one of three phases in a four-phase cycle which we will cover in the hair shedding cycle section.

There is a difference between normal hair shedding and hair shedding that is excessive or pathological. Excessive hair shedding has several potential causes, including:

  • Hair shedding following stress or shock
  • Hair shedding due to androgenic alopecia
  • An autoimmune condition such as lichen planopilaris

Hair shedding cycle

Hair shedding is one phase in the cycle of growth and loss. The four phases are:

  • Anagen (the growth phase)
  • Catagen (the transition phase)
  • Telogen (the resting phase)
  • Exogen (the hair shedding phase)

The study of these phases has been integral to the development of treatments and preventions for hair loss. Let’s take a closer look at each phase:

  • Anagen – the growth phase, anagen, is the longest phase. Hairs are in the anagen phase for about three to five years, but in some cases a hair can carry on growing for seven years or more. During this phase, hair follicles push out the hairs that continue to grow until the end of their lifespan, or until they’re cut. The anagen hair phase length is shorter for facial and body hair than for scalp hairs
  • Catagen – this transitional phase occurs after the anagen phase and lasts for around ten days. Hair follicles will shrink as growth slows. The hair will separate from the hair follicle but will stay in place during its last days of growth. At any given time, about 3% to 5% of hairs on the head are in the catagen phase
  • Telogen – following catagen, hair enters the resting phase for three months or so. While the hairs have stopped growing during this period, they don’t fall out. This is also the time when new hairs form in follicles that have recently released hairs. From 10% to 15% of the hairs on your head will be in this phase at any one time
  • Exogen – we can view the exogen phase – which lasts from around two to five months – as an extension of the telogen stage. The hair that has separated from the hair follicle and stopped growing will now fall out. This can happen when washing, sleeping or brushing. As the old hairs are falling out, new hairs grow in the hair follicles

The average person will shed 50 to 100 hairs a day, but if they are shedding more and the hairs are not replenishing, then this could be a sign of hair loss.

Hair shedding causes

Among the potential causes of excessive hair shedding are:

Telogen effluvium: which is severe shedding after a shock that could be triggered by surgery, an injury, severe illness or childbirth, and can cause hairs to come out easily when pulled gently

Anagen effluvium: an injury to the hair follicles that can result in 90% shedding after hair fractures, and can be triggered by chemotherapy

Alopecia areata: an autoimmune condition that leads to oval shaped hair loss patches and can result in complete scalp hair loss

What is hair loss?

As we get older, our rate of hair growth can change, and this is when hair loss can become more apparent. In addition to the types of temporary hair shedding that we have outlined in the hair shedding sections above, there are many other hair loss types, including:

  • Androgenic alopecia, a genetic condition also known as male pattern baldness
  • Alopecia universalis, which is an autoimmune condition that causes all body and facial hair to fall out
  • Trichotillomania, a psychological disorder characterised by pulling out one’s own hair and seen most frequently in children
  • Scarring alopecias, that are often caused by autoimmune conditions

Hair loss causes

Hair loss can be caused by a range of factors, from medical conditions and genetics to hormonal changes and adverse effects from hair treatments.

Genetics

Hair loss can be passed down in families, and androgenic alopecia (male pattern baldness or female pattern baldness) is a hereditary condition that is the most common hair loss cause. It occurs with ageing and tends to gradually appear in certain patterns, such as a receding hairline or thinning at the crown.

Medical conditions

A variety of medical conditions can cause hair loss, such as; autoimmune disorders (alopecia areata), hair-pulling disorders (trichotillomania) and scalp infections (ringworm). For more information about what illnesses cause hair loss, please visit our page.

Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes can be triggered by menopause, thyroid issues, pregnancy and childbirth. These conditions can cause both temporary and permanent hair loss.

Medications

Some drugs can cause hair loss as a side effect, such as treatments for conditions like heart problems, high blood pressure, arthritis and cancer.

Shock

Stressful and or traumatising events that cause emotional or physical shock can result in a temporary thinning of the hair. However, it is worth noting that it is temporary and your hair will eventually return to its original density.

Hair styles and hair treatments

‘Tight’ hairstyles that drag the hair back, like cornrows, braids and pigtails, can cause traction alopecia. Treatments such as hair dye, hot oils and chemical texturizers can cause hair loss. When there has been hair loss, hair may not grow back.

Hair Shedding after hair transplant surgery

Hair loss or hair shedding after a hair transplant can also occur. This process is called ‘shock loss’, and it is a natural part of the recovery process. Hairs begin to fall out and are replaced by newer, thicker hair in 3-4 months.

Radiotherapy

When radiotherapy is used to treat cancer, hair loss may occur in the area being treated, with hair growing back differently.

Hair shedding vs hair loss

A key takeaway is that if you are experiencing excessive hair shedding or hair thinning, you may be experiencing hair loss. There is a lot of overlap between excessive hair shedding and hair loss. Excessive hair shedding is a term often used to describe temporary forms of hair loss, which may occur with certain conditions, after taking specific medication, or following shock. Whereas, hair loss tends to be a term that encompasses natural causes, such as androgenic alopecia, as well as some types of excessive hair shedding.

If you have lost hair rapidly over a matter of days or weeks, you could be experiencing a type of excessive hair shedding. Whereas if you are losing hair gradually in one of the recognised patterns outlined by the stages of the Norwood Scale, this is a natural type of hair loss.

So what should you do if you are experiencing hair loss? The best hair loss clinics will be able to guide you on the most suitable options for the treatment of hair loss, and in the next section, we will cover these choices.

How to treat hair loss

When normal hair shedding becomes hair loss, there are several treatments available.
Non-surgical hair loss treatments include:

  • Finasteride, a male pattern baldness treatment that is a 5-alpha-reductase enzyme blocker
  • Minoxidil, which is contained within hair regrowth products in topical solutions
  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy hair treatment, a regenerative medicine
  • Low level laser therapy, which stimulates cell regrowth

There are also surgical options like hair transplants that can reverse hair loss, including FUE hair transplants and FUT hair transplants. But how does a hair transplant work?

FUE hair transplant

FUE hair transplants involve the removal of individual follicles, usually from the back of the scalp, using small ‘punches’. The follicles are placed into tiny holes made at the recipient area (where the new hair will grow).

FUT hair transplant

FUT hair transplants involve a single graft being taken from the back of the scalp before the strip is divided into smaller sections and implanted at the recipient area.

How we can help with hair shedding and hair loss

Treatment Rooms London offers a range of hair loss treatments; from hair transplants to minoxidil. We can guide you on the best course of treatment for your hair loss and offer a personalised treatment plan with access to the most advanced treatments available.

Book a consultation today to speak with one of our highly trained hair transplant surgeons.

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