“Your hair goes through three phases of growth: anagen, catagen, and telogen.”
Your hair has its own natural cycle
Did you know that your head is home to around 100,000 hairs, with each individual hair surviving on average for four years? That is quite a lot, right? But when these hairs start to disappear from your head it can become very noticeable very fast. It is important to note that some hair loss is completely natural. Due to the lifecycle of hair follicles, people on average shed 50-100 hairs a day. Sounds like a lot, but compare it with the 100,000 hairs you have and the numbers don’t seem so high after all.
It is very important that we look at the differences between normal and excessive hair loss and hair shedding. But before we do, perhaps we should quickly take a look at the background of the hair growth cycle.
Understanding the cycle of hair growth is helpful to understand your personal hair loss or shedding situation. There are three phases of hair growth: anagen, catagen, and telogen.
The anagen phases relates to the time your hair is growing. This normally lasts between two to eight years – it is in this phase where hair is least likely to fall out.
The second phase, catagen, lasts around two to three weeks and relates to the time when hair stops growing and moves more into a transitional phase.
Finally, we come to the telogen phase. This phase lasts around 2-3 months. Hair will shed naturally at the end of this telogen phase to then be replaced with new hair down the line. The cycle then starts again. Normally, 10% of your hair will be in the telogen phase at any one time.
In a nutshell, hair shedding is completely normal and something that we all go through. This is the main difference between hair loss and hair shedding.
How much shedding is normal?
As you have 10,000 hairs in your scalp and with each hair starting and stopping different phases at different times this regular hair shedding is hardly noticeable. However, that being said, if you are shedding more hairs than normal (over around 100 hairs a day), you could be experiencing excessive hair shedding. This tends to be brought on by weight loss, stress or illness. What tends to happen with excessive shedding is that the hair shifts faster than normal through the hair growth cycle. If this is something that persists over time, you might want to speak to your doctor about it.
How can I tell if I’m shedding vs losing hair?
If you are trying to determine whether or not you are going through hair shedding or hair loss, pay attention to your crown and hairline. Male pattern baldness tends to have a distinct pattern (the hint is in the name.) If you start noticing the crown region of your hair thinning or your hairline receding, this is likely to be an indication of early male pattern baldness rather than shedding. If you want some more info on catching male pattern baldness early, check out our guide here.
The science of hair loss
In contrast to hair shedding, hair loss due to male pattern baldness is caused by a molecule in your body called Dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This molecule is a product of testosterone metabolism and is also an androgen. DHT is produced by the action of 5a-reductase, which is an enzyme that converts a certain percentage of your testosterone into DHT in areas like your liver, prostate, skin and hair follicles.
Whether and how much your follicles respond to DHT probably has a lot to do with your genetics. If you are genetically susceptible to hair loss, the DHT binding to the receptors located in your hair follicles can cause the them to weaken, shrink and eventually die.
There are only two medically approved and clinically proven treatments for male hair loss – Minoxidil and Finasteride. These drugs can not only stop hair loss, but in some cases even successfully regrow lost hair. The key thing to understand is that preventing hair loss is much easier than curing baldness. So it’s better to start early and to be persistent with your chosen treatment.
To summarise, hair shedding is a completely normal and natural. We all lose around 100 hairs a day and should not be too concerned about it. From time to time, we may suffer from excessive hair shedding brought on by stress, illness or diet. But this type of hair loss tends to be reversible.
Genetic hair loss in men is different and is primarily caused by a reaction to DHT. But with advances in science, there is no reason to stress about it. Remember that preventing hair loss in the first place is the most effective course of action!