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The Difference Between Hair Shedding, Breakage, and Loss

April 22, 2021

3 Min read

There’s a lot of terminology in the world of haircare—especially when it comes to hair loss. So before you rush to a conclusion over those extra hairs in your brush, it’s important to know the difference between hair loss, hair shedding, and hair breakage. Depending on which issue you’re dealing with, the products and treatments to get your hair back on track vary greatly. 

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Normal hair shedding vs. excessive hair shedding

Even when our systems are running perfectly, the average person sheds 50 to 100 hairs a day, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (ADA). Hair shedding that exceeds that average is called telogen effluvium, a condition that typically resolves itself naturally. “Excessive hair shedding comes from things like stress, giving birth, or losing over 20 pounds,” explains Faith Huffnagle, Director of Education at Prose and verteran hairstylist. “The causes of excessive hair shedding are temporary and you have to give yourself time and grace to let your hair shed and come back.” The ADA also lists surgical procedures, going off birth control, and recovering from an illness (even a high fever) as additional telogen effluvium causes. Usually hair shedding happens two to three months after a stressful event or health trigger.

How long does it take to recover from excessive hair shedding? The ADA notes that most people see a return to normal fullness within six to nine months—providing the stressor or health trigger doesn’t persist, as long term stress and poor health can cause ongoing hair shedding. To strengthen your hair, Faith recommends hair care products with ingredients like maca and biotin, which can both be found in Prose formulations. 

Signs you’re experiencing hair loss

Unlike hair shedding, hair loss, or anagen effluvium, may not resolve itself naturally. Causes of hair loss according to the ADA are hereditary hair loss, harsh drugs and treatments like chemotherapy, immune system issues, and traumatic hair loss from hair pulling or extremely tight hairstyles. These causes actually stop the hair from growing, resulting in balding or alopecia, and the hair can’t try to grow back until the cause stops. With hereditary hair loss, we can affect how soon our genetic predisposition kicks in, as an unhealthy lifestyle can trigger hair loss sooner than it would naturally happen. A board-certified dermatologist can help identify hair loss and its causes, as well as provide treatment options.

How to identify hair breakage

It’s nice when things are simple, and identifying hair breakage is oh-so-easy: “Take a look at a fallen strand of hair,” says Faith, “shedding will have a bulb on the end of the hair, whereas breakage will not.” That little bulb indicates that the hair came directly out of your scalp, a sure sign of shedding, versus a long piece of broken hair. You may see broken hair all over your sink or floor after brushing your hairs. “Breakage happens from really tight elastic hair ties or rubber bands, frying your hair with heat, chemical exposure, and brushing too harshly or ripping through tangles,” she says.

Here are Faith’s top tips to avoid hair breakage

  • Brush hair with a wide-tooth comb or boar bristle brush 
  • Detangle hair when it’s mildly damp 
  • Avoid too-tight hairstyles and abrasive hair ties 
  • Use temperature controlled heat tools and don’t go over 360 degrees
  • Avoid excessive bleaching, perms, relaxers, and chemical treatments

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

April Walloga is a beauty and lifestyle editor who’s written extensively on hair health and the root causes of hair loss. She is the former and founding editor in chief of Revelist.com and has been a lead editor at publications like Business Insider, Gotham magazine, and xoVain.com. In her spare time you can find her perusing what’s new at Sephora or enjoying Riverside Park with no less than her third cup of coffee that day.

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