Your hair goes through a natural growth cycle in which it grows to its full length, detaches from your scalp and eventually sheds.
As a result of this hair cycle, it’s normal to shed between 50 and 100 hairs per day. Many of these hairs may show up on your pillow, in your hairbrush or in other places around your home, and some of them may have a small white bulb attached to them.
While it’s normal to lose some white bulb hairs, losing a large number of hairs may signal that you’re experiencing a form of temporary hair loss called telogen effluvium.
Below, we’ve discussed what those unusual-looking white bulbs on your hair are, as well as how they fit into your natural hair cycle.
We’ve also answered several common questions that you may have if you've recently noticed your hair falling out with the white bulb still attached.
The small bulb at the end of a shed hair is a lump of keratin, a protein that makes up your hair, skin and nails.
If you examine your shed hairs, you may notice that some have white bulbs, while others have bulbs that match your natural hair color. White bulbs are unpigmented, meaning they don’t yet contain melanin, the natural pigment that gives your hair its unique color.
When you start shedding lots of white bulb hairs at once, it may be a sign of telogen effluvium (TE), a form of temporary hair shedding that’s often caused by stress.
To understand why your hair falls out with a white bulb attached, we need to go over the basics of your hair’s natural growth cycle.
Every hair on your scalp and body goes through three stages as it grows. These are referred to as the anagen, catagen and telogen phases.
In the anagen phase, your hair actively grows from the follicle to its full length. During this stage, the follicle creates the hair root, which remains inside your skin, and the hair shaft, which makes up the visible hair that grows from your scalp.
The anagen phase is also referred to as the “growth phase,” as it’s the phase in which your hair actively breaks out from your skin and becomes visible.
About 90 percent of your hair is in this phase at any given time. The length of the anagen phase differs depending on where a hair is located and determines how long your hair can grow before it detaches from the follicle and falls out.
For scalp hairs, the anagen phase can last for several years. For body hairs, it may only last for a few months. This is why your body hair only grows a short length before shedding.
After hair grows to its full length, it enters the catagen phase — a transitional phase that lasts for two to four weeks. During this phase, the hair detaches from the hair follicle, loses its supply of blood flow and nutrients and stops actively growing.
Once the hair detaches from the skin, it enters the telogen phase, during which a new hair starts growing from the hair follicle to replace it.
The part of the cycle where the old, inactive hair fully detaches from the scalp and is shed is sometimes called the exogen phase allowing the new hair to grow out from the follicle in its place.
We’ve talked about this multi-phase cycle and its effects on your hair in our guide to what stops hair growth.
Telogen effluvium, or stress hair loss, occurs when a stressful event causes your hairs to rapidly transition from the anagen phase of the growth cycle into the telogen phase.
A variety of things can cause this type of hair loss, including metabolic stress, surgery, infection, illness, poor diet, thyroid disorders and changes in your levels of certain hormones that occur following pregnancy or when you stop using estrogen-based medications.
Because these hairs move rapidly from the anagen phase to the telogen phase, they may shed with a round, club-shaped hair bulb attached to the root of the hair.
It’s important to note that losing hair with a white bulb attached doesn’t mean that you definitely have telogen effluvium hair loss.
It’s normal and natural to lose a small number of hairs every day, many of which may shed with a visible bulb. However, rapid loss of hair in the telogen phase is often a signal that something could be interfering with your hair’s natural growth cycle.
No. Your hair follicles are sheath-like structures made up of skin and connective tissue that are part of your skin. When you shed hair, the hair follicle remains part of your skin — only the hair itself is discarded.
The white or hair-colored bulb that you can see at the bottom of each hair strand is made up of the same keratin proteins as the rest of your hair.
Contrary to popular belief, shedding hair that still has white bulb attached isn’t a reliable sign of permanent hair loss.
Several conditions may cause you to permanently lose hair. One of the most common is called androgenetic alopecia, or female pattern hair loss. This type of hair loss occurs when androgen hormones shrink your hair follicles and stop them from producing new hairs.
A common sign of androgenetic alopecia is hair thinning that affects your part line, causing it to gradually widen. When severe, androgenetic alopecia can also cause diffuse hair loss.
Another cause of permanent hair loss is traction alopecia — a form of hair loss that’s caused by tension on your hair follicles from tight hairstyles such as ponytails, braids or dreadlocks. This can gradually damage your hair follicles and lead to hair breakage, and even prevent new hairs from growing.
Permanent hair loss can also develop as a result of scarring that affects your hair follicles. This type of hair loss is referred to as cicatricial alopecia, or scarring alopecia.
While these forms of hair loss may occasionally cause you to lose hairs with a white bulb, losing hair that has a white bulb attached isn’t a reliable sign that you’re affected by any of these forms of hair loss.
Telogen effluvium usually causes hair shedding several months after a triggering event, such as severe stress, an illness, surgery or a sudden change in your hormone levels.
Once the causative event has been identified and treated, your hair should gradually grow back on its own.
In order to treat telogen effluvium, you may need to make certain changes to your lifestyle, such as limiting your exposure to situations that cause you to experience stress or adjusting your diet to compensate for a nutritional deficiency.
It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider or meet with a dermatology practitioner to find out what’s causing telogen effluvium and the steps that you can take to treat it.
In order to provide an accurate diagnosis, your healthcare provider may ask to look at several of your hairs under magnification to check the appearance of the hair bulb.
Our full guide to stress and female hair loss provides more information on the steps that you can take to treat telogen effluvium and prevent it from occurring again.
It’s normal to shed between 50 and 100 hairs every day, some of which might have a white bulb at their root.
However, excessive hair loss may be a sign that you have telogen effluvium, a form of shedding that can cause you to lose hairs early in their growth cycle.
It’s important not to panic if you notice that you’re shedding hair with a white or hair-colored bulb attached. However, you should talk to your healthcare provider or schedule an appointment with a dermatology practitioner to find out what could be causing your hair loss.
They may conduct some tests, ask about your medical history, suggest making changes to your diet or lifestyle or using hair care products to promote stable hair growth.
You can learn more about other issues that may cause you to develop shedding in our guide to the most common causes of sudden hair loss.