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There’s nothing like waking up to an uncomfortable amount of hair on your pillow to send you into a tailspin before your overnight oats. But hold up — some shedding is totally normal.
How much, you ask? Normal hair shedding lies on the spectrum of about 50 to 100 hairs. It sounds like a lot, but when you realize you have over 100,000 hairs on your head, those 50 to 100 hairs are small potatoes.
But it could be a sign of a deeper issue if you’re constantly finding excessive amounts of hair — like a lot more than ever before. Below, we dive into everything you need to know about the hair growth cycle, reasons for hair shedding and the different treatments that can help.
Before you spiral, let’s get into normal hair shedding and actual hair loss.
It's important to know there's a difference between hair shedding vs hair loss. We know — they can look similar at first, but they're two different things entirely. Learn more about normal hair shedding vs hair loss in this full guide.
Your hair growth cycle involves three different phases, and each hair is at a different point in the cycle at any given time. These phases include:
The anagen phase (or growth phase)
The catagen phase (or transition phase)
The telogen phase (or resting phase).
In the third phase, the telogen phase, it’s normal for hair to shed naturally and start the cycle all over again. This can last several months.
Are you now thinking, “wait, but I am shedding hair every day”? Remember: all of your individual hairs can be in different phases of the hair growth cycle at any time. Shedding those telogen hairs is normal and expected on the daily.
Alright, so, now that we understand a little more about your hair’s natural growth and shedding cycle, let’s dig into the abnormal stuff.
Ever been in a stressful situation and felt like you were at your wits end and losing your hair from the stress? Yes, it’s a thing. You can lose your hair from stress— whether it be a sudden illness, drastic weight loss or a breakup. This type of excessive hair shedding after a stressful event is known as telogen effluvium.
Good news? It usually isn’t permanent. Bad news? Telogen effluvium usually results in sudden thinning hair across your entire scalp, resulting in more hairs on your pillow, in the shower or on your hairbrush.
It can be tough to pinpoint what's causing hair loss since there are a few different types (and tons of contributing factors to go with them).
Meeting with your healthcare provider is best to rule out any underlying medical conditions, and if you think you’re experiencing female pattern hair loss rather than typical shedding, it’s worth knowing what to look for.
Below are a few common causes of female hair loss:
Androgenetic alopecia (also called androgenic alopecia). This refers to a form of predetermined hair loss due to an excessive response to androgens. And it's wayyy more common than you’d expect: up to 50 percent of males and females experience this kind of hair loss in varying degrees in their adult lives.
Learn more about female pattern hair loss in this blog post.
Alopecia areata: This refers to baldness in patches, typically found on the top of the head. This is an autoimmune type of hair loss in which the immune system attacks the hair follicle. Some people can have a genetic predisposition to alopecia areata.
Traction alopecia: This form of hair loss is caused by hairstyles (like tight ponytails, hair extensions, braids and buns) that pull on the hair, causing targeted hair loss over time. Styles like tightly slicked-back ponytails can cause hair breakage where the hair is attached and around the hairline and temples because the hair is under tension from being pulled back so tightly.
Once you know the cause, you can figure out the right treatment for you. There are effective hair loss treatments currently on the market for many types of hair loss. And if you think it may be stress or diet related, there’re holistic options to check out, too. Read on to find out all the ways to stop hair shedding immediately.
Since hair shedding is normal, you typically just need to focus on having a good haircare routine in place. But if you think it’s more than that, here are some treatment options for hair loss.
Spironolactone. It’s typically prescribed to help people treat conditions like heart failure and hypertension, but more recently, it's also commonly prescribed off-label for its antiandrogenic effects — especially for hair loss.
Spironolactone helps decrease testosterone levels in the blood and lessens its effect in certain areas of the body.
Minoxidil drops. This 2% or 5% strength topical solution is the first line of defense for most dermatology professionals. Commonly sold under the brand name Rogaine®, minoxidil is a science-backed FDA-approved treatment for hair loss.
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. Think of it like a supercharged smoothie for your roots. Plus, it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for female pattern hair loss.
Topical finasteride spray. Men have been using oral finasteride to treat hair loss for decades, but because of its potential for side effects in women, it hasn’t been recommended for us. But thanks to topical finasteride spray, women can see the benefits, too.
Finasteride works to block your body from producing dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is considered a primary culprit in female pattern balding.
Sometimes, you may need to also consider more holistic measures, working from the inside out. Here’re a few other things you can try to stop hair shedding fast:
Eat the right food: Studies show having a balanced diet including important vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, iron, selenium and vitamin C will help minimize nutritional deficiencies that can lead to hair loss.
Check out this article to learn about the best foods for healthy hair. Picky eater? If you think you may have a deficiency, try to supplement appropriately (these biotin gummies are a fave if you’re noticing brittle and dry hair).
Avoid tight hairstyles: Prevent traction alopecia with looser styles. Scrunchies and claw clips are making a comeback and they can help reduce the amount of friction on your hair.
Limit heat styling: Dialing down the heat from your hot tools can help fend off damage, which can lead to shedding broken hair.
Reduce stress: We mentioned how stress can lead to hair loss. If you’re currently experiencing some intense life changes or tough times, you may be able to reduce hair fall by speaking with a professional (and online therapy can even be done from your living room— win!).
Getting the appropriate mental health services or doing what you can to limit the effects of day-to-day stress in your life can help.
Get your snooze on: Sleep disorders such as insomnia and stress are closely linked, aim to get 7+ hours of sleep to help reduce stress. And if you’re finding yourself on a TikTok spiral after midnight regularly, look into natural sleep aids to help you wind down.
We know hair shedding can seem scary. But also know that it’s totally common. And if you start to notice overall thinning or see more of your scalp than you’d like, you can do plenty of things to slow it down. Scope out this article to get all the deets on how to prevent hair breakage so your overall hair health is at its peak. And remember this:
Hair shedding is a normal part of the hair growth cycle.
If you feel like you’re losing too much hair, there are steps you can take.
Try medications for hair loss, like minoxidil, finasteride or spironolactone.
Opt for holistic steps like reducing stress, getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet.
Ready to take the next step? Make an appointment with a healthcare provider now to figure out the right hair care regimen for you and to stop hair shedding — like, right now.
Sara Harcharik Perkins, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. She is the director of the Teledermatology Program, as well as the Associate Program Director of the Yale Dermatology Residency Training Program. Her research focuses on telemedicine and medical education. Her practice includes general medical dermatology, high-risk skin cancer, and procedural dermatology.
Dr. Perkins completed her undergraduate education at the University of Pennsylvania and obtained her medical degree at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She completed her medical internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital, followed by residency training in dermatology at Yale University, after which she joined the faculty.
Ahmad, M., Christensen, S. R., & Perkins, S. H. (2023). The impact of COVID-19 on the dermatologic care of nonmelanoma skin cancers among solid organ transplant recipients. JAAD international, 13, 98–99. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10518328/
Ahmad, M., & Perkins, S. H. (2023). Learning dermatology in medical school: analysis of dermatology topics tested in popular question banks. Clinical and experimental dermatology, 48(4), 361–363. https://academic.oup.com/ced/article-abstract/48/4/361/6869515?redirectedFrom=fulltext&login=false
Belzer, A., Leasure, A. C., Cohen, J. M., & Perkins, S. H. (2023). The association of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma with solid organ transplantation: a cross-sectional study of the All Of Us Research Program. International journal of dermatology, 62(10), e564–e566. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ijd.16700
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Asabor, E. N., Bunick, C. G., Cohen, J. M., & Perkins, S. H. (2021). Patient and physician perspectives on teledermatology at an academic dermatology department amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 84(1), 158–161. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7491373/
Belzer, A., Olamiju, B., Antaya, R. J., Odell, I. D., Bia, M., Perkins, S. H., & Cohen, J. M. (2021). A novel medical student initiative to enhance provision of teledermatology in a resident continuity clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic: a pilot study. International journal of dermatology, 60(1), 128–129. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7753449/
Cohen, J. M., Bunick, C. G., & Perkins, S. H. (2020). The new normal: An approach to optimizing and combining in-person and telemedicine visits to maximize patient care. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 83(5), e361–e362. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7316470/
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