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Understanding the Difference Between Hair Shedding and Hair Loss: What You Need to Know

Many people come to see me when they notice more hairs on their pillow, hairbrush, or after a shower.

If this is you, you may be worried that you are experiencing the beginning stages of hair loss. There is a possibility, however, it is more likely that you are shedding more hairs then normal. Yes, there is a difference between hair shedding and hair loss.   


The most significant difference is that hair shedding often stops on its own. I have researched that it is normal to shed between 50 and 150 hairs a day (one will notice more when hair is finer to begin with). When the body sheds significantly more hairs every day, a person is experiencing excess hair shedding. Telogen effluvium is the medical name for this condition.

What causes telogen effluvium? The answer is more things then you imagine.

  • Lost 20 pounds or more

  • Birth of a child

  • Stress (Anything that causes unease - divorce, moving, problems at home, world events, losing a job, scare events, etc)

  • High fever, recovering from an illness

  • Undergone an operation, anesthesia

  • Hormonal including starting/stopping birth-control pills, post pregnancy/post nursing, taking hormones, thyroid etc

  • Immune system response

  • Improper diet or loss of nutritional absortion (ie bariatric surgery, colon imbalances/surgery)

Hair shedding generally starts after a few months post stress event. As your body readjusts, the excessive shedding should stop. Within six to nine months, the hair tends to regain its normal fullness for shorter hair and up to 1-2 years for longer hair.

For example, a new mom can expect excessive hair shedding about 2-3 months after giving birth. Sometimes, the shedding can be delayed if the mother is breast feeding. The shedding usually peaks about four months. This shedding is considered normal and temporary.

For prolonged stress events, it is hard to predict how long your body will take to heal.


Hair loss differs from hair shedding. Hair loss occurs when something stops the hair from growing. Anagen effluvium is the medical name for this condition. The most common causes of hair loss include:

  • Hereditary hair loss (female and male androgenetic)

  • Immune system overreacts

  • Cancer treatments (chemotherapy, scalp radiation, taxoxifen, etc)

  • Some drugs (antidepressants, anticoagulants, cholesterol, beta blockers, anticonvulsants, antibiotics, amphetamines, thyroid, mood stabilizers, etc )

  • Traction Alopecia

  • Improper diet/nutrition

  • Continued dis-ease in the body

  • Scarring Alopecia (includes dissecting cellulitis, eosinophilic pustular folliculitis, follicular degeneration syndrome, folliculitis decalvans, lichen planopilaris, to name a few).

  • Harsh hair-care products and services

  • Trichotillomania (compulsion to pull out one’s hair)

  • Substance abuse (alcohol, drugs, medicine)

  • Burn/Trauma

If you have hair loss, your hair will not grow until the cause stops. For example, people who undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatments often lose a lot of hair. When the treatment stops, their hair tends to regrow. Radiation may be permanent depending on the frequency and strength of radiation.

In future posts, I will be addressing individual types of hair shedding and hair loss and suggestion on how to minimize or stop excessive hair loss.

Meantime, I would suggest addressing any hair loss concerns with a dermatologist that specializes in this area. You don't need to suffer in silence and these doctors specialize in diagnosing whether you have hair loss, excessive shedding, or both. They may be able to offer you treatments that are medically based. I will cover the various treatment types, pros, and cons of current medical treatments in future posts.

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