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Hair Loss vs. Hair Shedding

Hair Loss vs. Hair Shedding — What’s the difference?

The medical staff members of our clinic offer virtual consultations with individuals who are worried about hair loss.

Many of our patients come to us concerned about the hair that they find in their comb or shower. But these hairs actually usually occur because of hair shedding, not hair loss.

Is there a difference between hair loss and hair shedding?

As a matter of fact, yes—there’s a big difference. Hair shedding is normal and nothing to worry about. Hair loss will happen to most people, but there are a number of effective hair loss treatment options.

In this article, we explain everything you need to know about hair loss and hair shedding, and how you can prevent both.

What is hair shedding?

Hair shedding occurs when it has finished growing. After it finishes growing, it is normal for hairs to detach from the skin and fall out.

Shedding will happen to every hair on your head at some point. How quickly it happens is determined by how quickly your hair growth cycle is.

Hair biology — the hair growth cycle

Hair grows in four stages.

The anagen phase is the growth phase. This is the longest phase and is when the hair is produced in the hair follicle. This phase lasts about 2 to 5 years for the hair on your head, although it can be longer than that for some people. Usually, about 90% of the hair on your head is in the anagen phase at any given time.

The catagen phase is the transition phase. It starts at the end of the anagen phase and lasts about 10 days. During this phase, hair growth slows and the hair follicles shrink. The hair also detaches from the follicle during this phase, although it still remains on your head, planted in your scalp.

The telogen phase is the resting phase. During this phase, your hair isn’t growing, but it remains in place. This phase lasts around 3 months. While one hair is resting, another may begin to grow in the follicle.

The exogen phase is the shedding phase. During this phase, hairs detach from the scalp and fall out. It’s completely normal for anywhere from 50 to 100 hairs to fall out each day. This phase can last between 2 and 5 months. While the older hair falls out, new hair strands will grow in the follicle.

How quickly does hair shed?

Hair on your head typically will shed about 3 to 6 years after it starts growing. How quickly it happens depends on how long the hair growth cycle is for you.

The length of the hair growth cycle can be influenced by several factors or events. These include:

  • Genetics
  • Illnesses, including fevers
  • Childbirth
  • Acute stress
  • Medications

Those factors can either speed up or slow down shedding rates. Some of them may cause excessive hair shedding, which occurs when a person sheds significantly more than 100 hairs a day.

The crucial factor here is this: If your hair is growing back after it falls out, and is as healthy as it was before, you’re shedding hair, not losing it.

What is hair loss?

Hair loss is when you lose the strength of the shaft of your hair (the thickness), or you lose the overall total number of hairs you have on the scalp.

With shedding, new hairs replace the old hairs and are as thick and healthy as they were before. With hair loss, new hairs do not replace the old hairs, or they come back finer than before.

Age and hair loss

For most men and women, hair loss and hair thinning do not occur in the first 25 years of life. While young adults will still shed hair, the number of hairs that they have in total will remain the same and the diameter will also stay constant.

However, beginning in the mid-20s, the total number of hairs will gradually decline for most people. How quickly the number of hairs declines varies widely for different people, but everyone will experience an eventual loss of hair. For men, the shaft diameter also starts to decrease in the mid-20s.

Hair loss will occur to some extent for everyone—it is a natural part of aging.

Hair loss conditions

In addition to the hair loss that naturally occurs with aging, some people can also develop conditions that cause additional hair loss.

The most common type of hair loss is called male pattern baldness or androgenic alopecia (or sometimes androgenetic alopecia—both often shortened to AGA).

What happens with AGA is that testosterone in the body is broken down by an enzyme called 5α-reductase. When testosterone breaks down, one of its metabolites is dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

DHT is one of the main causes of AGA. DHT binds itself to the hair follicle and causes that follicle to shrink. When it shrinks, the hairs that the follicle produces become finer and finer. Eventually, the follicle shrinks and weakens so much that it dies and cannot produce any more hair.

DHT is the main contributor to AGA and can eventually cause bald patches and permanent hair loss.

Other common hair loss conditions include:

  • Alopecia areata is a condition where the body attacks its own hair follicles and can cause patchy baldness all over the body.
  • Anagen effluvium is a type of rapid hair loss that usually results from a medical treatment like chemotherapy.
  • Tinea capitis is a fungal infection that can cause hair loss and is a major cause of hair loss in children.
  • Traction alopecia is hair loss that is caused by pulling hair and creating repeated tension.

How to address hair loss and hair shedding

Hair shedding is normal and generally isn’t a problem. It usually doesn’t need to be addressed unless the shedding is excessive.

Hair loss and thinning hair are also normal and occur with aging. But they can cause distress for both men and women. They can also be addressed with a number of hair loss treatment options.

Hair loss treatments

Here are the most common evidence-based hair loss treatment options for hair loss.

Minoxidil. Minoxidil (generic Rogaine) is a topical hair loss treatment that’s used for patients with AGA. It’s applied directly to the scalp and is typically sold as a spray, liquid, or foam. It’s a little less effective than the other options, but also has fewer side effects. One of the side effects that it does have is a temporary increase in hair shedding.

Read more: Your complete guide to Minoxidil in Canada

Finasteride. Finasteride (generic Propecia) is a prescription medication that is usually taken orally. Finasteride blocks the enzyme 5α-reductase and prevents testosterone from being broken down into DHT. It’s been shown to be effective for most men with AGA—over 90% of men see improvements in hair loss when they take finasteride.

Read more: Everything you Need to Know About Finasteride

Dutasteride. Dutasteride (generic Avodart) is a prescription medication that is very similar to finasteride and works in the same way. It tends to be a more effective treatment because it blocks more DHT. But while it’s officially approved in Canada for some conditions (specifically benign prostatic hyperplasia or prostate enlargement), it’s not yet officially approved to treat hair loss. That’s why most medical professionals will suggest you start with finasteride and only move to dutasteride if finasteride doesn’t appear to work.

Read more: Finasteride vs Dutasteride for Hair Loss

Finasteride + topical minoxidil. The gold standard for hair loss treatment in Canada is currently a combination of oral finasteride and topical minoxidil. Using the two together tends to result in better outcomes than using either of these medications by itself.

Topical finasteride and minoxidil liposomal gel. Finasteride can also be sold in a topical solution that you apply directly to the scalp. This is a newer formula and method of application, so there is less research supporting its use. But some patients prefer this because it may have fewer side effects than finasteride has when it is taken orally.

Read more: How much does finasteride cost in Canada?

Hair loss treatment is effective — seek treatment

About 95% of hair loss can be treated. The trick is to treat hair loss as soon as possible: Hair loss treatment is more effective for people with more hair to begin with.

Treatment starts by getting assessed by a hair loss specialist. There are many different types of hair loss and each may require a different approach. The best treatment options for you will depend on the cause of your hair loss. A professional can help you understand what’s causing your hair loss and guide you to the right course of action.

You can have an online consultation with a professional through our virtual hair loss clinic. It’s easy, cost-effective, and if you’re approved, you can get a prescription for your hair loss medication in a matter of minutes. Then you can order it through our partner pharmacy and have your medication delivered straight to your door.

Start your online hair loss consultation now.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.