Hair Shedding: What Is It & What Causes It?

While hair shedding is common, it can still be confronting. If you’re experiencing excessive hair loss, talk to your doctor. Software is an online haircare company that can connect you to an Australian doctor to discuss your hair loss and tailor products to your concerns.
Elly Malone
Hair loss is probably one of those things you only think about when you're arguing with your housemate about who plugged up the shower drain again. (It was totally not you, right?) But if you've been noticing a few extra hairs in your brush, you may be questioning how much hair loss is normal.
According to Dr Prasanthi Purusothaman (MBBS FRACGP, General Practitioner and Cosmetic Doctor), losing 50-100 hairs a day as part of the normal hair growth cycle is completely normal. That number might seem like a lot, but considering that we each have around 100,000 to 150,000 hair follicles, it helps put things into perspective. If you've ever noticed a half-a-palm-sized, sparsely filled clump (or thereabouts) in your hand after an intense wash or brush, it's likely part of normal hair loss.
But while it can be confronting, there's no need to worry. 49% of women will experience some form of hair shedding in their lifetime. While some people have a genetic predisposition to it, multiple factors can contribute to hair shedding.
So, how do you differentiate the process of normal hair loss from excessive hair shedding?

What is excessive hair shedding?

While hair loss is a normal part of the hair life cycle, excessive hair shedding is when 'telogen effluvium' occurs — that's when at least 20% of total hairs on the scalp shed, according to Dr Purusothaman. She notes that this is the shedding that generally occurs two to three months after significant body stress, like prolonged illness, major surgery or severe infection. For example, hair loss linked to a previous COVID-19 infection would be considered telogen effluvium.
Other instances in which excessive hair shedding may occur include, but are not limited to:
Symptoms of a medical condition: Conditions like hyperthyroidism, PCOS, vitamin deficiencies or fungal infections (tinea capitis) on the scalp can all contribute to hair loss. Studies have shown that excessive hair shedding can also be a symptom of menopause due to low levels of scalp sebum, serum testosterone, estradiol and a thyroid-stimulating hormone.
Alopecia: Alopecia is a disease that develops when the body attacks its own hair follicles, and it can cause hair loss anywhere on the body. Dr Purusothaman says that alopecia can "occur due to disorders of hair cycling (e.g. anagen effluvium), inflammatory conditions that damage hair follicles (e.g. central cicatricial alopecia, discoid lupus), or inherited or acquired abnormalities in hair shafts."
Because each person’s condition and needs are different, it’s a good idea to speak to a doctor to understand your individual circumstances. The doctors at Software can discuss your situation and work on a treatment formula to address your hair loss.

What does 'healthy' hair look like?

We probably all have a very glossy-magazine-ad-inspired idea of what 'good' hair looks and feels like — and it's likely to be shiny, effortlessly bouncy layers of silky locks for the sun to reflect off.
Dr Purusothaman says that most articles discussing healthy hair refer to only texture and shine, which can be misleading. Like our skin and nails, healthy hair can only be assessed from what's happening underneath the surface.
"Healthy hair can be difficult to qualify universally, as there are differences in hair thickness, texture from person to person, gender to gender, race to race," says Dr Purusothaman. "The integrity of hair and therefore its 'health', relates to the hair shaft comprised of the medulla (innermost layer), the cortex, and then the cuticle. I would also argue that scalp health is crucial to healthy hair, so also the absence of any scalp irritation or inflammatory conditions."
While TikTok may tell us that expensive hair products are the key to luscious locks, the real way to achieve healthy hair requires a holistic approach to health. Dr Purusothaman recommends maintaining a balanced, healthy diet, as well as regular exercise, stress management and sleep to achieve healthy hair. In addition, she suggests avoiding hairstyles that place tension on the scalp (we're looking at you, slicked-back buns), excessive heat styling or washing, harsh chemicals, and aggressive brushing, all of which can contribute to shedding.

What should you do if you're worried about hair shedding?

Dr Purusothaman recommends visiting a GP if you notice visible patches of baldness or any other bodily symptoms associated with excessive hair shedding. She also suggests getting a set of blood tests to help exclude secondary causes like iron deficiencies, thyroid deficiency or excess, or autoimmune disease.
"Depending on the cause of hair loss, medication or interventions can be provided, including topical preparations, oral medications and even injectable treatments," says Dr Purusothaman.
Hair plays a huge role in shaping and showcasing our identity and is tied to our expression of gender, sexuality, beauty and culture. Beyond just the physical impact, excessive hair shedding can be an emotional journey, so it's important to remember that it has many causes, and many treatments are available that can help.
If you're concerned about excessive hair shedding, speak to your GP or book a consult with the helpful team at Software.
Please note: The information in this article is general in nature. Please always consult a GP or other medical practitioner for advice that is specific to your health needs.
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