For many, the trifecta of beauty worst nightmares is made up of a massive pimple on the eve of a first date; visible fake-tan stripes that leave you looking like a Creamsicle; and unexplained hair loss. The first two can be fixed with patience, exfoliation, and salicylic acid, but hair loss is always slightly more ominous. Of course, there’s plenty of psychological reasoning behind why hair loss is so upsetting — hair is tied to a sense of femininity, it’s a safety blanket, it’s part of self-expression — but it can be as simple as nobody wants their hair to just start falling out.
Hair loss is a complex issue, and there are as many reasons for it as there are for acne or insomnia, but there is some good news: If you’ve noticed more hairs in your Mason Pearson or on your leather jacket in the last month or so in particular, it’s probably nothing to worry about. Why? Because come winter, your hair enters the "shedding" phase.
"Your hair works in three different phases," explains Daniel Isaacs, chief product officer at Nanogen. "There’s the anagen phase, which is the ‘growth’ phase, which lasts about 3-6 months, the ‘transitional’ catagen phase, which lasts a couple of weeks, and finally the ‘resting’ phase, which is called telogen. This lasts about three months." During this telogen phase, which usually sets in toward the end of summer and beginning of autumn, the hair is resting rather than growing, and so shedding becomes more noticeable.
"When there’s a shift in the seasons, it seems to nudge the hair more into the telogen phase. No one’s exactly sure why — there’s a thought that it’s an evolutionary thing where the scalp needs less sun protection in winter so less hair is grown — but it will probably cause a bit of an increase in the amount of hair you see falling out," Isaacs adds.
Of course, we are all losing hair all day every day, and likely more than you’d think. Trichologist Iain Sallis tells me, "We all lose around 100 hairs a day, and it can be as high as 150 and still be considered 'normal.' You’re only really getting into dangerous territory when you’re losing upwards of 150 a day." (Some trichologists estimate the average a bit lower, at about 80 hairs per day.)
Now, no one has the time or energy to count every single strand of hair that falls out on the daily, so there are other ways to check. Isaacs and Sallis both suggest that the main warning signs of an underlying problem would be hair falling out in clumps, rather than strands, and finding actual bald patches on your scalp. "Bear in mind that stress can lead to hair loss, so constantly obsessing over losing hair won’t help," Isaacs notes. Quite the trichological Catch-22.
If you’re troubled by seasonal shedding, the long-term solution is focusing on scalp health, which — while undeniably unsexy — is pretty crucial, according to both Sallis and Isaacs. "Your hair is dead keratin, so your scalp is really your last chance to make a difference to the overall health of your hair," Isaacs explains, while Sallis notes, "The scalp and the hair need to be treated as two different body parts." Shampoo cleanses the scalp as well as the hair, but Isaacs suggests adding a nourishing mask or serum into your routine, as they have longer contact with the scalp and hair than shampoo, as well as trying to avoid aggressive chemical-based hair treatments.
The long and the short of it? A slight uptick in hair loss this time of year is normal and nothing to be freaked out about. But remember, it's not just your skin that needs an extra layer in the winter — so take the time to show your hair and scalp a little TLC when the mercury drops.
Of course, if you feel that you're losing what appears to be over 100 hairs per day, your strands are coming out in chunks, you've noticed bald patches, or something just feels off, visit your dermatologist or primary care physician right away. After all, it's better safe than sorry.