Anyone who’s pulled a hair “creature” from their shower drain or the bristles of their brush knows that stomach-wrenching feeling of, “I’m going bald!” But before you sound the alarm on hair loss, Anabel Kingsley, director of communications and trichologist at Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic in New York, wants to assure you that some hair shedding is perfectly normal — and sometimes what you think you see (less hair) is an optical illusion.
“Like any tissue, our hair changes as we get older. Strands naturally become finer and shorter with each passing hair growth cycle, leading to a gradual reduction in overall volume. [Hair loss] is a normal part of the aging process,” she says.
OK. So, that bouncy, bodacious mane you had as a young adult? It’s getting finer — which doesn’t necessarily mean you’re losing more hair, but rather that you’re experiencing a decrease in volume, and this can appear like you’ve shed a coat of hair. “Strands are simply taking up less space, giving the impression that you have fewer hairs on your scalp,” Kingsley says. Your scalp, unfortunately, becomes more visible, exacerbating the illusion.
According to Kingsley, how much volume your hair loses and when it starts decreasing boils down to genetics and how sensitive hair follicles are to androgens (male hormones). “Loss of density becomes noticeable as we reach menopause, when the percentage of androgens rises in relation to falling estrogen levels,” Kingsley explains. Depending on an individual’s sensitivity, hair loss can be undetectable or highly visible during menopause. She notes that certain hormone replacement therapies can cause hair to become finer as well.
The average person loses 80 to 100 hairs per day. Anything more than that on a consistent basis is called telogen effluvium (excessive daily hair fall). Internal stressors, such as dietary deficiencies (lack of protein or stored iron), thyroid imbalances, prolonged sickness, surgery, and stress, trigger this type of hair loss. “It’s important to note that a reduction in hair volume and excessive daily hair shedding can occur alongside each other,” Kingsley says.
Though shedding 100 hairs per day seems steep, Kinglsey says you’ll definitely notice if you have teolgen effluvium because it can be up to three times that amount. “It’s not unusual to lose 200 to 300 hairs per day during an acute hair loss,” she says, adding that you should keep an eye on your brush, shower drain, clothes, and pillow for increased fall out.
No matter what causes accelerated hair shedding, Kingsley says that visiting a doctor as well as taking a holistic approach to treatment is essential. “While the products you use are an important part of treatment, keeping an eye on your general health, managing your stress levels, and boosting your nutrition are key,” she says.