It can be a stressful experience to glance down in the shower and notice that what seems like a lot of hair has fallen out. You may even start to panic-count each hair that circles around the drain (trust us, we’ve been there), though the truth is that hair shedding is totally normal, until a certain point. But how do you know the appropriate time to panic, and how do you get ahead of the shedding so you don’t end up with bald spots, thinning hair, or a receding hairline? To ease your worries, we asked two dermatologists about what constitutes as "normal" hair loss in the shower, the difference between hair shedding and hair loss, and their tried-and-true tips on how to reduce shedding. Keep reading for their verdicts so you can decide whether to breathe easy or leap into action.
Meet the Expert
- Geeta Yadav, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Skin Science Dermatology.
- Stephanie Saxton-Daniels, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology in Dallas, Texas.
How Much Hair Loss Is "Normal" in the Shower?
Hair shedding can vary significantly from person to person, but according to board-certified dermatologist Geeta Yadav, MD, it's normal to lose anywhere from 50 to 150 hairs a day on average. "If you only wash your hair twice a week, the shedding may appear dramatic, but it's likely an illusion because all those hairs will have been ‘saved up’ for when you wash your hair since shedding is most noticeable during washing," she tells us. It's also important to note that factors such as genetics, age, hormonal changes, stress, and certain medical conditions can affect the amount of hair you shed.
Hair Shedding vs. Hair Loss
Hair shedding and hair loss are terms that are often used interchangeably, but there's actually a significant difference between the two. According to board-certified dermatologist Stephanie Saxton-Daniels, MD, "hair shedding is the amount that comes out daily, whereas hair loss occurs when something prevents the hair from growing."
If you want the science behind it, hair shedding is a natural process, as every hair goes through a cycle of growth, transition, resting, and shedding phases. Yadav explains that the growth phase, known as anagen, is followed by the transition phase, or catagen, when hair growth slows down. The resting phase, or telogen, is when no growth or shedding occurs, but new hair growth behind it is preparing to emerge. The final exogen phase is when hair sheds. After that, the hair growth cycle, which can take up to eight years, starts again.
Hair loss, on the other hand, is when hair growth is stunted. In some cases, it permanently stops, resulting in patchy or thinning areas on the scalp. “While this is a natural process, as seen in male pattern baldness, it can be distressing for some people,” Yadav says. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to slow and reverse hair loss in many cases.
When to Be Concerned
If you're washing your hair regularly and noticing large clumps of hair coming out, along with thinning areas on the scalp, it may be a sign of something more serious than regular shedding. Experiencing more than the usual 100 hairs shed per day can indicate excessive shedding, which is known as telogen effluvium. This condition “often occurs a few months after a stressful event or illness and typically lasts for a couple of months,” Saxton-Daniels says. Although it can be alarming to notice increased shedding in the shower, “the body will eventually readjust, and shedding will return to normal in a few months.”
How to Reduce Hair Shedding
While some causes of excessive hair shedding and loss have to run their course, others can be improved by adjusting your routine, which can be helpful even in cases where you can't stop the hair loss entirely. Try the below tips, and don't hesitate to reach out to a professional for further guidance tailored to your specific situation.
- Use dry shampoo in moderation: Overuse of dry shampoo can clog hair follicles, impede healthy growth, and ultimately affect hair growth. You can still use it, but be mindful of how much and how often, and be sure to wash your hair frequently enough to avoid excessive buildup.
- Avoid tight hairstyles: Constantly wearing your hair in tight styles like high ponytails, buns, and tight braids can stress your hair follicles, causing hair to shed prematurely and sometimes leading to traction alopecia.
- Ensure you consume a balanced diet: Nutrients like omega fatty acids are essential for nourishing the hair and promoting growth, so it can be helpful to add these in if you're experiencing excessive shedding. “Foods such as fatty fish, nuts, and seeds are good sources of omegas,” Yadav says.
- Massage your scalp regularly: Massaging your scalp improves blood flow to the hair follicles, stimulating healthier hair growth. Studies have shown that it can help thicken hair follicles, improving hair density.
- Be gentle when brushing wet hair: Wet hair is more elastic and vulnerable to breakage, so it's best to avoid brushing it when wet.
The Final Takeaway
If you're dealing with hair shedding or hair loss, it's crucial to understand that there could be many underlying causes. The best course of action is to schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist if you're experiencing excessive shedding or noticeable hair loss. Once they've determined the cause, they can recommend available treatment options to help you combat your hair shedding or loss. Remember that early intervention is key to achieving the best outcome, so don't wait to seek medical advice.
Koyama T, Kobayashi K, Hama T, Murakami K, Ogawa R. Standardized scalp massage results in increased hair thickness by inducing stretching forces to dermal papilla cells in the subcutaneous tissue. Eplasty. 2016;16:e8.