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Hair Shedding Vs Hair Loss: Expert Review of the Difference
Dr. Ismail Ughratdar (FRCS)
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Ismail Ughratdar (FRCS)
Updated on May 9, 2024

The difference between hair shedding and hair loss can be hard to tell, as both involve some of your strands falling out. But while everyone experiences some hair shedding on a daily basis, hair loss is more common in men than in women and not everyone undergoes it (85% of men and 55% of women experience hair loss at some time in their lives [1][2]).

The main thing that sets hair shedding apart from hair loss is that hair shedding is normally temporary, caused by stress, a common scalp problem or environmental factors, and does not require specific interventions to improve. Hair loss, on the other hand, is permanent unless treatment is undergone to stop or reverse it.

Sometimes it may seem like you are shedding excessively, but your trichologist may reassure you that you are not really experiencing hair loss [3]. So what are some practical ways to tell the difference between hair shedding and hair loss?

Keep reading this article to find out more about:

  • What hair loss and hair shedding are
  • The main differences between hair loss and hair shedding
  • The main causes of hair loss and hair shedding
  • How you can treat hair loss and excessive hair shedding 
Table of Contents

What is hair shedding?

In a nutshell, hair shedding is a normal part of your hair growth cycle, specifically the last of four stages which follow one another:

Hair growth phaseProportion of hair follicles Duration 
The anagen phase (growing phase)80-90% of hair folliclesAapproximately 3-10 years
The catagen phase (transition phase)5% of hair follicles2-3 weeks
The telogen phase (resting phase)10-15% of hair follicles3-4 months
The exogen phase (shedding phase)50 – 100 hairs shed per day2-5 months

These phases do not happen simultaneously and any of your hair follicles can be in any of these phases at any given time.

While your hair follicles grow new strands during the anagen phase and rest during the telogen phase, once they reach the exogen phase, they will start shedding between 50 and 100 hairs per day, which is perfectly normal and will not affect your hair health [4]. This means that hair shedding can be a normal occurrence in your hair growth.

hair growth cycle

Moreover, scientific studies have also suggested there is a seasonal element to your hair shedding, as more strands seem to fall out naturally at the end of summer than in winter [5][6]. While summer hair loss is mainly driven by factors such as UV exposure, seasonal hair shedding can also contribute to this phenomenon.

However, if your hair growth cycle is disrupted, causing the exogen phase duration to become longer and the anagen phase duration to become shorter,  hair shedding can become excessive, meaning it will last longer than usual or involve too many strands. 

What causes excessive hair shedding?

The main cause of excessive hair shedding is known as telogen effluvium [7]. This condition occurs when many more hair follicles than usual enter the shedding phase. Telogen effluvium is temporary and it can be triggered by factors such as:

Other causes of excessive hair shedding may include:

hair shedding visual scale
Use this hair shedding visual scale to measure your own hair loss per day.

Telogen effluvium usually lasts less than 6 months and improves without any treatment once its cause is resolved.

However, in rare cases, it can become chronic and can last as long as 10 years [9X]. But it will rarely progress during this time and it will generally not create a receding hairline or affect your normal hair parting width.

Chronic telogen effluvium over 10 years
Chronic telogen effluvium over 10 years

What is hair loss?

Also known as alopecia, hair loss is an umbrella term for a disruption in your hair growth cycle which causes your strands to start falling out more than normal [10][11]. This occurs when some internal or external influence disrupts your natural hair growth cycle, causing your hair to fall out temporarily or permanently [11X]. 

It usually involves a visible reduction in hair density. This can be a diffuse thinning all over your scalp or it can be restricted to certain areas.

What causes hair loss?

Some of the most common causes of hair loss are:

Unlike hair shedding, hair loss only rarely improves without treatment. On the contrary, in many cases, the condition which causes your alopecia is likely to progress, which is why it is very important to address the issue from the first signs of hair thinning and balding

What is the difference between excessive hair shedding and hair loss?

In a nutshell, excessive hair shedding is a temporary, self-limiting condition which reverses itself without requiring any additional treatment once the factors which were causing it are resolved. Hair loss, on the other hand, is often permanent and requires interventions such as treatments or therapies to be stopped or reversed. 

That means that you can expect excessive hair shedding to slow down to a stop after you have removed the extra stress from your life, cured your underlying scalp condition, stopped the medication which was causing it or, respectively, improved your hair habits. 

However, you cannot expect hair loss to stop on its own, on the contrary, if it is caused by a type of alopecia such as male pattern baldness or female pattern baldness, it can be expected to progress until treated.  

Is my hair falling out or just shedding?

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if you are experiencing temporary hair shedding or if your hair is falling out due to a more serious cause. That is why it is best to leave this distinction up to a hair specialist, especially since undiagnosed hair loss can progress to the point where it can no longer be treated with medication and you might require a hair transplant.

However, if you are unsure whether your hair issue requires professional attention, here are a few elements that can help you tell the difference between hair loss and hair shedding:

 Hair loss Excessive hair shedding 
OnsetCan be abrupt, but usually sets in more slowly, over months

Telogen effluvium can have an abrupt onset ranging from a couple of weeks to 2-3 months after a trigger (e.g. stress, medication, illness, etc.) [12][9]

However, in the case of environmental damage, such as summer hair shedding or damage from heat styling or harsh chemicals in hair products, the hair shedding can develop slowly, sometimes taking months.

DurationOften lasts until treated.

Telogen effluvium normally lasts under 6 months (but sometimes more) [10]

Hair shedding from medication often lasts until treatment is stopped.

Hair shedding due to scalp problems often lasts until the condition is resolved.

Hair shedding from excessive sun exposure, heat damage or damage caused by chemicals can last several months after exposure, depending on your hair care routine.

Affected area

You may see a pattern of hair loss on the scalp.

The hairline, temples and crown are usually the most affected in men, while the crown and midline part are most affected in women [14].

In most cases, hair shedding is diffuse, across the entire scalp [13]

In the case of scalp problems, it is usually limited to the problem area.

In traction alopecia, excessive hair shedding normally occurs along the hairline and temples.

ProgressionWill often progress if left untreatedWill usually not progress after it sets in.
Other symptoms 

With telogen effluvium, you may experience no other symptoms.

However, studies show that in over 40% of cases, it can be associated with scalp redness and/or trichodynia (burning sensation on the scalp) [15]

If the hair shedding is caused by a scalp condition, you could face scalp redness, inflammation, tenderness, itchiness, tingling, lesions, plaques, pustules, or flakes.

If the hair shedding has environmental causes, you may experience dry, brittle, straw-like hair which breaks off easily.

See a trichologist if:

  • You are experiencing any other concerning scalp symptom than hair shedding, especially if you can see lesions, plaques, pustules or feel scalp pain. They are likely signs of a scalp condition and you might experience complications if untreated.
  • Your hair is still falling out after 6 months
  • Your hair thinning is limited to patchy bald spots.
  • Your hairline is visibly receding.
  • You are developing an M-shaped hairline.
  • Your hair is only thinning in the front of the scalp. 
  • You are experiencing hair loss in other areas than your scalp as well (eg. eyebrows)
  • You can see visible progression in photos of your hair taken one month apart over several months.

Does hair shedding mean regrowth?

Normally, natural hair shedding (the exogen phase) leads to regrowth, as once this final hair growth cycle phase is over, the growth (anagen) phase will recommence.

However, hair shedding does not automatically mean fast regrowth if you are experiencing chronic telogen effluvium if the shedding is induced by medication, environmental exposure or unhealthy hair styling practices. You may need to identify and remove the factors that are making your hair fall out before regrowth can be achieved.

Hair shedding can also mean regrowth if you have undergone a hair transplant. If a week or two has passed since your hair restoration surgery and you notice hair transplant shedding, no need to worry. This is a phenomenon known as shock loss after your hair transplant, as hair graft follicles enter the resting phase so they can heal. But you will start seeing regrowth in a few months to a year after your surgery.

shedding after a hair transplant
Light hair transplant shedding on day 24 post-FUE

Some medications used for hair growth, such as Minoxidil can cause hair shedding as well for around 8 weeks before you experience regrowth. Finasteride shedding can occur as well, but it is unlikely to last for more than 2 weeks before you can see regrowth. 

How can I prevent hair loss and excessive hair shedding?

There is nothing you need to do to prevent cyclic hair shedding, as it is normal and helps regenerate your hair. However, there are several things you can do to prevent hair loss and excessive hair shedding:

  • Try to reduce the amount of stress in your life.
  • Keep your scalp moisturised and hydrated at all times.
  • Use UV protection on your hair when out in the sun.
  • Avoid overusing hair products which contain harsh chemicals (dyes, bleaches, relaxants, etc.).
  • Avoid excessive heat-styling and use heat protection sprays .
  • Maintain a balanced diet, rich in nutrients, such as Vitamin C for hair, Vitamin E for hair and biotin for hair loss
  • Avoid wearing tight hairdos or heavy hair extensions too frequently to avoid traction alopecia.
  • Use hair growth stimulating therapies, such as scalp massages, derma rolling for hair growth, or red light therapy for hair growth.

How many hairs are considered shedding?

On average, a person with healthy hair sheds between 50-100 strands per day (though some researchers believe this number can go up to 150 for women [8]). During times of stress, anxiety or illness, this number can temporarily become higher. 

During telogen effluvium, as many as 25 – 50% of your hair follicles can enter the shedding phase (compared to the normal 10-15%) so you are likely to experience more severe shedding. 

However, if your hair shedding does not improve after 6 months, it could be a sign of an underlying condition which causes hair loss.  

100 short hairs (left) vs 100 long hairs on the right
Photo showing 100 hairs from a person with short hair (left) and longer hair (right).

How can I treat excessive hair shedding and hair loss?

Since excessive hair shedding is a self-limiting condition [16], there is no treatment required once its cause has been resolved.

For hair loss, on the other hand, there are a variety of scientifically proven treatments and therapies. Some of the most commonly recommended of them are:

  • Minoxidil – a topical medicine which dilates blood vessels so more nutrients can reach the hair follicles.
  • Finasteride – one of the most popular treatments for androgenetic alopecia, as it inhibits excessive DHT production (usually not recommended to pre-menopausal women).
  • Dutasteride – an effective, but not FDA-approved, DHT blocker, similar to Finasteride.
  • Steroid creams for hair loss – they are often used to treat hair loss caused by autoimmune diseases, such as alopecia areata.
  • Dermarolling for hair growth – this therapy involves using a tool to make micro-punctures in your scalp, triggering its natural healing process and increasing topical medicine absorption.
  • Low-level laser therapy – this therapy uses focused light beams to enhance cell metabolism and provide more energy to hair follicles.
  • Hair transplant – a safe and efficient surgical procedure where hair follicles are collected from one area of your head and implanted in a balding or thinning area on your scalp.

However, the efficiency of these treatments depends on the condition which is causing your hair loss. Moreover, some of them can have side effects in certain users. So make sure you book a consultation with a trichologist and get an accurate diagnosis and a personalised treatment plan.

If your hair loss turns out to be too advanced for non-surgical treatments, there is no need to worry.

Getting a natural-looking hair transplant is easier than ever. Technological advancements in surgical techniques now allow you to get a hair transplant without anyone knowing.

It is a safe, fast and efficient procedure and the best hair transplant clinics in the UK have a 97-100% success rate whether you opt for FUE or FUT surgery.

And unlike hair growth medication that you have to keep taking, a hair transplant is permanent. See our before and after hair transplant gallery for results which speak for themselves.

Hair Shedding Vs Hair Loss: Expert Review of the Difference, Wimpole Clinic

Dr. Ismail Ughratdar (FRCS)
Medically reviewed by Dr. Ismail Ughratdar (FRCS)Updated on May 9, 2024
The Wimpole Clinic offers FUE Hair, Beard & Eyebrow Transplants & Trichology.
Talk to a specialist ☎ 020 7935 1861.

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