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Hair loss vs. hair shedding: What you need to know

If you're worried about how much hair you're losing, you're not alone. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it's normal to shed between 50 and 100 hairs a day. Now, keep in mind that may look different from person to person. For example, if you have longer or thicker hair, it may appear you're losing more than your roommate with shorter or thinner hair. However, if you feel like you're losing more hair than normal, you could be experiencing excessive shedding or hair loss – yes, there is a difference.

Hair Shedding

When the body sheds significantly more than 50-100 hairs a day, a person is experiencing excessive hair shedding, which is known as telogen effluvium. Excessive hair shedding is common in people who have experienced some form of stress. A few common examples include:

  • Lost 20+ pounds
  • Given birth
  • Experienced high levels of stress
  • Had high fever
  • Undergone surgery
  • Stopped taking birth control pills

Most people notice excessive hair shedding a few months after a stressful event. The good news is, as your body readjusts, the excessive shedding stops (usually without any medical treatment). However, if a stressor stays with you, excessive hair shedding can be long lived.

Hair Loss

Unlike hair shedding, hair loss occurs when something stops hairs from growing, which is a condition known as anagen effluvium. The most common causes of hair loss include:

  • Hereditary hair loss
  • Immune system overreacts
  • Reaction to certain drugs or treatments
  • Hairstyles that pull on the hair or harsh hair care products
  • Compulsion to pull out hair

Hair loss may require medical treatment. Unfortunately, treatment helps most people who have hair loss, but not everyone. A board-certified dermatologist can tell you what to expect and prescribe a treatment plan if necessary. The sooner treatment begins, the better the prognosis.

Thankfully, you don't need to distinguish between hair loss and hair shedding – that's what the professionals are for! Dermatologists specialize in diagnosing and treating hair, and they can determine whether you are experiencing hair loss or hair shedding (sometimes it's both).