Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, DNP, FNP-BC
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/17/2021
Wherever you might be in your hair growth journey — whether you’re trying to determine if you’re experiencing hair loss, or you’ve just started treatment for it — understanding how to spot new hair growth can be hugely beneficial to your peace of mind.
Read on to learn what you can expect when you’re monitoring your scalp for new hair growth.
Before we talk about what new hair growth looks like, let’s talk about how hair grows in the first place.
You’re born with all of the hair follicles you’ll ever have — about five million of them all over your body.
And as you age, some of those follicles will stop growing hair, leading to thinning of the hair, or baldness.
Men have faster growing hair than women, and in fact hair is nearly the fastest growing part of the body — surpassed only by bone marrow.
You can expect to grow about six inches of hair a year, which can seem fairly slow when you’re waiting for hair to grow.
Hair grows in a cyclic pattern, with each follicle following its own schedule. In fact, from the one hundred thousand or so hair follicles on your scalp, you lose or “shed” about fifty to one hundred hairs a day — a sign that those hairs are progressing through the fourth stage of hair growth, known as the exogen growth phase.
Backing up, the four stages of hair growth are:
The anagen phase. This is the first stage of hair growth and can last from two to six years. is the anagen phase. In this phase, the hair begins growing from a root of protein in the hair follicle. This hair root is fed by blood vessels in the scalp, which create more cells to allow the hair to grow. As the hair shaft grows, it passes through an oil gland which moisturizes the hair strand, keeping it shiny and soft. About ninety percent of your hair is in this growth phase at any given time.
The catagen phase. In this one-to-two week transitory phase from the anagen to telogen stage, the hair ceases to actively grow. Less than one percent of scalp hair is in this phase at any time.
The telogen phase. Known as the resting phase, this three-to-four month stage is the period of time between the cessation of hair growth and hair shedding (when hair falls out to make room for new hair growth).
The exogen phase. Newly regarded as a stage of hair growth, this is the part of the cycle when the hair disconnects and releases from the hair follicle, or sheds. As mentioned above, this allows the hair growth cycle to start again.
Now that we’ve covered the bases in terms of the stages in the hair growth cycle, let’s talk about how to tell if the hair that is falling from your scalp is simply a part of the healthy hair growth cycle, or a sign of hair loss.
As mentioned earlier, when hair reaches the exogen phase, hair that is at the end of its cycle will fall from the follicle, or shed.
This is not a sign of hair loss; it is simply the scalp’s way of making room for more hair to grow in its place.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, it is common for individuals who experience the following stressful events to have excessive hair shedding:
Loss of twenty pounds or more
Birthing a child
Undergoing a high amount of stress
Running a high fever
Having an operation
Recovering from an illness, especially one that presents with high fever
Cessation of birth control pills
Hair shedding usually stops on its own, but can continue if the stressful event continues. For example, you could still experience hair shedding if you remain in a stressful environment or situation for an extended period of time.
True hair loss occurs when something has stopped the hair from growing.
Unlike hair shedding, where the hair simply falls from the follicle or sheds, hair loss happens when something has disrupted the growth cycle.
The medical term for this condition is anagen effluvium.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association lists the most common causes of hair loss as:
Overreaction of the immune system
Certain drug and treatment side effects
Hairstyles that put tension on the hair
Damaging hair care products
Hair-pulling compulsion (trichotillomania)
In the case of hair loss, hair will not grow back until whatever has disrupted the hair growth cycle is no longer a factor.
When the loss is due to medication, for example, growth will usually resume once the drug has been stopped.
If you believe that your hair loss is the result of a medication you’ve been using, consult with a healthcare provider to get support in changing your prescription, as going off a drug suddenly can cause adverse side effects.
In the case of hereditary hair loss, treatment can help slow or reverse the loss.
A consult with a healthcare professional can help you figure out if you’re experiencing hair shedding or hair loss, and help you get access to a treatment that works for you.
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Now that you understand the differences between hair loss and hair shedding, how do you tell what new hair growth looks like?
Seeing hair that has newly grown is fairly straightforward when examining a part of your scalp where you previously experienced hair loss.
You’ll either notice that hair has started to regrow in that area, or that it has remained clear of any new growth of hair.
In cases where you may have experienced breakage, however, you’ll need to take a closer look at the hair ends.
Breakage can occur from a number of factors, including rubbing with a towel, dry hair, or using heat to achieve straight hair or other styles.
Broken hair might also look different from healthy hair, in that the ends could be split or ragged. Healthy hair is typically shiny and has tapered ends.
If you need help identifying if you’re experiencing new hair growth, consulting with a healthcare provider can clear up any questions you may have.
Identifying new hair growth is fairly straightforward if you focus on an area of your scalp that has previously experienced hair loss or shedding.
And if you’re trying to determine if your hair has experienced breakage, or if shorter hairs are a sign of new hair growth, look at the condition of the hair itself.
Healthy hair is often shinier and smoother than hair that’s been broken. (The new hair might also be shorter.
Either way, if you’ve experienced hair loss, consulting with a healthcare provider can help you determine the best course of treatment for hair loss to help you get back to healthy hair.