It’s the million dollar question: how much hair loss is normal? Every guy wonders this a few times a year at least. Whether you’ve got reason to worry or not, you’ve probably counted the fallen follicles a morning or two recently, wondering if this is the beginning of the end.
If you’ve got a family history of baldness, you probably worry about the volume of hair you see in the shower drain every morning. A couple might be forgivable, but even a small noticeable uptick can cause panic for guys worried they might be saying goodbye to their coif too soon.
Ads for hair loss products often want you to mistakenly believe that every stray hair not on your head is a few meters ceded in some war of attrition—the good guys versus the bald guys.
But shedding hair throughout the day is perfectly normal, and within a certain limit, it’s no cause for concern at all.
There’s a big difference between normal hair loss and the kind you need to address. Here’s what you need to know.
First, let’s start with the good news, which is that a little hair in the shower, sink, bed, hat, and wherever else your head may see action is totally normal. And it’s normal to see that every day.
The average guy has more than 100,000 hairs on his head, and dropping about 100 a day is totally normal, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
Most of the hair you see circling the drain is landing there at the end of its natural life cycle. See, each hair has a normal lifespan, and each hair’s lifespan is independent of the others next to it.
The lifespan of a hair follicle can be broken into three phases: anagen, catagen, and telogen.
The anagen phase is the growth phase, and 90 percent of a normal person’s hair will typically be in this phase at any given time.
After the anagen phase comes the catagen phase, which is the sort of golden years for the follicle. In the catagen phase, the follicle stops growing, and basically just retires and lives out the remaining few weeks of its lifespan.
The telogen phase, which comes next, is the dead phase. The hair is dead and preparing to fall out, and the follicle is resting before it starts the cycle over again. Unless something is wrong, a normal person will have about nine percent of their hair in this phase.
If your daily hair loss feels more voluminous than that 100 number, or if you feel like you’re not seeing as many follicles return to activity as you used to, you may indeed be experiencing some form of hair loss.
There are a few different forms of hair loss that you may be experiencing, and some are more serious (or more treatable) than others. Here’s a brief overview of the types of hair loss, and what they do.
Androgenic alopecia is the most common type of hair loss in men, and if you’re reading this, it’s likely the one you’re suffering from. Androgenic alopecia can show up as early as your 20s, though it may take longer to develop, and may not be noticeable for some time.
The symptoms of androgenic alopecia are what we know as male pattern baldness: receding or thinning edges of the hair line, exposure of the crown through thinning or outright baldness. Androgenic alopecia is caused by factors including genetics, hormones and/or age.
Treatment for androgenic alopecia can include a variety of topical and oral medications, which slow or stop the recession of your hair line, and in some cases they can even restart growth.
Telogen effluvium is typically caused by trauma or stress—severe injuries and things like that. It can be a result of high fever, recent operations, significant and sudden weight loss, or recovering from illnesses.
With telogen effluvium, more than 10 percent of your hair follicles are in the telogen phase, causing a disproportionate amount of your hair follicles to be dormant. Except in rare cases, it affects the whole scalp evenly, so you won’t experience bald patches so much as thin hair.
Over the course of a few months, it’s likely to go away on its own, once the illness or cause of stress has passed.
The medical term for wearing your hair in a man bun so tight that it damages your follicles is
traction alopecia. Sometimes referred to as traumatic alopecia, it can be caused by severe scalp injuries or aggressive hairstyles — anything that includes pulling, burning or otherwise damaging the hair.
There are also psychological conditions to consider like trichotillomania — literally pulling your own hair out.
The best solution for this kind of hair loss is to knock off the chemical and physical injuries to your scalp. That means no more bleaching, straightening — anything you may be doing that might be causing trauma to the hairs.
While it’s technically an autoimmune disease, alopecia areata is a type of hair loss caused by your own immune system. Basically, the autoimmune system attacks your follicles, causing damage that, untreated, eventually will stop the hair from growing altogether.
Because it’s an autoimmune disease, it’s difficult to reverse, and at the moment there is no known cure.
Your hair loss may be normal, but if it is not, the best advice we can give you is to address the problem sooner than later. Hair loss is treatable, but it requires action sooner than later, because the damage is not always reversible.
Treatment options for hair loss are plentiful, and depending on your type of hair loss you may have more options available than with other conditions.
Because of the variety of conditions and causes, the best thing you can do if you want to stop and reverse your hair loss is consult a healthcare professional, who will help you determine your particular cause. They will suggest the appropriate treatments, which may include a variety of things from topical and oral medications to lifestyle changes.
Treatments today can include a lot of things that may sound strange, from hot combs and lasers to acupuncture and herbal shampoos, but there are several proven treatments that can help with the most common hair loss conditions.
Medications like finasteride (brand name Propecia®) and minoxidil (brand name Rogaine®) can help you take control of imbalance in hormones and stimulate follicle regrowth, respectively. A healthcare professional may even suggest a combination of the two, so consult one today to find the right solution for you.
If you're noticing an above average amount of hair in your drain or on your pillow, or even if you think you're noticing a burgeoning bald spot, don't panic. Your head has over 100,000 hairs on it, and it's perfectly acceptable to lose around 100 of them every single day. What you're seeing might not be bona fided hair loss.
Contact your healthcare provider and get it checked out. Aside from being able to clinically diagnose your hair loss — including what kind of hair loss you're experiencing (remember: some of them are usually temporary) — they'll also be able to point you in the right direction regarding treatment.
And, as we discussed above, not all hair loss treatments are created equal, and different types of hair loss may require different types of treatment.
Either way, take a deep breath. Most of us will experience some degree of hair loss in our lifetime. How you treat it makes all the difference.