Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/21/2021
If you’ve noticed your hair looking a little thinner than normal, it’s easy to worry that you’re going through the early stages of androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness.
Although male pattern baldness is the most common form of hair loss in men, a range of issues may cause you to temporarily shed hair.
Temporary hair loss is, as its name suggests, not permanent. When it affects you, it can cause a variety of symptoms, from excessive amounts of hair shedding to diffuse thinning that gives your entire scalp less hair coverage.
A variety of different factors can cause temporary hair loss, from illnesses, infections and stress to things like your intake of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
Below, we’ve explained how and why temporary hair loss occurs, as well as the symptoms that you may notice if you’re shedding hair.
We’ve also shared science-based treatments that you can use to stop temporary hair loss and promote sustainable, long-term hair growth.
Most temporary hair loss is telogen effluvium — a type of nonscarring, temporary alopecia that’s triggered by certain life events and changes in your physical or psychological health.
One of the most common causes of telogen effluvium is stress. In fact, telogen effluvium is often referred to as stress-related hair loss, or simply stress hair loss.
When you’re under physiological stress, your hair’s growth cycle can become interrupted. Hairs in the anagen phase (active growth) of the hair cycle can suddenly enter into the telogen phase (rest), causing temporary excessive shedding and the appearance of thinner hair.
In addition to emotional stress from your professional or personal life, a variety of other factors may cause telogen effluvium to develop:
Illnesses, especially those that cause fever. You may develop temporary hair loss if you’re affected by or recovering from an illness, particularly if the illness causes you to develop a fever.
Surgery and trauma. Telogen effluvium may develop during recovery from a stressful event like surgery, or following severe trauma.
Rapid weight loss. If you’ve recently lost a significant amount of weight in a short time period (for example, 20 pounds or more), you may notice hair thinning.
Metabolic conditions. Some metabolic conditions, such as hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels) may cause you to temporarily lose hair.
Nutritional deficiencies. Several nutritional deficiencies, such as iron deficiency or low protein intake, can affect your body’s ability to produce new hairs and cause temporary hair loss.
Medication. Certain medications, including beta-blockers, anticoagulants (medications used to prevent blood clots), retinoids and some hormonal medications, may cause you to develop temporary hair loss.
Other causes. In women, this form of temporary hair loss can occur after giving birth or discontinuing certain forms of hormonal birth control.
In addition to telogen effluvium, several other health issues may cause you to temporarily shed hair. These include:
Alopecia areata. This autoimmune disease causes patchy hair loss. In some cases, it may occur after a major life event such as trauma, illness or pregnancy.
Anagen effluvium. This form of temporary hair loss can develop during treatment with some types of medication, including antimetabolites, alkylating agents and other drugs used in chemotherapy.
Poor hair care techniques. Certain hair care and/or styling techniques, such as using strong hold styling products, styling your hair into dreadlocks or braids or applying heat treatments, may damage your hair and cause it to look thinner than normal.
Our guide to the causes of hair loss discusses these conditions and the effects they may have on your hair in more detail.
Since several different health issues can cause temporary hair loss, there’s no one-size-fits-all range of symptoms that you may experience.
If you’re losing hair due to telogen effluvium (a common cause of temporary hair loss), you may notice the following symptoms:
Excessive hair shedding. While it’s normal to shed between 50 and 100 hairs per day, people with telogen effluvium often shed much more hair than this. You may find hairs on your pillowcase, bedsheets and in your shower drain in excessive numbers.
Diffuse hair loss. Unlike male pattern baldness, which typically causes a bald patch at the crown or receding hairline, telogen effluvium usually affects your entire scalp, giving your hair a thin appearance and making your scalp more visible than normal, or even resulting in complete baldness.
Contrary to popular belief, these symptoms usually don’t develop immediately after the specific event that triggers your hair loss.
Instead, it’s normal for hair shedding to begin several months after the causative event, such as an illness or stressful experience.
Other forms of temporary hair loss can cause different symptoms. For example, alopecia areata often causes small, oval-shaped patches of hair loss to develop on your scalp and other parts of your body.
Because a variety of different health issues can cause temporary hair loss, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider as soon as you notice hair loss symptoms developing.
Many people mistake temporary forms of hair loss, such as telogen effluvium or alopecia areata, for male pattern baldness. Note there are differences between telogen effluvium, androgenetic alopecia and alopecia areata.
While temporary hair loss and male pattern baldness share several common symptoms, they’re very different issues with different root causes.
Temporary hair loss can occur for a variety of reasons. In most cases, it doesn’t involve any type of permanent damage or change to your hair follicles.
Male pattern baldness, on the other hand, is caused by a combination of genetic factors and the effects of the hormone dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
Over time, DHT can shrink your hair follicles (a process referred to as miniaturization) and stop them from producing new hairs.
This process usually affects the hairline or crown (the area at the top of your scalp), causing hair loss to occur in a specific pattern.
We’ve discussed this process and its effects on your appearance more in our guide to DHT and male hair loss.
Some treatments for male pattern baldness, such as finasteride, work by reducing DHT levels in your body. Since temporary hair loss isn’t caused by the effects of DHT, finasteride won’t help to stop this type or hair shedding or stimulate new hair growth.
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Since temporary hair loss has several potential causes, there’s no single treatment that can stop this form of hair loss from occurring.
Instead, treatment usually focuses on identifying the specific cause of your hair loss, then taking steps to treat the underlying condition.
For telogen effluvium, this could mean:
Making changes to your lifestyle to reduce stress
Adjusting your diet to include nutrients such as iron or protein
Using hair growth vitamins or other nutritional supplements
Taking medication to address a hormonal or metabolic condition
Changing from an existing medication to a one that doesn’t affect hair growth
When telogen effluvium is caused by surgery or an illness, your hair may start to grow naturally as you recover, without any need for active treatment.
For other forms of temporary hair loss, you may need to use certain medications to control hair shedding and promote hair growth.
For example, alopecia areata is often treated using topical medications, ultraviolet light therapy or steroids that control inflammation.
Tinea capitis, on the other hand, is treated using oral antifungal medication, topical medication and hair care products such as antifungal shampoo.
It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider to check that the underlying cause of your hair loss is properly treated.
After you’ve treated the underlying cause of your temporary hair loss, hair growth medications like minoxidil can help to stimulate hair regrowth and restore your hair’s normal thickness and density.
On average, it takes about three to six months of consistent daily use for minoxidil to improve your hair’s density and appearance.
Hair loss, whether it’s permanent or temporary, is a common issue that many men deal with at some point in life.
Unlike male pattern baldness or female pattern hair loss, temporary hair loss usually isn’t caused by DHT. Instead, it can develop for a range of reasons, from nutritional deficiencies to stress, illnesses and infections that affect your skin.
Since temporary hair loss has several potential causes, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis and treat this type or hair loss.
To stimulate hair growth, you may want to use medications like minoxidil or hair care products such as those found in our Non-Prescription Hair Kit.
You can learn more about treating hair loss and stimulating healthy hair growth in our detailed guide to the best treatments for thinning hair.