Types of Hair Loss: A Complete Guide

Kristin Hall, FNP

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 1/25/2021

We’ve all had that moment of panic. It usually comes from looking at the shower drain, the pillow case, the sink; it’s that moment when you say to yourself “that’s a lot of hair.”

Finding excess hair in the shower, bed or other places is a source of anxiety for men who pride themselves on a full head of thick, healthy hair, and it can indeed be the sign of hair loss, balding, or other underlying conditions. 

As a concern, hair loss should be more about what’s still attached than what’s on the ground, but if you are seeing signs that your once-thick head is slightly less full, it may be time to do some research. 

The good news is that, if you’re here to do just that, we can assure you that not all hair loss is cause for panic. The key to understanding what (if anything) you can or should do about your thinning coif is understanding what kind of hair loss you may have, and how it should be treated.

Why You Lose Your Hair

It’s not just empty words when we tell you that a little hair loss everyday is totally normal. There are more than 100,000 hairs on your head, and according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), losing as many as 100 a day isn’t really a reason to worry.

Hair is a more complicated part of your body than you might realize. Each follicle has an independent life cycle of several years, and it can be broken into three phases.

The anagen phase is the growth phase. For a normal person, 90 percent or so of their hair follicles will be in this phase at any given time. This is when your hair is productive—getting longer, continuing to grow, etc. 

The catagen phase comes at the end of the anagen phase. This is the sort of end-life routine of the follicle. During the catagen phase, the hair follicle is alive, but stops growing. This phase lasts just a few weeks.

The final phase is called the telogen phase, and as you might have guessed by now, this is the dead phase, where the hair is no longer growing, and the follicle is resting as the hair prepares to fall out. A little under 10 percent of your hair will be in this phase at any one time, unless something is going wrong.

Types of Hair Loss

There are several types of hair loss that can affect your hair in different phases, for different reasons, and depending on which type of hair loss you’re experiencing, it will change the suggested treatment options and the likelihood of their success. 

Telogen Effluvium

A complicated term for a simple condition: telogen effluvium is essentially a state in which more than 10 percent of your hair follicles are in the telogen phase, causing a disproportionate amount of your hair follicles to be dormant. 

Telogen effluvium typically affects the whole scalp evenly, so it won’t usually make hair look patchy, so much as thin. 

The causes of telogen effluvium can be many, but they typically suggest some sort of recent body trauma or stressor. 

For instance, this condition is thought to be common for people who have recently had high fever, undergone an operation, given birth, lost a significant amount of weight, are recovering from illness or experiencing a lot of stress.

The good news for people with this condition is that telogen effluvium is likely going to reverse itself over the course of a few months, once the stressors are gone or illnesses have passed.

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Traction Alopecia 

Traction alopecia is hair loss as a result of injuries sudden or chronic to the scalp and hair follicle. While a severe head injury would definitely cause some follicle damage, more often than not this form of alopecia is actually caused by hair styles. 

Also sometimes called traumatic alopecia, it is caused by pulling, burning or otherwise damaging the hair, either through particular hair styles or psychological conditions like trichotillomania — literally pulling out one’s own hair. 

Everything from bleaching, straightening, coloring, and styles like cornrows and the man bun can cause traumatic alopecia, which can be permanent if the damage is substantial over a long period of time. 

The best thing you can do to fight this condition is to take preventative measures: knock it off with the chemicals and other damaging agents, and don’t stress your hair with tight hairstyles that cause strain on the follicle. 

Alopecia Areata

Alopecia areata is really an autoimmune disease, but one of the symptoms is that your immune system attacks your hair follicles. Attacks cause damage, damage reduces and eventually stops growth.

Alopecia areata, which is essentially patchy baldness, can be split primarily into two types: alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis. 

The former essentially attacks your scalp until your head is completely hairless, while the latter (a much rarer form) won’t stop at your head, but could instead lead to hair loss across the entire body. As we said, this is very rare. 

Autoimmune hair loss is unfortunately one of the harder conditions to reverse, and while there are plenty of treatments marketed, there is no cure and nothing effective at the moment.

Androgenic Alopecia

The most common form of hair loss in men is androgenic alopecia, and if you’re reading this, it’s the one you’re most likely to have. Androgenic alopecia can develop in men as early as their 20s, though it will take time to be visible.

Androgenic alopecia symptoms are the traditional male pattern baldness markers: receding or thinning hairline edges, and or thinning hair on the crown. Women can experience it as well, but it’s caused by several factors including genetics, hormones and age.

Luckily, it’s also one of the easiest conditions to treat, as a variety of topical and oral medications are available to slow or stop the recession and even restart growth in some cases.

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Will My Hair Grow Back?

As we noted above, different causes of hair loss will have different regrowth solutions and cycles. Some may correct themselves, while others may require temporary or regular treatment to see results. Other causes of hair loss that have permanently damaged, scarred, or otherwise destroyed the follicle may be permanent.

The best thing you can do if you’re seeing signs of hair loss is to determine the cause, which may require you to consult a healthcare professional. They may suggest certain lifestyle changes, or recommend or prescribe other treatments for your unique circumstances.

Treatment Options

Treatments for hair loss are many and varied, and everything from lasers, hot combs and acupuncture to shampoos and hormone blocking medications. 

Studies have shown a variety of treatments also means a variety of effectiveness, and not all hair loss treatments are effective, or at least effective on every type of hair loss.

The good news is conditions like androgenic alopecia can be effectively treated with the likes of finasteride (brand name Propecia®) and minoxidil (brand name Rogaine®). The option that will best work for you is out there and a medical professional can help you find it.

But the one piece of advice we should give is not to delay searching for treatment, because the effects of hair loss will continue until you take some form of action. 

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Final Thoughts

It’s not always easy to tell what is causing your hair loss just by looking at your scalp. There are many types of hair loss, and they may be caused by genetic or environmental factors. Assessing your lifestyle for stress, examining your medical history, and talking to a doctor or healthcare professional will all be important steps in helping you to identify the cause of your diminishing volume. 

The good news is that many types of hair loss are treatable if not reversible. And the best thing you can do for the best results is not to wait or put off addressing the problem. 

The sooner you do something, the sooner you may stop, slow, or even reverse the loss of hair.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.