Looking at the mass of hair in the plughole after a shower or bath may be alarming. It’s normal to lose a certain amount of head hairs per day; everyone is different. The number will vary per person depending on how many hairs there were to start with and what is going on in your body.
To understand what’s normal and what’s concerning, we should take a minute to understand a little about hair growth cycles.
Hair growth has four separate stages
- The anagen phase lasts 3-5 years; head hair grows at about an inch per month, faster in summer than winter; one hair may grow for seven years and up to a metre long.
- The catagen phase is a transitional phase that lasts about ten days, where the follicle shrinks and detaches from its base – but stays put.
- The telogen phase lasts about three months with the hair still in your head, but the follicle unattached. The follicle takes a well-deserved rest during this time.
- The exogen phase is where the independent, single hair is finally released from its follicle and falls out, with a new hair pushing up from underneath. That’s where you see it coming out in the shower.
How much hair loss is normal in the shower?
Estimates have it that on average we lose between 80 and 150 hairs per day (depending on what source you use). However, this number comes with a few assumptions attached that don’t necessarily help you to figure out if your rate of hair loss is reasonable for you.
First, we are assuming that the average scalp contains 100,000 hairs, because someone did a study once, and that was the nice round figure they decided on.
Secondly, 10 per cent of this hair is in the resting phase (telogen phase) at any given time.
That’s two big assumptions that we cannot be sure are true for you.
The 80-150 figure also doesn’t differentiate between different age groups, men and women, or different ethnic backgrounds. While this is a popular number to throw around, it is not scientifically validated. In fact, it’s painting everyone with a very broad brush.
Without diving into hair counting research, let’s dive into how you can accurately count your hairs and see what’s normal for you.
What is the 60-second hair count?
A newer formula exists that uses the 60-second hair count for assessing shedding hair. It was developed by researchers who asked 60 white men with full heads of hair, no sign of balding, to undertake a special shampoo regime and then comb their hair forward over a towel for 60 seconds, for three consecutive days. They all had the same combs and the same shampoo.
Who shed what hairs in the experiment:
- Men aged 20-40 shed 0-78 hairs – an average loss of 10.2 hairs per 60-second test
- Men aged 41-60 shed 0-43 hairs – an average loss of 10.3 hairs per 60-second test
- When repeated six months later, the test results were much the same
This research establishes that the 60-second hair count is a reliable indicator of average hair loss in healthy white men without signs of balding. The studies must be completed now for different age groups (children, teenagers, elderly), people of colour, and women.
In the meantime, we can use this strategy at home to determine what is normal for you. You should do this test when you don’t suspect that you are losing your hair, to get a baseline for you. In saying that, it will be useful to count your hairs lost regardless of the reason. It is still useful information.
How to do the 60-second hair count at home
Remember, this was a scientific experiment on men with relatively short hair. They were not using conditioner or styling their hair. The conditions they were in were consistent, which kept the trial the same amongst them all and provided consistent results.
You can adapt this however you like, but stay consistent whatever you do.
Repeating the experiment at home
Shampoo and condition your hair, and comb it thoroughly – the most hairs will come out during the shampoo phase, so don’t count these hairs. For the next three days before you wash your hair, lean over a towel and comb your hair from your neck scalp line towards the towel. Tip: choose a towel that has a colour that contrasts with your hair colour, making the strands easier to count
Count the hairs and record the number. Wash hair again.
Repeat for two more days, to make three consecutive hair-counting days in total, washing the hair every day. See how you fit in with the age groups above. Repeat the experiment in six months for comparison.
Why we notice hair shedding in the shower or bath
If you’ve ever seen hair under a microscope, you can see that it has keratin scales. When you wash your hair with shampoo, these scales flare out a little, which makes your hair feel a bit knotty until you run conditioner through it.
The conditioner smooths these keratin scales down, so the hair seems thinner and smoother. This process makes it easy to comb – and easy for hairs to come loose.
You’ll recognise the fluffiness that comes after freshly-washed hair dries, which is those keratin scales, flared. Dry hair also knots together more than wet hair, as the keratin is no longer quite as smooth – the little scales are like barbs that catch on each other, creating a tangle.
It’s this detangling, like getting your hair wet or conditioning it, that allows loose hairs (and if you’re rough, any that were needing a nudge) to fall out.
There are a few reasons that it may seem like lots of hair is falling out in the shower, including:
- Your hair has lots of styling products in it between washes (hairs stick together instead of falling out)
- You’ve been styling, treating or colouring your hair aggressively and hair is breaking off
- Your hair is falling out (can occur in thyroid conditions, after chemotherapy, balding, pregnancy, stress, certain health conditions)
Types of hair loss
There are several causes of hair loss, with the most common being androgenic alopecia – that is, male or female pattern baldness which occurs due to the influence of testosterone on hair follicles. We manage this form of hair loss with several forms of treatment as is appropriate for the person. In men, this hair loss can start right after puberty, but in women, it tends to start much later in life when androgens become the dominant hormone in menopause.
Alopecia areata is another form of hair loss related to an autoimmune condition. Tinea Capitis is a fungus that infects the scalp, causing hair loss, particularly in children. There are a handful of rarer causes of hair loss, which is why it’s important to never ignore hair loss even if you think it’s genetic and was bound to happen. If you address is sooner rather than later, we can do much more with better results.
What to do if you are losing your hair
The most important thing to do is to see your doctor to discuss your hair loss, and this is not for vanity purposes, but to establish the underlying cause.
If you are in a low-risk group (i.e. a young woman) and start losing your hair in clumps, you will need to be tested to figure out why so much hair is falling out (if it’s not apparent, e.g. pregnancy).
If you are in a high-risk group (i.e. a 45-year-old man) and start losing your hair, it could be male pattern balding and part of you growing into your older self. Don’t be complacent though – men are just as capable of being under extreme stress or developing a thyroid condition as women.
See your doctor or dermatologist at ENRICH Clinic to be assessed and treatment options laid out. This assessment is particularly relevant if the extra hair loss seems sudden, or the hair on your scalp becomes patchy.
If you are experiencing predictable hair loss, we have effective treatments that work best when caught early.
We are hair-loss expert dermatologists
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