Hair shedding is something we all experience on a daily basis, whether we notice it or not. While it might be more apparent for those with longer hair, it’s normal to lose between 80 to 100 hairs every day. The average life cycle of hair begins with a growth phase called the anagen phase. This is followed by a transition phase – catagen – and then a rest phase known as the telogen phase. While these three stages are about the growth and maturation of the hair, the exogen stage, the fourth and final one, is when active shedding takes place to make way for the new strands coming through. The anagen phase is not only the most active but also the longest of the stages, lasting anywhere between three to seven years depending on individual factors such as ethnicity, overall health and medication. The other three phases tend to last just days and months in comparison.
Excessive hair shedding, where you start to see significantly more hair coming out than usual, is usually the sign of an underlying trigger or condition that has impacted the development of the growth cycle. “If you see a fluctuation where you are shedding too much hair or many more hairs than what you consider to be your ‘normal’, then this will usually indicate some internal disturbance or imbalance,” adds Anabel Kingsley, trichologist and Philip Kingsley Brand President. This then accelerates the remaining three stages and prematurely activates the shedding phase.
The most common type of hair loss is telogen effluvium, which can cause daily hair loss to double or even triple. “This occurs due to a disruption in the hair growth cycle,” says Kingsley. “There are many possible causes of this, but low levels of iron stores (ferritin) is particularly common, especially in menstruating women, and vegetarians and vegans.” Other hair loss related conditions include trichotillomania, a psychological condition which creates an urge to pull hair from the scalp, and alopecia areata, which occurs when the immune system attacks healthy hair follicles.
Although diet and hormones can induce telogen effluvium, it’s stress that is often the trigger, with experts suggesting that it is the second biggest cause of hair loss after genetics. Because it can take anywhere between three and six months for hair to be noticeably impacted, many of us don’t connect the two. Our hair is often so central to our body image, self-confidence and even quality of life that this can then lead to even greater anxiety, which, in turn, triggers even more hair loss.
Aside from stress, excess hair shedding occurs frequently in women who have just given birth. While it can undoubtedly be distressing, it is a natural, normal and temporary part of the postpartum experience. During pregnancy, increased levels of oestrogen mean that the growth phase is longer, which often manifests itself as hair that looks and feels thicker than usual. As soon as your oestrogen levels recover – usually after birth or when breastfeeding ends – the extra hair moves quickly through the middle two phases and into the exogen phase, resulting in more hair to be shed – in some cases up to four times as much a day as usual.
If you are going through extreme shedding, it might be a comfort to know that 50 per cent of UK women are expected to experience hair loss at some point in their lives. While it can help to know it’s prevalent (and in almost all cases, temporary), there are ways to stimulate growth, slow down the shedding process and rediscover your best hair.
Don’t overlook your scalp
While reducing stress itself is paramount, scalp care is a vital part of getting your hair’s normal cycle back on track. “Your scalp is your hair’s support system and a flaky or inflamed scalp can contribute to hair loss and also impact the quality of hairs as they emerge from the follicle,” adds Kingsley. Just like your skin, a healthy scalp needs a balanced microbiome in order for your strands to thrive. Regularly washing and exfoliating will not only prevent irritation, redness and itching from compromising its health, it will also facilitate and encourage hair growth. “You take your hair and scalp to the same places you take your face and it gets just as dirty,” says Kingsley. “Your scalp is also a living tissue; it sweats, produces oils and sheds skin cells. You wouldn’t leave three days between washing your face, and you likely wouldn’t wear the same outfit more than a few times before washing it. Apply the same thinking to your hair.” Take a preventative approach and ward off issues before they occur by using a scalp serum. Philip Kingsley’s Overnight Scalp Barrier Serum contains exfoliating AHAs and anti-inflammatory witch hazel to keep scalps on an even keel.
Eat to grow
“Hair is a dispensable tissue as it isn’t needed for physical survival. This means nutrients are first used to keep essential cells functioning, with hair receiving them last,” explains Kingsley. While any vitamin or mineral deficiency can worsen hair loss, some, like iron and ferritin, are more crucial than others. Low levels of vitamin D and B12 can also impact hair growth, so if you’re experiencing shedding, include leafy, dark greens, eggs and fatty fish in your diet. “Oily fish is packed with omega 3 fatty acids helping to support growth,” adds trichologist and Viviscal ambassador Hannah Gaboardi. “And eggs are packed with proteins, minerals and B-complex vitamins – helping to fight dryness.” Gaboardi also advocates eating chia seeds, which work to stimulate new hair follicles and induce growth.
Rethink your routine
It ought to go without saying that if you’re trying to counteract shedding and increase growth, heavy heat styling is not advised. “Hair is a robust and impressive tissue, but it has limits, especially because once a strand has emerged from your scalp, it doesn’t regenerate itself like your skin,” says Kingsley. If you can’t bear the idea of ditching your curling tongs altogether, aim to reduce the amount you use them and never skip heat protection. We like Sam McKnight’s Save The Do Blow Dry Spray. When it comes to your wash and care routine, take a pre-emptive approach and use a pre-shampoo conditioner like Olaplex Hair Perfector No 3 once a week to restore strength and elasticity. To combat active shedding, try drops like Philip Kingsley Density Preserving Scalp Drops to induce an optimal environment for growth. A nutrient-packed growth-boosting supplement like Viviscal Healthy Hair Vitamins which contains iron and biotin to support healthy growth can also help.
This article was originally published on British Vogue.