Why Is My Hair Falling Out? The Top Two Causes of Tumbling Tresses

hair falling out

The Two Most Common Types of Hair Loss and What You Can Do to Stop the Shedding

As anyone who’s ever unclogged a drain or freed a vacuum cleaner from ensnaring tangles of hair knows, hair falling out is sometimes normal. On average, most people lose 50-100 head hairs per day, strands that comprise the 5% of our hair that’s in the shedding phase of the hair growth cycle. Meanwhile, another 5% of our hair rests for two or three months in the telogen phase, when it stops producing new hair fiber and separates from the follicle. The remaining 90% grows in the anagen phase, when stem cells in the hair follicle divide to regenerate hair. 

This cycle of growth, resting, and shedding can be disrupted by numerous triggers and medical conditions, causing significantly more hair than the 5% that should be shedding to end up in your brush or on your carpet instead of remaining on your scalp, where it belongs. Most cases of excessive hair loss, or alopecia, fall under one of two categories: gradual, permanent hair loss caused by genetics, or sudden, reversible hair loss brought on by a trigger. Understanding the two most common types of hair loss should shed some light on the hair situation and help you make adjustments to keep more of your locks on your head.

#1: Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA): Hair Falling Out Gradually Due To Genetics

If you’ve noticed your hair falling out gradually, there’s a good chance your genes are at fault. By the age of 80, roughly 80% of men and 50% of women experience the most common cause of hair loss, a hereditary condition known in medical circles as androgenetic alopecia (AGA). AGA is more often referred to as male- or female-pattern baldness because it presents in a predictable pattern: gradual hair loss with a receding hairline in men, widening hair part in women, and thinning hair on top for both. 

Male- and female-pattern baldness can’t be cured, but it can be managed with medications. Always consult your physician before taking new medication. You can also slow bloodline-borne hair loss by keeping the hair that’s still growing healthy.

#2: Telogen Effluvium (TE): Hair Falling Out Suddenly, Triggered Months Before You Notice It

If not caused by genetics, untangling the mystery of your hair falling out requires some detective work. There are many possible triggers, and because hair operates on the cycle of growth, resting, and shedding, there can be a delay of two or three months between the trigger and noticeable excessive hair loss once the hair passes into the shedding phase. 

The good news: hair loss brought on by a specific trigger is not permanent, and usually resolves within six months if the trigger is addressed.

Common Triggers That May Explain Why Your Hair Is Falling Out 

Stress Makes Your Hair Fall Out 

If you experienced severe emotional stress, dramatic weight loss, or a medical event like surgery or childbirth about three months ago and you’re now losing a lot more hair than usual, stress from that event is likely what’s causing your hair to fall out.

Stress can bring on telogen effluvium (TE), the second most common form of hair loss. Telogen effluvium (TE) occurs when significantly more than 5% of the follicles on the scalp are in the resting, or telogen, phase of the hair growth cycle, leaving much less hair than the normal 90% engaged in the growth phase. Stress can signal the body to push up to 70% of its hair into this resting phase. When it sheds, you’ll notice what appears to be sudden, diffuse hair loss with less new growth to compensate.

The reason stress causes hair loss has to do with how the body evolved to survive periods of danger and scarcity. When the body registers signs of danger—and to the body, severe stress is a clear sign—it diverts nutrients away from non-vital operations, instead conserving energy and nutrients for critical operations that keep us alive. 

Though you may disagree with its priorities, your body knows you can live without hair and acts accordingly when an existential threat like stress sends the body into survival mode. By pushing up to 70% of your hair away from the nutrient-consuming growth phase, and into the resting phase (when hair is cut off from the blood supply and the nutrients it delivers), your body can conserve resources which, if you were in actual imminent danger, would help you survive.

Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies May Cause Hair Loss

The same logic of prioritizing self-preservation makes hair among the first to go when your body senses other reasons to divert nutrients away from non-essential functions, which is why hair loss is an early indicator of nutritional deficiency and a primary symptom in hundreds of diseases.

Micronutrients like vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, iron, selenium, and zinc are key to promoting the cell growth that contributes to healthy hair. When our bodies are deficient in these vitamins and minerals, hair loss can result. 

If you’re shedding a lot more hair than usual and think nutrition may be the root of the problem, talk to your doctor about running a blood test to see if you are deficient in vitamins and minerals. 

Less Common Triggers of Telogen Effluvium

Hair loss due to telogen effluvium can also be brought about by other less common triggers that the body registers as stress or nutritional deficiency.

Other causes of telogen effluvium: 

  • Undergoing major surgery 
  • Childbirth 
  • Nutritional deficiencies in vitamins and minerals 
  • Dramatic weight loss 
  • Illnesses that come with high fever, like the flu or COVID-19
  • Certain medications, particularly antidepressants
  • Certain medical conditions like thyroid disorder

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