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How To Identify Hair Shedding And Breakage: What You Need To Know

Hair shedding and breakage are common issues, but distinguishing between them is crucial for effective hair care. Shedding is a part of the natural hair growth cycle, where 50-100 hairs are lost daily. On the other hand, breakage is an external sign of damage to the hair shaft due to styling habits, mechanical stress, or nutritional deficiencies.

Having mass of strands every time you brush your hair? Remember, everyone’s hair is unique. What might be normal shedding or breakage for someone could be a sign of an underlying issue for you. So, stay tuned to your hair’s changes and seek professional advice if you are concerned.

 Or, do you dread the sight of broken hair strands scattered like confetti on your pillowcase? Hair shed and breakage are familiar foes to many, but distinguishing between the two can be a tough nut to crack. In this article, we’ll help you identify each problem and figure out your best plan of action. Let’s get started.

“Understanding the difference between hair shedding and breakage is essential. It’s the first step in the journey to healthier hair.”

Decoding Hair Shedding and Breakage 

It’s normal to lose 50 to 100 hairs a day as part of the natural hair growth cycle. Anything beyond that, however, might be hair shedding. On the other hand, hair breakage isn’t tied to your hair’s growth cycle. It’s an external sign of damage to the hair shafts, often resulting from styling habits, mechanical stress, or nutritional deficiencies. Differentiating between the two can help you tweak your hair care regimen meaningfully. 

  • Hair Shedding: Look out for strands that come out with a white tip at one end. This little bulb indicates that the hair has completed its life cycle. It’s like your hair is transitioning from being a long-term tenant to getting an eviction notice. Now that’s a friendly way of interpreting hair shedding!
  • Hair Breakage: These are typically shorter strands with no white bulb at either end. They’re the helpless victims of rough handling, heat styling, over-processing, or lack of adequate hair nourishment. If your hair strands are saying a premature goodbye, it’s time to examine your hair care habits.

Understanding Hair Shedding vs Hair Breakage

Is your hair brush filled with more hair strands than usual or you’re noticing some short, broken hairs in your mane? It’s crucial for your hair health to know whether it’s shedding or breakage that you’re dealing with. These two hair issues, though might appear similar, have different causes and treatments. So let’s dive in to understand these conditions better and how you can differentiate one from the other.

hair shedding vs breakage
Photo by Karolina Grabowska

Recognizing Hair Shedding 

Hair shedding is a normal part of the hair growth cycle, and interestingly, we lose about 50 to 100 hairs every day. Distinguishing this natural loss from a concerning amount of shedding can be tricky. However, there are signs to help you decide. 

  1. Firstly, shed hairs often come out when shampooing, combing, or just with the slight tug of a hair tie.
  2. Secondly, a shed hair will have a tiny white bulb at the root – indicating it has naturally fallen out at the end of its life cycle.

Spotting Hair Breakage 

Unlike shedding, hair breakage is typically a symptom of damage or poor hair health. Being aware of the signs can facilitate early intervention and damage control. Consider the following: 

  • The ends of your hair appear thin and ragged, or you notice an abundance of split ends.
  • Short, broken-off hair strands are found on your pillow, collar, or hairbrush.
  • Unlike shed hairs, broken hairs won’t usually have the white bulb on the end.

Telling Hair Shedding and Breakage Apart 

To distinguish between shedding and breakage, assess where your fallen hair strands mostly come from. If it’s from all over your scalp, it’s likely shedding. If it’s predominantly from certain sections (usually the most handled or styled parts), it’s probably breakage. 

Remember, understanding your hair’s behavior can be an important step towards maintaining your hair’s health and beauty.

The Difference between Hair Shedding and Hair Breakage

First, let’s underline a key differentiation. While both conditions result in hair loss, the primary difference between hair shedding and hair breakage lies in the root of the issue — quite literally. Understanding this can directly help you in identifying effective treatment methods. 

hair shedding vs hair breakage
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Hair Shedding: is a natural process where your hair falls out after completing its lifecycle – an anagen (growth) phase, a catagen (transitional) phase, and a telogen (resting) phase. Shed hair will typically have a white bulb at one end, indicating it has naturally fallen out from the scalp. 

Hair Breakage: on the other hand, occurs due to damage and stress to the hair shaft. Factors can range from harsh hairstyling habits to nutritional deficiencies. Broken hair will not have a white bulb and is often shorter in length as it breaks off mid-shaft. 

How to Manage Hair Shedding and Breakage 

Now that we’ve distinguished between the two, let’s dive into how you can manage and minimize hair shedding and breakage: 

  1. Adopt a balanced diet: A diet rich in protein, iron and other essential nutrients can not only strengthen your hair but also promote its growth. Do ask your dietitian for specific recommendations based on your health profile.
  2. Maintain hydration: Keeping your hair and scalp hydrated protects your hair from breakage and promotes overall hair health. Water is the best hydrator, so ensure you’re drinking adequate amounts daily.
  3. Keep a warm oil massage in your routine: Regular scalp massages with warm oil can increase blood flow to the hair follicles and reduce hair shedding.
  4. Use gentler hair care methods: Avoid rough combing and tightly pulled hairstyles that put undue stress on your hair. Switch to a wide-toothed comb and opt for loose hairstyles.

Remember that shedding some hair every day is normal. But if you’re consistently losing large amounts of hair, it may be time to see a professional. Similarly, constant hair breakage could be a sign that your hair needs more nourishment or a more gentle handling method. Always consult a dermatologist or a hair care specialist for concrete advice and treatment.

Common Causes of Hair Shedding

There are a number of reasons why your hair might decide it’s time for a “hair exit,” or a shedding period. Some are related to lifestyle, while others are beyond our control. Let’s dive in and explore the most common causes of hair shedding: 

  • Physical Stress: An event such as surgery, a severe illness, or even the flu can cause temporary hair shedding. This can manifest itself 6 to 8 weeks following the stressful event.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnancy is an example of the kind of physical stress that can cause hair loss. Shedding is very common after giving birth.
  • Too much Vitamin A: Overdoing vitamin A-containing supplements or medications can trigger hair shedding.
  • Lack of Protein: If you’re not getting enough, your body may ration protein by shutting down hair growth.
  • Hormonal changes: Hormonal changes and imbalances can cause temporary hair shedding. This could be due to pregnancy, childbirth, discontinuation of birth control pills, or the onset of menopause.
  • Hereditary Hair Loss: Also known as androgenetic alopecia, this is the most common cause of hair loss and can start as early as a person’s teens.

Note: If you notice excessive hair shedding for prolonged periods of time, it’s important to consult a healthcare provider or a dermatologist. They can provide guidance on how to treat and prevent further shedding. 

Unusual Reasons for Hair Shedding 

While we’ve covered the most common causes of hair shedding, there are a few not-so-obvious reasons you may be seeing more strands in your brush or on your carpet. These include 

  • Certain Hairstyles and Treatments: Excessive hairstyling or hairstyles that pull your hair tight, such as cornrows or pigtails, can cause a type of hair loss called traction alopecia. Some treatments like hot oil treatments and permanents can cause inflammation of hair follicles, leading to hair shedding.
  • Age: As you age, it’s normal to have some hair shedding. This starts to become noticeable around menopause.
  • Rapid Weight Loss: Sudden or significant weight loss is a form of physical stress that can result in hair shedding.

Remember, the key to dealing with hair shedding is understanding what’s causing it. Then you can discuss appropriate remedies or changes with your healthcare provider if necessary.

Identifying the Signs of Hair Shedding

Understanding how to identify hair shedding is critical for maintaining the health and vitality of your mane. Hair shedding is usually noticeable during showers, while brushing, or even on your pillow. There are a few key signs that can help you discern if you are experiencing hair shedding. 

hair shedding

Increased Hairfall 

The first sign of hair shedding is an increase in the amount of hair you lose each day. It’s completely normal to lose 50-100 strands of hair daily. However, if you’re shedding more than that, it may be a sign of excessive hair shedding. Consider keeping track of how much hair you lose on a daily basis for a more accurate determination. 

Thinning Hair 

An obvious visual sign of hair shedding is thinning hair. This is not limited to distinct bald patches, but also reduced hair volume in general. You may notice a decrease in your hair’s thickness, and your ponytail might appear slimmer than usual. 

Presence of Loose Hairs 

If you often find loose hairs on your clothes, pillow, or around your home, you may be shedding hair. While everyone sheds a certain amount of hair daily, excessive shedding could lead to higher than usual levels of loose hair around your surroundings. 

Change in Hair Texture 

Another sign of hair shedding is a change in your hair texture. If your hair has become noticeably less voluminous, feels lighter, or lacks its typical bounce and fullness, this might indicate that you are shedding hair more than usual. 

Understanding these signs of hair shedding is the first crucial step in addressing the issue. Remember, it is always important to seek professional advice if you’re experiencing excessive hair shedding, as it could be a symptom of an underlying health condition.

Effective Management Tips for Hair Shedding

Once you’ve recognized hair shedding, the next concerns are managing it and minimizing further loss. Consider these handy tips: 

Focus on Nutrition

Ensure you’re fueling your body and hair with the proper nutrients. Protein, iron, Vitamin A, and omega fatty acids are instrumental in maintain healthy hair. A diet rich in leafy greens, lean proteins, whole grains, and fruits provide essential nutrients. Remember to stay hydrated as well, it aids in maintaining the health of hair follicles. 

nutrition for hair shedding
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood

Keep Stress Levels in Check

Chronic stress can contribute to hair shedding. Learning to manage stress using techniques like meditation, exercise, yoga, or even talking to a mental health professional can be beneficial in reducing hair shedding. 

Maintenance is Key

Paying attention to haircare regimen can help manage hair shedding. Avoid heat styling as it causes stress and damage to the hair. Use a wide-toothed comb to detangle as it is gentle and reduces hair breakage. Also, use hair products free from harsh chemicals

Causes of Hair Breakage

Understanding the causes of hair breakage can be your first step towards preventing or managing this issue. Hair breakage usually happens due to certain damaging practices or conditions, which we’ll discuss below. 

Physical Damage

Physical damage is one of the most common causes of hair breakage. This can term refers to the harm from excessive combing, brushing, or styling, particularly when your hair is wet and at its most vulnerable. Tight hair styles that pull, such as ponytails or braids, can also lead to hair breakage. 

causes of hair breakage

Heat and Chemical Treatments

Heat and chemical treatments are also notorious culprits of hair breakage. Excessive use of hot styling tools like straighteners, curlers, and hair dryers can sap the moisture from your hair, making it brittle and prone to breakage. Similarly, chemical treatments like hair coloring, straightening, or perming can weaken your hair’s protein structure, leading to breakage. 

Poor Nutrition

A diet lacking in essential nutrients can impact your hair health too. Poor nutrition deprives your hair of the proteins, vitamins, and minerals it needs to stay strong and healthy, contributing to breakage. So, be sure to include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, iron, vitamin D and C, and biotin in your diet. 

Ignoring Hair Care

Finally, lack of proper hair care routines can also cause hair breakage. Not conditioning after shampoo, using harsh hair products, not trimming split ends or not protecting your hair from environmental factors like sun and wind can all worsen the breakage problem.

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Recognizing the Signs of Hair Breakage

One of the signs is the presence of split ends. If you closely examine the ends of your hair and notice that they end in a ‘Y’ or multiple splits, breakage is likely occurring. These splits can travel up the hair shaft, leading to significant hair damage over time.

Uneven Hair Length

Another clue is noticing your hair is not growing at a consistent rate. Uneven Hair Length can often be a sign of hair breakage. If some strands are shorter than others and they don’t seem to grow properly, it’s often because they’re breaking off before they can reach their potential length. 

Hair Feels Rough

If you run your fingers through your hair and it feels rough or brittle, this is another sign of hair breakage. Your hair should typically feel smooth and silky. If it doesn’t, your hair may be suffering from breakage as a consequence of damage. 

Excessive Hair Loss

While it’s typical for some hair to fall out during brushing or washing, a significant increase in hair loss may indicate breakage. Don’t ignore Excessive Hair Loss. When hair breaks off, it’s often mistaken for normal shedding. But if your hair is snapping off at an unusual rate, it’s worth investigating. 

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These are just a few warning signs of hair breakage but are by no means exhaustive. Listen to your hair and pay attention to changes that could indicate damage. Knowledge is the first step towards prevention and repairing damaged hair. 

Another important sign to look out for is hair thinning at the crown. This is particularly noticeable when you style your hair or notice more scalp visibility around this region. 

Increased Tangling

If your hair seems to be tangling more than usual, this could point towards hair breakage. Broken hair shafts often have raised cuticles which make them prone to tangling. 

Slow Hair Growth

Experiencing slow hair growth can be a frustrating issue, and it might be due to hair breakage. This is because broken hairs are often unable to reach their full growth potential. 

Noticeable Hair Loss

A clear induction of hair breakage is a significant loss of hair. You might observe more hair on your brush, pillow, shower drain, or even your clothes.

Dry Hair

Hair that is dry and lacks moisture is prone to breaking. This issue might not be restricted to the hair strands but can also extend to the scalp, leading to lifeless, brittle, and unhealthy hair.

Recognizing the signs of hair breakage is the first step towards tackling the issue. Remember, changes in your hair could be subtle or drastic, but paying a close eye to any alterations can help catch issues before they escalate. Increases in tangling, noticeable hair loss, or slow hair growth could all be your hair’s cry for help. Pay attention to your mane, and your mane will thank you!

Preventing Hair Breakage: Tips and Tricks

Before launching into ways to prevent hair breakage, it’s important to remember that your hair’s health is a reflection of your overall health — both physical and emotional. So, the practices you adopt for your hair should be part of a holistic approach to your well-being. Let’s look at some specific steps you can take to prevent breakage and promote healthier strands. 

Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

Avoid Harsh Hairstyles

One significant factor that often leads to hair breakage is the tension and stress exerted on the hair due to certain hairstyles. Styles that pull your hair tightly, like ponytails, buns, or braids, can cause undue stress. 

  • Opt for loose styles: Allow your hair some breathing space by choosing hairstyles that don’t pull on the roots. If you must tie up your hair, keep it loose and gentle.
  • Rotate hairstyles: Don’t stick to one hairstyle for too long. Changing your hairstyle frequently can help minimize the risk of breakage due to tension in a particular area.

Use Breakage-Preventing Products

There are many products on the market targeting the prevention of hair breakage. But, it is crucial to make choices that align with your hair type and specific needs

  • Choose suitable hair products: Look for mild, moisturizing shampoos and conditioners that help strengthen your hair from within and make it less prone to breakage.
  • Condition regularly: Condition your hair after each wash. Conditioning helps to seal the moisture within the hair shaft, reducing dryness and resulting in less breakage.
  • Invest in a good hairbrush: A good comb or brush is essential. Chose those with soft bristles to detangle your hair gently without causing breakage.

Employ Gentle Handling

How you handle your hair on a regular basis can significantly affect its health. Let’s explore some methods to minimize damage and breakage. 

  • Minimize handling: The less you manipulate your hair, the less likely it is to break. Be careful while combing, washing, and styling your hair.
  • Careful detangling: Always detangle your hair gently, starting from the ends and working your way up to the roots to minimize breakage and split ends.

Healthy Hair Habits to Prevent Breakage

Just as the old saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure,” it’s far better and less stressful to prevent hair breakage before it becomes a significant issue. Good hair habits can strengthen your hair, reduce the chance of breakage, and keep your mane looking lovely and healthy. Here are some of the practices you should adopt: 

Minimize the use of heat styling tools

While straighteners, curling irons, and blow dryers can give your hair the perfect look, frequent use of these tools can severely damage your hair. They strip the hair of its natural moisture, leading to dry, brittle strands that break easily. If you can’t completely avoid these tools, using a heat protectant and setting the tool on the lowest heat setting can limit potential damage. 

Embrace gentle hair care practices

Gentleness is key when dealing with your hair. Avoid rough handling, especially when your hair is wet as it is more prone to breakage. Opt for wide-toothed combs rather than brushes. When drying, pat gently with a soft towel instead of aggressively rubbing. 

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Nourish your hair from within

The health of your hair, much like the rest of your body, largely depends on your diet. Eating a balanced diet rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals can significantly improve the health and strength of your hair. Foods rich in biotin, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and proteins can help to prevent brittle hair and breakage. 

Hydrate your hair regularly

Ensure that your hair stays moisturized to prevent it from becoming dry and prone to breakage. Use hydrating shampoo and conditioner and consider using a deep conditioning treatment or hair mask regularly. Keeping yourself hydrated by drinking enough water also contributes to hair health. 

Protect your hair

Protect your hair from damage by wearing hats or scarves in harsh weather conditions and opting for protective hairstyles that minimize physical damage and breakage.

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