How to Check If You’re Losing Too Much Hair
It can be alarming to look at your comb or the shower drain cover and see a clump of hair. Not only could it clog your pipes, it can cause you to worry that it’s a sign of serious hair loss. But chances are what you’re seeing isn’t anything to be concerned about—and if you want to be sure, there are easy ways to check for abnormal hair loss without visiting a doctor.
The average person loses somewhere between 50 and 100 strands of hair per day, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Yes, that’s a lot, so don’t panic if you see a few strands in your bathroom.
Hair shedding versus hair loss
While we’re on the topic, there is a difference between hair loss and hair shedding. The AAD notes that hair shedding—or temporarily losing a little more hair than usual—is completely normal, and usually occurs after a major life stressor or body change, like losing 20 pounds or more, giving birth, having a high fever, going off birth control pills, or caregiving for a loved one. Excessive hair shedding usually lasts for six to nine months, and then your hair growth and hair loss returns to normal levels.
Hair loss, on the other hand, is when something happens that actually stops your hair from growing, the AAD explains. Examples of this include hereditary hair loss, losing hair because of a medication like chemotherapy, using harsh hair care products, or having a compulsion to pull out your own hair. In these cases, the hair will not regrow until the cause stops—though that’s not possible in every case (i.e., if genetics are to blame). If you still have questions about the difference between hair shedding and hair loss, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor.
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That said, if you want to test your own rate of hair loss, here are two ways to go about it:
For a simple at-home test, Dr. James C. Marotta suggests you take about 60 hairs between your fingers and pull a little bit as you run your fingers through your hair. It’s normal to see five to eight hairs in your hand. If you have 15 to 20 hairs, though, you could be losing more hair than normal. Marotta explains:
“For most, 90 percent of the hair on your head is in the growing phase, while about 10 percent of your hair is in the ‘resting’ phase, meaning that 10 percent will fall out and leave room for new hair growth within a certain period of time. If you are losing more than 15 hairs per pull, it likely means more than 10 percent of the hair on your head is in the ‘resting’ phase.”
Here’s another test to try: Before shampooing, comb from the back of the top of your head forward to the front of the scalp for one minute. Do this while leaning over a lightly colored bed sheet, then count the hairs on the sheet. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Dermatology, you should see about 10 hairs. If you see more, you might be experiencing excessive hair loss.
Of course, there are a few caveats to both of these methods, including that these numbers are approximate and may differ between people with different types of hair. Also, we tend to lose more hair as we age, which, again, is normal. But the general idea is to get a baseline for your own head so you can tell when your hair loss has gotten worse.
This story was originally published in November 2016 and updated on Dec. 2, 2020 to perform a copyedit and align the content with current Lifehacker style guidelines.