When people notice even the littlest bit of their hair clogging the shower drain, it tends to set off alarm bells. But how much daily hair loss is actually cause for concern?
It can be totally normal to lose 50 to 150 strands of hair a day, says Brian Morrison, M.D., cosmetic and medical dermatologist at the University of Miami hospital. “If you think you’re losing more hair than normal, see your dermatologist as soon as possible,” he says. “Hair thinning and loss are easier to reverse when caught early.”
If you’re shedding like crazy, call the doc and check out these eight possible reasons behind the mass exodus of your hair.
1. You’re Missing Out On Key Nutrients
Ever heard the phrase ‘you are what you eat’? “Early hair loss can be related to dietary deficiencies,” says Brooke Alpert, R.D., founder of B-Nutritious Dietetics and Nutrition. The key missing nutrients: protein and vitamin D.
“Protein is the number-one thing you need to encourage healthy hair,” says Alpert. Our hair is made of a structural protein called keratin that the body cannot produce without a diet ample in protein, she explains.
As if you needed another reason to spend more time outdoors: “Vitamin D is also essential because of the role it plays in nourishing your hair follicles, and thus encouraging hair growth,” says M. Kathleen Figaro, M.D., M.S. of Genesis Health Group Endocrinology.
2. Your ‘Do Is Way Too Tight
If you rock really tight braids or ponytails on the reg, the constant tension puts stress on your hair follicles. “This can cause breakage, thinning, and even permanent hair loss known as traction alopecia,” says Morrison. But if you just can’t part with your up-dos, make sure to keep them loose, especially around your hairline, she says.
3. You Use Heat Tools All The Time
The damage curling irons and flat irons can do to your hair is so real it can cause a condition called cicatricial central centrifugal alopecia. “CCCA is hair loss from the top of your scalp caused by burns from hot styling tools,” says Morrison. Use your irons on the lowest heat setting, especially if you also use some sort of hair relaxing product, he suggests.
4. Your Genetics Just Aren’t In Your Favor
The autoimmune disease alopecia areata, often indicated by hair loss along the temples or vertex of the scalp, is hereditary, says Morrison. A ‘polygenic disease,’ alopecia areata requires certain genes to be passed down from both parents, so it’s pretty rare, says the National Alopecia Areata Foundation. The immune system attacks hair follicles, making them smaller and potentially ceasing all hair growth.
Treatments do exist that can help slow down this type of hair loss, such as platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections. “In PRP treatment, growth factors from your own blood are reinjected into your scalp to stimulate circulation and promote the formation of collagen and new hair follicles,” says Morrison.
While there’s no cure for alopecia areata, a treatment called ‘immunotherapy’ can help distract the immune system from attacking hair follicles, says Morrison. “A doctor uses an allergen cream to ignite a mild rash on the skin affected by alopecia,” she says. “The inflammation of the rash helps to draw the immune system’s focus away from attacking the hair follicles.”
5. You’re Having Hormonal Issues
“Hormone imbalances in which women have higher levels of testosterone than estrogen can cause hair loss on the head, but also spur hair growth in other places, like the chin,” says Figaro.
Women going through menopause may experience hair loss because estrogen levels drop quicker than testosterone levels as their hormones bottom out, she says.
In addition, women with the chronic condition polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) often have elevated testosterone levels, which can lead to male-pattern baldness, or ‘adrogenic alopecia,’ says the Mayo Clinic.
Medications that help to lower testosterone levels, like a drug called Spironolactone, may help reduce hormone-related hair troubles and can be prescribed by an endocrinologist, Figaro says.
6. You’re Insanely Stressed
While experts don’t quite understand the connection between stress and hair loss, they suspect stress can alter the growth cycle of your hair follicles, says Figaro. “Your hair follicles are always in one of three stages: growing, shedding, and resting,” she says. “Stress seems to shift all of your follicles into the shedding phase at once.”
7. You Just Had A Baby
Blame it on your hormones—again. After giving birth, estrogen levels typically drop, explains Figaro. The thrown-off ratio of estrogen-to-testosterone can cause a wave of hair loss post-baby, but luckily it’s just a one-time thing, she assures.
8. You Have A Larger Health Issue
If hair loss isn’t the only strange symptom you’re dealing with, it might be time to call the doc. “Conditions like diabetes and thyroid disorders can lead to hair loss,” says Figaro.
When your body is insulant resistant (a precursor to type 2 diabetes in which your body doesn’t respond to insulin or use glucose properly), your liver stops producing a protein called ‘binding globulin,’ says Figaro. “Binding globulin helps regulate your sex hormones, and without it your levels of dihydrotestosterone (a male sex hormone more potent than testosterone) increases.” Enter hair loss.
And about that thyroid: If you have hyper- or hypothyroidism, your thyroid does not produce the proper amount of hormones. “The thyroid is a tonic hormone that makes hair grow and your heart beat faster, and it regulates your metabolism,” says Figaro. That means both conditions can affect your strands. In hypothyroidism, the thyroid does not produce enough thyroid hormone, whereas in hyperthyroidism, the thyroid produces too much hormone, she explains. Since the thyroid hormone helps develop and maintain your hair follicles, improper levels can lead to damage that may include increased breakage and hair loss, says a review published in the International Journal of Trichology.