As we go about our daily lives, we may be used to dealing with stray hairs around the home. Drains need unclogging, jumpers need to be picked, floors need to be vacuumed and brushes need to be cleaned. There may be times when we see this happen slightly more or slightly less, but should we be concerned?

The reality is that the strands we see lying around could be either due to hair shedding or hair breakage, both of which may seem similar, but are in fact different, so let’s look at them in turn.

Firstly, we are supposed to shed hair

It may sound like a worrying term, but shedding is a completely normal part of our hair cycle1. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology note that it is normal for a person to lose about 50–100 hairs each day2. There are several factors that could also influence the shedding we see, which we discuss below1.

To understand what is going on, it helps to understand the different phases of hair growth. Each hair follicle goes through 3 distinct stages in a strand of hair’s lifecycle:

1. Growing Phase -Anagen – This is the active growing phase, which can last between 2-6 years during which the hair becomes longer and thicker

2. Transition Phase -Catagen – After anagen, the hair follicle moves into the short transitional phase when the hair fibre stops growing and detaches from the skin (still deep inside the follicle)

3. Resting Phase- Telogen – Finally, this is the follicle resting phase where the old hair is gradually pushed up towards the skin surface to shed naturally. This resting phase, where the follicle is not growing any new strands, usually lasts around 3 months, after which the cycle repeats itself back to the anagen (growing) phase1

On a typical head of hair, each follicle is at a different stage at different times, cycling independently of each other, which is why we may not notice this happening1.


Excess hair lying around could actually be due to breakage

Breakage on the other hand is when the individual strands snap due to brushing, styling or washing, for example3 

Once a strand of hair is made in the follicle and starts to grow, the visible part of the hair strand is not “alive” and so cannot be rebuilt. We then need to rely on the hairs protective outer layer called the cuticle, responsible for defending our hair’s inner layers from all the damaging processes that make up our daily lives, to prevent dryness and breakage4,5. In the pursuit of trendy hair styles, fun colours, or simply clean, tidy hair, we could be significantly contributing to weakening the cuticle, and therefore breakage, which can happen anywhere along the strand, and make our overall hair appear frizzy and therefore appear unhealthy6.

It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish which of these two factors is at play when it comes to dealing with those extra loose strands, so it can be helpful to arm ourselves with a little know-how. Here we discuss potential triggers for excess shedding or breakage, and what we can do about it.


1. Genetics

Excess hair shedding can be hereditary, age-dependent progressive thinning of scalp hair. If you suspect this applies to you, and you have concerns, it is important to consult your doctor who can recommend the best course of action for you7


2. Stress

We all experience a little stress every now and then, but if it is becoming a feeling that won’t go away, this can start to affect our hair growth cycle. An animal study suggests that even mild stress over a number of weeks appears to reduce hair growth by extending the telogen (resting) phase of hair growth, which can make hair shed more easily8,9

The good news is, if we can deal with the source of our stress or find healthy ways to cope with it, our hair is likely to return to normal growth cycles8. A hectic schedule may be the norm, but identifying any areas of life that could do with a change and then taking steps to address them can help to safeguard our tresses. If a little extra support is needed, we should be seeking advice from a doctor.


3. Age

Age can be relevant when it comes to shedding AND breakage.

Firstly, our hair may feel thinner as we age. Studies have found that after the age of 40, the diameter of our strands starts to reduce10. In addition to this, the curvature of each strand also increases with age, meaning hair is more likely to curl. These two factors can result in increased pressure when brushing and more likely subsequent breakage10.

A study on men also found that as subjects aged, hair follicles appeared to spend less time in the growing phase and more time in the telogen (resting) phase of growth which, as we stated previously, can make hair shed more easily11.

Whilst we can’t turn back the clock on these natural ageing processes, we can try to protect hair that is more vulnerable to breakage. Hair is weaker when wet so taking care during washing and brushing in the shower (especially in hard water areas), and even using a leave-in conditioner to return moisture to hair can help to reduce breakage and take it easy on our strands12.


4. Hot tools, hair dyes and chemical treatments

Hair can be a canvas for our creativity; it can be manipulated in endless ways to express our style, identity or even for a short-lived change for special occasions. It can be straightened, curled, coloured, shaped and moulded, but all of this short-term beauty comes at a long-term cost to our strands. These often harsh processes can damage the outer protective cuticle layer, leaving hair vulnerable to breakage13.

Trying to reduce how much or how often we expose our hair to these processes will inevitably help to control breakage. Depending on how much breakage we are seeing, it may be a good idea to stop them altogether for a period of time, to give healthy strands a chance to grow.


5. Not enough of the right nutrients

Vitamins and minerals are needed for our cells to grow and work as they should and may therefore contribute to how our hair looks and behaves when we don’t get enough. We should always aim for a healthy balanced diet to get all we need for our bodies to function well, but it can be valuable to know which vitamins and minerals are helpful to maintain healthy beautiful hair14.

15, 16 and 17 are essential for the maintenance of normal hair, so ensuring our diet contains foods with these nutrients, such as eggs, fish, dairy and meat can be a good way to ensure hair follows the expected growth cycle16,17,18. A dietary supplement specially designed for the health of hair can be a convenient way to supplement a healthy diet.

Unfortunately, there is no single product or practise that will reduce excess hair shedding and breakage. As we’ve talked here, the key is to take note of our general health, diet and haircare practises. If these are the only factors affecting hair shedding and breakage, and we address them, due to the nature of our hair growth cycle it can take 3-6 months to start to see an improvement19.


However, if there are specific questions on the amount of hair loss, we don’t need to wonder in silence. A doctor can help to get to the root of any concerns.