Yes, 700 hairs in the plughole need not be cause for alarm. From the causes of hair shedding to how much might be too much, our experts explain
Ever looked down at the contents of your brush or bathroom drain and thought, “Am I losing my hair?” It’s an all too common concern according to my hairdresser, who says he is questioned about it by nearly every client. The truth? A degree of hair shedding is completely normal and is just the result of individual hairs reaching the end of their life cycles. “It is ‘normal’ to lose up to 100 hairs per day, provided they are growing back,” says trichologist Anabel Kingsley. “Hair shedding can also fluctuate from day to day, and some people find that it fluctuates seasonally.”
In fact, some studies have shown that lower levels of hair loss in the summer could actually be the body’s way of protecting the scalp from UV radiation. Clever stuff.
How much is too much?
Knowing the difference between hair shedding and hair loss seems to be the main concern for many. Anabel highlights some key signs to look out for. “You will notice more hairs coming out when you shampoo, in your sink and brush when you style and perhaps on your floor, clothes and pillow. It is not unusual to see as many as 300 hairs (i.e. three times the normal amount),” she says. “If you consistently notice you are losing more hair than usual, or that the nature of your hair shedding has changed, it is probable that there is an underlying cause that needs to be addressed,” she cautions. “You should also seek help if hair comes out in patches or if hair loss is accompanied by a sore or inflamed scalp.”
Having said that, hair shedding - as seen in the plug hole - is also dependent on how often you wash your hair., says hairdresser Michael Douglas founder of MD London (and partner of Davina McCall, watch him teach her how to blow dry her hair smooth). And of course, if you have long hair the shed is going to look much more prolific. “If you're only brushing and washing your hair once a week the chances are you're going to lose about 700 in one go,” he explained o Instagram, below. “This might feel a bit alarming… but it's normal; 100 hairs a day for seven days is about 700 hairs. Don't panic if that's what's happening to your hair shedding is completely normal. And of course, if it gets out of control, it's a slightly different story. Generally speaking, it won't all fall out.”
Increased hair shedding can be due to factors such as lifestyle, diet, and of course, stress. “There is always a reason for excessive hair shedding,” says Anabel. “Sometimes, it is self-limiting and nothing to worry about. For instance, if you were unwell or stressed for a short period, your hair may come out in excess for a few months and then stop on its own, with growth resuming as usual." Many people experienced this after they had Covid. "However, if hair loss continues for longer than three months, it can be an indication of an ongoing problem such as iron or ferritin (stored iron) deficiency, Vitamin B12 deficiency, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and/or hyper or hypothyroidism.”
She points out that due to the hair growth cycle, hair loss won't occur straight away. It can take between six and 12 weeks for the hair to shed after the event that caused it took place.
What is the best diet to minimise hair loss?
“A poor diet is a very common cause of increased hair shedding,” comments Anabel, observing that there's a clear imbalance between hair’s nutritional demands and its place in the body’s ‘food chain.’
“Hair is psychologically significant, as the way our hair looks affects how we feel, our self-confidence and our sense of self. However, physiologically, hair is dispensable,” she explains. “In terms of what we eat, this means our hair is the last to benefit from nutrients we intake and the first to be withheld from them. Hair cells are also the second fastest growing cells the body produces, making its energy requirements great.”
Protein is counted as a key dietary component in excess hair shed prevention. “Just like essential tissue, hair benefits from a diet containing all food groups. However, as hair is made primarily of keratin, a protein, adequate daily intake of protein-rich foods is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind,” advises Anabel. She recommends eating at least an 120g portion (around a palm-sized amount) of protein at breakfast and lunch. “The best proteins are ‘complete proteins,’ which contain all essential amino acids,” she highlights. “Examples are fish, eggs, poultry, lean meat and low-fat cottage cheese.”
These are also important for restoring dwindling ferritin stores, highlighted earlier by Anabel as a potential cause of excess hair shedding. “Ferritin (a stored iron) is also vital as it is needed to produce hair cell protein,” she explains. “Ferritin deficiency is one of the most common causes of hair loss in women who come into our clinics in London and New York.” The best source? “Iron is found most abundantly in red meat. However, if you do not eat red meat, you should take an iron supplement. While plants do contain iron, the body does not absorb iron from this source as efficiently.”
While looking at your diet should be your first port of call, supplements do have their place too. “Due to the high nutrient demands of hair cells, it can be difficult to meet its needs through diet alone – nutritional supplements can therefore be incredibly helpful, provided they are taken alongside a healthy diet!” she says. “We make a nutritional supplement, Tricho Complex , £46, that we formulated specifically for the hair’s unique requirements.”
Anabel’s final food for thought? “Eat breakfast! This is the most important meal of the day for your hair as it is when energy available to form hair cells is at its lowest.”
What about post-pregnancy (post partum) hair loss, how long should it last?
"Postpartum hair loss is so common and it really isn't talked about enough," says Anabel. "It affects approximately 50 per cent of women around three to four months after giving birth or after stopping breastfeeding. When we are pregnant our oestrogen levels rise; oestrogen is a very hair-friendly hormone that helps to keep hairs in their growth phase."
When you are pregnant, you may find that you lose a lot less hair than usual. "Especially in the last trimester, you notice that your hair looks much thicker and fuller," she says.
After the birth, oestrogen levels drop rapidly and return to normal. "All those hairs that were maintained in the growth phase when you were pregnant can shed very quickly and that's when you can see this really distressing amount of hair fall."
A shift in hormones may not be the only reason for post-partum hair loss. Nutritional deficiencies and thyroid imbalances can affect it too. "If your shedding is going on for longer than three to four months, go see your doctor for a blood test to check that there isn't anything else that needs to be corrected. A lot of women are having postpartum hair shed for a year and that's that simply isn't normal and also isn't necessary. Because there's a lot that you can do to slow that down " she advises.
What is the best hair care for excessive hair shedding?
Hair care plays a major role as scalp health impacts hair growth. “Care for your scalp in a similar way to your face,” recommends Anabel. “Cleanse (i.e. shampoo) frequently, tone your scalp daily with a scalp toner and use a weekly exfoliating scalp mask to help remove dead skin cells.
"Also, a flaky, itchy scalp can cause hair loss. If you experience dandruff, take measures to clear it quickly. We suggest using a daily anti-microbial shampoo and scalp toner.” Her recommendations of Philip Kingsley Flaky Ithcy Scalp Cleansing Shampoo, £25.50, Scalp Toner, £22.50, and Flaky Itchy Scalp Mask, £19.50, should have all follicular bases amply covered in this regard.
The ingredients for the perfect toner recipe could also lie within your kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Anabel recommends this homemade 'cocktail' instead: “Shake together equal quantities of witch hazel and mouthwash. Roughly 2oz (60g) of each. Add 0.5oz (15ml) vodka and shake again. Apply to your scalp using a cotton ball, gently massage in for five minutes and then shampoo, condition and style as usual.”
There are also a growing number of salon scalp and hair loss treatments available to book into too. Get The Gloss Victoria Woodhall recently saw 'Hair Whisperer' Ricardo Vila Nova who brought her back from hair loss with growth factor micro needling and bespoke scalp treatments.
Aveda salons offer Pramasana Scalp 'Facial' Treatment and blowdry using its Nourishing Scalp Masque and Pramasana range - three products designed to give a deep scalp cleanse and help encourage skin cell turnover too. Featuring an Exfoliating Scalp Brush, £14.45, Purifying Scalp Cleanser , £24.50, and the serum-like Protective Scalp Concentrate, £30, it provides a targeted trio of products designed to hit hair health at its root.
It’s essential to note though that scalp care alone won’t minimise excess hair shedding. It requires a multi-pronged method including food, stress management and sleep too. “It’s important to realise that hair loss must be addressed using a holistic approach that considers health, lifestyle and diet – as well as appropriate products,” says Anabel. “One product alone will not be enough.”