From its causes to how much might be too much, here’s what you need to know

Ever looked down at the contents of your brush or bathroom drain and thought, “Am I losing my hair?” I know I have - my post-shampoo analysis wavers between the rational and irrational regularly, but it’s an all too common concern from what I gather from my hairdresser. He assures me it’s something he gets questioned about by nearly every person who sits in his chair. 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?

Distinguishing between hair shedding and hair loss seems to be the main area of concern for many. It can be difficult to differentiate, however 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. 3x 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.”

Increased levels of hair shedding can be due to a range of 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. 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 though that due to the hair growth cycle, hair loss won't occur straight away. It can take between 6-12 weeks for hair to shed after the event that caused it took place.

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What role does diet play?

“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.” It’s 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 nutritional modifications 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 , £45, 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.”

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What role does hair care play?

A pretty big one - especially in terms of scalp health and its impact on 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 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/Itchy Shampoo , £24,  Scalp Toner , £8.50, and  Exfoliating Scalp Mask , £17, 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. If you’re unable to get to the shops, 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 5 minutes and then shampoo, condition and style as usual.”

There are also a growing number of salon scalp treatments available to book into too. Nioxin’s Dermabrasion Treatment  provides an in-depth service for helping clear the scalp of excess oil and blockages impeding healthy hair growth ( read my full review here ).

Aveda has also just launched an in-salon Scalp Facial Treatment and blowdry, £50, using its Nourishing Scalp Masque and new Pramasana range - three products designed to give a deep scalp cleanse and help encourage skin cell turnover too. Featuring an Exfoliating Scalp Brush , £16.50, Purifying Scalp Cleanser , £23.50, and the serum-like Protective Scalp Concentrate , £35, 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.”

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