Alright, is it just me, or is everyone you know complaining about hair loss right now? Like, seriously, after I hit 23, my entire friend group and I noticed we were shedding way more hair than usual. Quarter-life crisis aside, it had me wondering: Do you actually lose more hair as you enter your 20s, or are you just more ~aware~ of your body as you get further and further away from your teen years?
Since I am very much not an expert, I brought my issues to trichologist Dominic Burg, chief scientist at Evolis Professional, to figure out if that clump of hair in my shower drain is something I actually have reason to obsess over—or if I should just cool it.
THE BIGGEST HAIR LOSS CULPRITS
First thing's first: Hair lives in a four-step cycle—not just one. It grows, it rests, it falls, and then it regenerates. And because there are are a number of different genes involved in this cycle, it's super easy to upset the process, says Burg. Lucky you. Still, even though there are a ton of reasons someone may be experiencing hair loss, these are the most common:
Yes, yes, we all know the importance of eating a balanced diet, but you probably didn't know that your diet can directly affect your hair growth. "If you're restricting your body of nutrients, it will shift energy away from your hair and divert it to your vital organs, like your heart, lungs, or brain," says Burg. "Hair isn't essential for survival, but it’s very energy intensive."
Translation: Hair requires a lottttt of energy to grow, and if you aren't eating enough protein, iron, vitamins, and fatty acids, you're basically guaranteeing some hair loss or thinning (which, by the way, you won't notice for about three months, after your hair has passed through its resting and falling phase).
Uh, yeah, sleeping next to your iPhone so you can answer your boss' emails all night definitely isn't doing any favors for your hair. According to Burg, stress (whether it's chronic or sudden) can slow down the hair cycle. When you're stressed, your body produces a hormone called cortisol, which can prematurely push your hair into its resting phase (i.e., when the hair isn’t growing).Continue reading below ↓
Surprise! Hormones also play a role in your hair cycle. Some women are more sensitive to hormonal changes than others, says Burg, but changing or starting a new birth control can definitely impact your hair growth and hair loss. "Hormones are really important in the hair cycle," he says. "Changing your birth control pills can cause hair loss in some women, and it often takes a couple rounds of pills to find one that works for you."
The same goes for pregnancy, too. "The high levels of estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy can make your hair grow faster and feel silkier," he says. "But when the baby is born, these levels drop dramatically, and you'll typically see some hair fall three months later." But, hey, at least you've got a cute little baby to distract you, right?
Medical Conditions and Genetics
I'll preface this by saying the amount of medical reasons that could contribute to hair loss are vast—and the only way to get a definitive answer is to see your doctor or a trichologist (and, nope, a late night, anxiety-induced Google search does not count). If you eat a balanced diet, live relatively stress-free, and haven't had any major hormonal changes or pregnancies yet you're still noticing hair loss, the next step is to make an appointment with your doc.
Medical conditions aside, early-onset hair loss can also be hereditary. Burg says it’s more of a myth that hair loss can be passed down from either your mother or father—if you've got a grandmother or aunt on either side of your family with thinning hair, there's a chance you can have it too. Love you, fam!Continue reading below ↓
Um, is my hair shedding or thinning?
It's the question I ask myself most mornings: How exactly do you figure out if your hair is actually thinning or if you're just shedding a little more than usual? "You lose about 50 to 100 hair [strands] every day, which is about 0.001 percent of your hair," says Burg. "Now, when you notice that amount doubling or tripling, that's an indication that your hair cycle is too short." Reminder: If your hair cycle speeds up, it goes through its resting and falling stages too quickly, which can lead to less hair on your pretty little head.
Other than monitoring the amount of hair you lose in the shower or on your hair brush, you'll want to check your ponytail (does it feel thinner or less bulky than usual?), your part (is it widening?), and your scalp (can you see it reflecting under bright lights?).
So your hair is definitely thinning—here's what comes next
First things first: Turn back the clock about three months and see if anything major happened in your life. If you've experienced a huge amount of stress or had a significant change in diet, there's a good chance it'll line up with your hair loss. The good news? Diet and stress-related hair loss are both relatively easy to correct if you catch them early enough.
That aside, Burg recommends seeing a professional who can help identify next steps. Usually, patients are prescribed topical solutions and medications (the most common being Rogaine), although they're known to have side effects (like scalp or eye irritation, along with unwanted hair growth if you apply it incorrectly) and should always be used under medical supervision.
Just keep in mind that those viral hair growth vitamins you're seeing all over your Insta feed are not a solution to hair loss. "Don't buy into the hype of these miracle pills that promise a change overnight," says Burg. "Hair growth takes time—think: half an inch a month. Even hair loss treatments that work take time, so you usually won't see results for three to four months."
The takeaway? Even though hair loss and thinning are complex, it's relatively simple to narrow down potential causes. Eat healthy, de-stress when you can, and closely monitor how much hair you're losing before convincing yourself there's a serious problem. And if there is a genuine concern? Book an appointment with a trichologist or dermatologist. "Hair loss is a lot more common than most women realize," says Burg. "There are really good solutions out there and they are getting better all the time."
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.