Are you experiencing hair loss or is it actually hair breakage?
Have you noticed a change in your hair? Maybe you're seeing extra hair in the brush or in the shower drain, or maybe you've been noticing less volume or patchy areas. These changes may only be noticeable to you at this point, but that doesn't ease the feeling of panic. Obviously I'm not a doctor but as a licensed cosmetologist, I'm well educated on the physiology of hair, how it grows, and what affects it. We lose about 100 strands of hair each day as part of our natural growth cycle. But if you're noticing more than your average shedding, here's what might be happening with your hair.
Hair Loss vs Hair Breakage
This may seem self-explanatory but since you're searching for answers, I'll start at the beginning.
True Hair loss is when the entire hair follicle falls out from the root. Hair loss occurs for a variety of reasons, usually stemming from internal factors such as illness, medication, cancer treatment, or nutritional changes. Some women ask if stress can cause hair loss, but the stress would have to be pretty major, like at the PTSD level. Starting a new job or planning a wedding wouldn't typically result in your hair falling out. More common hair loss can be caused by one of the following: thyroid disorder, surgery, nutritional deficiencies, alopecia, along with hormonal changes like menopause or postpartum. If you think you might fall into one of these scenarios, it's best to have a conversation with your doctor about the sudden changes in your hair.
Hair breakage is different than hair falling out at the root. Hair breakage is when the strands are actually breaking off, which is likely caused by over-processing and over-styling. You might be surprised at what can lead to hair breakage.
- Over processing from bleaching or other chemical treatments
- High temperature settings and frequent use of flat irons, curling irons, blow dryers
- Tension from pulling hair back in a ponytail or headband, tension from hair brush, velcro rollers (in extreme cases this tension can lead to traction alopecia hairloss)
- Too much protein from keratin products and bond builders
Hair breakage from over processing
Blondes often notice hair breakage around the face especially after a lightening service. This is normal. The baby hairs around the hairline are delicate, but we tend to fuss over those hairs the most with styling tools because they are so visible. But if you get regular highlights or blonding services, you may experience more than normal hair breakage if your stylist is not bleaching responsibly. When I touch up roots, I'm very careful to only treat new growth to avoid applying lightener to previously bleached areas. Overlapping bleach onto already lightened areas can damage the hair. Overlap repeatedly on hair that's over proteinized...well, that's asking for trouble!
Hair Breakage from Over Proteinizing
While keratin is a great tool for smoothing and strengthening the hair, it can be overused. Keratin is a protein, and adding too much to the hair can have the opposite effect, making it brittle. This is especially true for coarse or textured hair types. That's why it's important to let your stylist know about any recent chemical treatments or bond building treatments, and any products you're using at home that may contain keratin or other bond building ingredients.
With the popularity of professional keratin treatments and bond builders, these ingredients are now everywhere, even in mass market shampoos and conditioners. But that doesn't mean you should use these ingredients on a daily basis. You can damage your hair in the long run. If you want to do something nice for your hair, especially after a lightening treatment, use conditioners and products that offer hydration and moisture. Save the keratin and bond builders for the hair salon so that we can first determine if they're right for you.
Consultation for Hair Loss/Hair Breakage
It's impossible to address your concerns without seeing your hair. If you think you fall into one of the over-processing scenarios above, then it's time for an honest conversation with your hair stylist. When my clients come in for a hair loss/hair breakage consultation, this is what we do:
- I'll examine your hair and scalp. If your hair also appears dry or dull, you could have too much protein in the hair
- I'll track the density of your hair at the scalp vs density at the ends.
- I'll examine the tips of the short hairs...is it new grown or broken hair?
- I'll do a strand stress test to check the protein - water balance
- We'll discuss the products you're using at home
- We'll discuss the best path forward to encourage your hair to grow and keep it looking good in the process
What about hair extensions?
Let's not get ahead of things. I know how important it is to feel confident and beautiful. Let's first sort out what's going on with your hair and make sure you're on the right track. Certainly hair extensions can be an option to conceal hair loss and breakage, but the best type of extensions will depend on the condition of your hair. Even before we get into the hair extensions conversations, I can suggest ways you can cut and style your hair to conceal your hair loss and breakage.
The purpose of this post is to encourage open and honest communication with your stylist about your hair concerns, any recent chemical treatments you’ve had, and the products and tools you’re using at home. Often times, perceived hair loss is not actually due to hair falling out, rather hair breaking off. Your hair stylist is a not a substitute for your licensed medical professional. We encourage you to have a similar conversation with your doctor if your concerns are not addressed. Approaching your concerns from both ends may not only be enlightening, but should get you back on track to the normal condition of your hair.