Shedding is one of the biggest concerns we hear about from people who start treating their hair loss. Shedding may occur when treatment begins with any of the three FDA approved/cleared products, such as the HairMax LaserComb, Minoxidil and Finastride. However, it is important to know that shedding is NOT the same as “losing hair”. Since the concern about this occurrence is ‘real’, we will try to provide some important information on what exactly shedding is, why it occurs, and what it means in the usual course of treatment.
Shedding is Normal
While you may think you are the only one experiencing it, shedding after starting a treatment is fairly common. Many users report increased loss a few weeks after starting the HairMax, Minoxidil and Finastride. The amount of shedding is variable and for many people it is not even noticeable. However, for some people it can be to quite disconcerting if they don’t expect it, because now that they have finally decided to treat their hair loss; rather than hair growth, they experience hair loss. Instead of going forward, they feel like they are going backwards since they do not realise that this occurrence is temporary.
What exactly is Shedding?
Hair follicles work in cycles as part of their normal processes. There are 3 cycles of hair growth, 1) anagen is the growth cycle, 2) catagen is the cycle where hair breaks down, and 3) telogen or resting cycle is where hair shedding normally occurs. Anagen hair grows for about 2 to 8 years and at the end of this growth cycle, the brief (2 to 4 weeks) catagen phase ‘kicks’ in and the hairs start to break down. Hair then goes into the telogen or resting cycle which can last for 2 to 4 months. Eventually, the growth cycle starts again (anagen) where a new hair begins to emerge.
On a normal scalp, hair loss in the telogen or shedding phase is not noticeable as only 50 – 100 hairs are shed each day. And, no more than about 10% of all follicles on the scalp are in the resting (telogen) phase at one time. Since the normal scalp has over 100,000 hairs, the hair loss part of the cycle is not noticed since hair is normally shed on a random basis. Even for the person not suffering from hereditary hair loss, his or her hair goes through the same cycles. The hair grows for a period of time, rests for a while, then regrows.
In all cases, treatments or no treatments, shedding is NOT the same as “losing hair”. This is one of the most common misconceptions about the treatment of hair loss. Shedding is in fact just the transition of follicles from growth phase to resting phase. On a normal scalp, follicles don’t generally die, never to return to growing hair. They in fact “go to sleep”, to return to producing hair several months later.
In the case of someone experiencing Androgenetic Alopecia (male or female pattern baldness), shedding is typically the result of continued cyclical process, combined with miniaturisation. This means that each time hairs go dormant and come back, they instead come back weaker, thinner, and less pigmented. Without treatment, many of the hair follicle eventually do in fact die and this is when hair LOSS occurs permanently. So early treatment is a wise choice.
Shedding With Treatment
If you start a new treatment like the HairMax, you probably will experience some shedding in the first few weeks of treatment, but the amount of hair shed varies from person to person. However, it is important to know that this shedding is temporary and if you continue your treatment as directed, despite the anxiousness it causes, shedding will end and the lost hair should be replaced with thicker healthier hair.
Although we do not know exactly why the shedding occurs at the start of treatment, the most likely explanation is that when that follicle gets exposed to a growth stimulant like the laser energy of the HairMax, it is given a very strong signal to enter the anagen phase and increase activity. The follicle must then stop the telogen phase, and start over into the anagen phase. When the laser energy of the HairMax is applied to stimulate hair follicles, the follicles must regress, shed the old hair, rearrange themselves into a more healthy hair follicle, and start making a new, thicker terminal hair. This process inevitably lead to the temporary shed phase you might experience. It’s unfortunate that the first stage of new hair growth sometimes seems like hair LOSS, but that is really shedding and that is the why it a positive sign that your hair is responding to treatment.
Don’t Count Hairs! In terms of understanding hair loss, the nature of shed hair and the rate of shedding is not very important, although it may be disturbing to see. Shedding is natural, in that everyone sheds hair daily whether affected by hereditary hair loss or not. You can shed up to 100 scalp hairs a day without having any noticeable scalp hair loss. A few people may shed more than this but still not develop baldness. The problem comes when someone sheds hair at a faster rate than it is replaced and this is where baldness develops. If the hair is being shed faster than it regrows then alopecia will develop. Since you will always shed some hair, the amount of hair shed each day is a poor indicator as to the effectiveness of a hair loss treatment. Rather, to define how a treatment is working, you must judge overall results over time to see if more hair is growing than is lost which takes patience and perseverance to judge final results. Results of treatment takes many months, not days or weeks. Only when you know what to expect when you start treatment and understand that shedding can occur, can you deal with it and resolve to take the time necessary to achieve the results you are looking for.