Ah, summer. A season of sun, fun . . . and for some, hair loss.
Everyone loses some hair every day—typically between fifty and a hundred strands. But if things have changed since the summer solstice—you’re seeing more hair than normal on your pillow when you wake up, on the shower drain, in your comb after you brush, or you can see more of your scalp than you used to when you pull your hair back—the change in weather may be to blame.
The Long & Short of Temporary Hair Loss
Every hair on your head is in one of three stages of development. The first stage is the anagen, or growth stage, which lasts two to eight years. The majority—80 to 90 percent—of your hair is typically in the anagen stage. In the catagen stage, the hair transitions, and within a few weeks, the follicles—the pockets of skin through which hair grows—shrink. Finally, in the couple months they’re in the last stage, telogen, the hair rests and doesn’t produce any more hair fiber until it’s time to transition back to the anagen stage.
Your body’s response to certain stressors—illness, changes in medication, over-treating your hair, rapid weight loss, pregnancy, and, yes, even changes in weather—can cause more hairs than normal to go into the resting stage. That means more of them are ready to fall out and make way for new hair to grow. This condition, clinically termed “telogen effluvium,” is a temporary type of hair loss, and the follicles aren’t permanently damaged. Once you relieve the stressors, hair loss should return to a normal rate.
For both short- and long-term hair loss, women are more likely to start thinning at the top of the scalp (versus men who experience thinning along the hairline). So if you are losing hair, you’ll most likely notice it along your part.
Fringe Benefits of Seasonal Shedding
Research has shown that “humans, at least in Northern Europe away from the equator, shed more hair in the fall and to a lesser extent in the spring,” the cause likely being “changes in hormones in response to changes in daylight exposure.” It may sound confusing, but this makes sense if you live far north where sunshine lasts for 24-hour periods in the summer before plummeting to forty-seven hours of daylight total in the fall—that’s a huge change in daylight. Similarly, the biggest changes in daylight in the U.S. happen between spring and summer (triggering more hair loss) and again from summer to fall. Dr. Ken L. Williams Jr. writes that “as much as 10 percent of hair follicles can prematurely enter this resting phase [due to extreme changes in weather], leading to more hair shedding than usual.” It’s basically the same process that causes other mammals, such as mink, to molt in the summer. It will come as no surprise, then, that August is National Hair Loss Awareness Month (for humans!).
Hair Loss Today, But Not Gone Tomorrow
Just like your menstrual cycle, a pattern of hair loss could be your body’s signal that something in your environment or body has changed. The good news is that if your hair loss is a result of a seasonal shift, there’s not much you need to do to remedy the situation. But there’s plenty you can do to prevent it from getting worse. Here’s how to set yourself up for healthy new hair growth in the colder months.
- Be gentle with the products you use to treat and style your hair.
- Avoid these seven surprising things that are damaging your hair, such as towel drying and using dry shampoo.
- Eat a balanced diet; your body needs sufficient nutrients (especially iron) to produce healthy hair fibers.
- Eliminate summer stress where you can.
- Take good care of your thyroid, which is responsible for regulating your body’s delicate hormone balance.
By the time cold temps set in, you should see an improvement in shedding strands. If you don’t, see your dermatologist for a closer look at your situation. She can assess and treat underlying conditions that can help cut hair loss to a split end.
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