Excessive hair loss can be alarming – especially if you’re young and healthy. What is telogen effluvium, and what are the other causes for hair loss in young women?
What is the normal hair loss and growth cycle?
Before we dive in, it’s important to understand the normal hair growth and loss stages: anagen, catagen, and telogen.
The anagen (growth phase) is the active part of the hair cycle in which the hair follicle produces hair that we see. This phase lasts 3 - 4 years. Next is the catagen phase, which lasts only a few weeks. In this phase, the follicle shrinks, signaling the end of active growth. The final stage is the telogen phase, lasting 2 - 4 months. During the telogen phase, the follicle is dormant, meaning there is no growth, and the hair is preparing to fall out and be replaced by the new hair produced in the next cycle. This stage can last from a few weeks to a year, depending on where the hair is located on the body. Keep in mind that it is completely normal to lose between 50 - 100 hairs a day in this phase! Once a hair sheds, the follicle starts back in the initial phase.
What is telogen effluvium?
Telogen effluvium (TE) is when an increased number of hair follicles are in the telogen phase – AKA the phase where the follicle is dormant and the hair eventually falls out. Simply put, it refers to excessive daily hair shedding that can lead to noticeable hair thinning.
Young women most commonly deal with acute TE, which refers to hair shedding lasting under 6 months. This type of hair shedding typically starts 2 - 3 months after exposure to a certain trigger (we’ll talk about TE triggers below).
The good news: acute TE is temporary! Identifying and addressing the trigger can help get your hair growth back on track. Hair will typically return to its normal growth pattern within 6 months – but it can take around a year to a year and a half to return to how it looked before.
Chronic TE refers to hair loss lasting more than 6 months. It can happen in young women, but is more common in middle-aged and older women.
What causes telogen effluvium?
There are a variety of different factors that can trigger TE, including:
- Medications: Certain prescription medications may lead to excessive hair loss in young women. These can include some antidepressants, androgens, and beta-blockers. A change in dosage could also trigger hair shedding. Telogen effluvium can also happen after one stops taking birth control pills.
- Stressful Events: A life event that causes high-stress levels (loss of a loved one, job loss, moving, etc.) can lead to hair loss.
- Medical Events: A high fever, chronic illness, surgery, or another traumatic illness or procedure may shock the body and cause TE. Thyroid disorders, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and anemia are medical conditions that can contribute to hair loss.
- Childbirth: The fluctuation of hormones in pregnancy may lead to hair loss. This typically presents around 2 - 5 months after childbirth.
- Weight Loss: A dramatic loss in weight or a crash diet is a common cause of hair loss in young women.
- Vitamin and Nutrient Deficiencies: A diet deficient in some nutrients may contribute to hair loss. This can include a deficiency in iron, zinc, biotin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and/or vitamin D.
How do you treat telogen effluvium?
A few simple measures can help you treat TE and avoid it in the future.
Take the Right Supplements: The right hair supplements will provide you with all the essential vitamins and minerals needed to regrow healthier hair faster.
Focus on Your Diet: If you suspect that nutritional deficiencies may be contributing to your hair loss, it’s smart to talk to a doctor or registered dietician about how you can achieve a more balanced diet that supports healthy hair. A blood test may be necessary to help pinpoint what is missing in your diet. Check this post for more info on the best foods to help you regrow your hair.
Talk to Your Doctor About Your Medication: Since some medications can trigger TE, you may wish to talk to your doctor about switching your medication (if possible).
Find Ways to De-Stress: Of course, it’s a lot easier said than done! But finding ways to manage your stress in a healthy manner may help reduce your hair loss. Plus, it’s good for your overall well-being!
Be Gentle with Your Hair: While you’re experiencing hair loss, it’s important to practice good hair care. This isn’t the time for excessive heat styling or coloring, leading to weak hair and breakage. Give your hair some time to bounce back and get stronger first!
Other hair loss conditions that affect young women
While TE is one of the most common hair loss conditions that affect young women, hair loss can also be a sign of another condition.
One of the most common types of hair loss in women is androgenetic alopecia or female pattern hair loss. The hair becomes thinner all over the head, but it rarely leads to complete baldness. This can be caused by genetics and may be related to aging and menopause in older women.
Additionally, traction alopecia, caused by repeated hair pulling, is common among young women. Consistently wearing high ponytails, buns, braids, or other tight hairstyles can lead to this condition. With traction alopecia, thinning hair typically appears around the hairline.
Anagen effluvium is another form of hair loss that can affect young women. This condition happens in the hair growth phase (anagen). Usually, it starts within a few days to a few weeks after the trigger. It can be caused by toxic substances (like chemotherapy or certain medications where hair loss is a known side effect) and certain autoimmune diseases like alopecia areata, where the immune system attacks hair follicles.
When should you see a dermatologist about hair loss?
As mentioned above, if you think your diet or medication may contribute to your hair loss, it’s smart to talk to a medical professional to see what steps you should take to stop thinning hair and promote regrowth. You should also meet with your dermatologist if you have clumps of hair falling out, experience loss of hair in patches, or are experiencing any pain on the scalp. Hair loss that appears to be chronic should also be discussed with a medical professional so that you can get to the root cause and go over treatment options.