Since time immemorial, men have been trying all kinds of inventive things to stop their hair thinning.
The Vikings used an ointment of goose poo; the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates used a concoction of pigeon droppings, horseradish, cumin, and nettles; and even the Romans tried treating their baldness with the urine of young foals.
Thanks to modern hair loss treatments from places like Numan.com, however, we no longer need to rub the effluvia of livestock in our hair. But how do you know if the hairs left on your pillow after a quality nap are normal? Could they in fact be the first signs of an underlying condition?
In this article we answer these questions – without needing to scrub excrement into your scalp.
There are more hairs on your pillow than normal
Normally, we shed about 50 to 100 hairs a day. However, excessive shedding may be a sign of telogen effluvium – a condition that is often triggered by a traumatic event or prolonged stress.
Stress can disrupt the hair growth cycle – the cycle through which hair naturally grows and falls out. If this happens, your hair may enter what is known as the “telogen phase”. During this phase hair is released from the scalp and falls out, which can make hair appear thinner.
As a result, you may notice a few extra hairs lingering on your pillow after a nap, or clogging the drain after a shower.
A handy test you can do to check whether you have telogen effluvium is the “hair pull” test. Pinch 40 to 60 hairs between your thumb and index finger, and then pull slowly but firmly from the scalp.
Usually, only 2 or 3 hairs are pulled out using this method. If there is excess shedding (telogen effluvium) then more than 10% of the hair will easily be pulled out (provided you haven’t shampooed in the last 24 hours).
So give it a try. If a bunch of your hair comes out, then look on the bright side: you could turn it into a romantic gesture and gift the extra locks to a lover before you head over to the doctors.
Your hairline is receding
A telltale sign of thinning hair is a receding hairline. Your hairline may recede for a variety of reasons. For example, male pattern baldness – a condition that is characterised in part by a receding hairline – may make hair appear thinner, shorter, and paler.
Likewise, telogen effluvium can also make it appear as though your hairline is receding. Excessive hair shedding due to stress may cause the hair around the hairline to fall out, reducing the visibility of the hairline.
But there is another surprising reason why the hair around your hairline may be thinning…
Certain hairstyles are literally pulling your hair out
Some hairstyles – such as cornrows, braids, and the infamous man bun – can cause a kind of hair loss called traction alopecia if they are styled too tightly.
The pulling force exerted by these hairstyles can cause your hairline to recede, making the hair around that area look thinner as hairs are slowly pulled from their follicles.
But don’t get your hair in a twist. Traction alopecia is reversible in the short term. However, continued styling of the hair in this fashion may result in long-term, permanent damage to the hair follicle – resulting in the inability to grow hair at all.
You’re getting bald patches
Other than being associated with a receding hairline, male pattern baldness also results in the formation of bald patches. Before these bald patches form, the hair around the area gradually gets thinner due to the action of a pesky molecule called dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
DHT alters the hair follicles on the scalp, making them produce hairs that become smaller, shorter, and lighter over time. Eventually, the affected follicles completely shrink and stop making hair altogether.
During the onset of male pattern baldness, you might experience thinner hair as DHT works its malevolent magic. Although male pattern baldness can’t be reversed, it can be slowed by hair loss medications such as finasteride. In some cases, finasteride can even encourage hair regrowth.
As with all medications, finasteride does have its side effects. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of these before starting a course of finasteride.
There are noticeably more hairs in your hairbrush after brushing
If you’re a particularly well-groomed man, brushing your hair might be an integral part of your daily routine. However, if you start to notice more hairs in your hairbrush than normal, it could be an indication of an underlying condition.
Telogen effluvium, or excessive hair shedding, may first present itself in the form of extra hairs on your hairbrush. Since hair is much easier to pull out when it is affected by telogen effluvium, you may find that more hairs fall out whilst brushing your hair.
As previously mentioned, telogen effluvium is likely to result in thinner-looking hair as more hair enters the telogen (resting) phase and falls out. Therefore, you may notice that your hair looks thinner, especially after brushing.
The symptoms of telogen effluvium typically last 6 to 9 months before new hair begins to regrow. After this, the excessive shedding stops and hair may return to its normal fullness.
The bottom line
The symptoms of hair thinning are easy to spot once you know what to look for. Some forms of hair thinning can be reversed, such as telogen effluvium and traction alopecia. Others, such as male pattern baldness, are irreversible.
However, male pattern baldness can be effectively treated with hair loss medications such as finasteride. Like all medications, though, finasteride has side effects that you should be aware of before taking it.