By Audrey Siva­sothy, author of The Sci­ence of Black Hair: A Com­pre­hen­sive Guide to Tex­tured Hair Care

Under­stand­ing the dif­fer­ence between hair break­age and shed­ding is an impor­tant part of any healthy hair reg­i­men. Many peo­ple use the­se terms inter­change­ably to refer to any hair that falls from the head; how­ev­er, this mis­in­formed lan­guage can be a recipe for hair dis­as­ter. You must be able to prop­er­ly dif­fer­en­ti­ate between the­se two very speci­fic forms of hair “loss” in order to effec­tive­ly address even the small­est of your hair needs. This arti­cle will teach you the dif­fer­ence between hair shed­ding and hair break­age, and offer strate­gies to help you com­bat both hair prob­lems.

What is Shedding

In its truest sense, shed hair is hair that has reached the end of its grow­ing cycle and nat­u­ral­ly falls from the scalp along with its tiny, white “root” attached. This is not the actu­al hair root that is secured deeply with­in your scalp, but it is the bulb root or base of the hair strand found on the scalp-orig­i­nat­ing end. It appears white because the hair stops pro­duc­ing melan­in (col­or) at the point in its growth cycle right before it gets ready to fall. If your actu­al hair root came out along with the hair, you would no longer be able to pro­duce hair from that same place on the scalp ever again! If a hair does not pos­sess this white root bulb, then it is not a nat­u­ral­ly shed hair, rather, a bro­ken one. Shed hair tends to be longer in length than bro­ken hairs which are gen­er­al­ly short pieces of vary­ing lengths. Accord­ing to Halal, after a hair is nat­u­ral­ly shed, it may take about 130 days for a new hair to ful­ly emerge in its place.

In gen­er­al, shed­ding should not be a major con­cern for you and should be seen as a sign of a healthy, nor­mal, func­tion­ing scalp. There is no need to fear shed­ding unless it is tied to a med­ical issue. If you notice rapid hair loss from shed­ding or hair loss accom­pa­nied by a host of oth­er prob­lems, please con­sult a med­ical pro­fes­sion­al. Most shed­ding, how­ev­er, is sim­ply nature tak­ing its course.

What is Breakage?

Break­age on the oth­er hand is not nat­u­ral, and is an indi­ca­tion of an imbal­ance of impor­tant forces with­in the hair strand. Bro­ken hairs do not fall nat­u­ral­ly from the head, but are typ­i­cal­ly a sign of mis­han­dling or abuse. In the stages before a hair ulti­mate­ly breaks, the hair first becomes dis­col­ored and expe­ri­ences cuti­cle loss. Even­tu­al­ly, the fibers begin to split and ulti­mate­ly there is break­age.

So what caus­es break­age? Hair can be weak­ened and dam­aged by any­thing from rough hand­ing and sun expo­sure to col­or­ing and straight­en­ing chem­i­cals. Break­age is also more com­mon with a hair’s age; old­er hairs, usu­al­ly the hairs near­est the ends, have the great­est ten­den­cy to break due to nor­mal wear and tear. When break­age isn’t a respon­se to phys­i­cal manip­u­la­tion and abuse, it is most often trig­gered by the lack of mois­ture in the hair strand. Oth­er types of break­age may be caused by the over- struc­tur­ing of the hair strand with pro­tein treat­ments done in excess. A prompt, and prop­er respon­se to break­age will help you stop break­age in its tracks.

What can I do about shedding?

You must under­stand that because shed­ding is a nat­u­ral, inter­nal process, it may not respond to top­i­cal, exter­nal treat­ments. Some have praised gar­lic sham­poos or “gar­lic scalp rubs” for reduc­ing shed­ding, but there has been no clear con­cen­sus on the effec­tive­ness of gar­lic as a rem­e­dy for shed­ding. Shed­ding is also not eas­i­ly solved by pro­tein or mois­ture treat­ments because it has noth­ing to do with the hair shaft itself, but is a respon­se to hor­mon­al influ­ences on the hair fol­li­cle and is depen­dent on growth cycles. When a hair com­pletes its life cycle, which gen­er­al­ly lasts 4–6 years, its final act is the shed­ding we expe­ri­ence. This can­not be pre­vent­ed.

Also, our hair nat­u­ral­ly cycles in and out of sea­son­al shed­ding phas­es which may last days or weeks at a time in some indi­vid­u­als. Research sug­gests that peak shed­ding rates occur dur­ing the fall sea­son. A healthy head of hair may shed as many as 50- 100 hairs per day, though I per­son­al­ly believe this amount to be a grand stretch. You should be con­cerned if your shed­ding sud­den­ly increas­es to a rate that was uncom­mon to you before, or if the shed­ding seems to be pro­longed over the course of sev­er­al weeks or months.

Do keep in mind that there are spe­cial peri­ods in the human life cycle where shed­ding is nat­u­ral­ly increased. For exam­ple, wom­en who are under­go­ing a bout of post­par­tum shed­ding after hav­ing a baby may have to deal with increased shed­ding for sev­er­al months until their nor­mal hor­mone lev­els return. Oth­er con­di­tions which may increase your shed­ding rate are:

*styling meth­ods that place stress on the fol­li­cles
*birth control/menstrual cycles/menopause
*preg­nan­cy
*hered­i­ty (runs in the fam­i­ly)
*crash dieting/ low pro­tein diets, poor diet
*ill­ness­es with high fever as a pre­vail­ing symp­tom
*ane­mia, thy­roid dis­or­ders, and a host of oth­er chron­ic dis­or­ders
*cer­tain med­ica­tions and major surg­eries and treat­ments like chemother­a­py

Please con­sult with a med­ical pro­fes­sion­al to diag­nose any pro­longed, abnor­mal shed­ding or oth­er unusu­al scalp con­di­tions.

What can I do about breakage?

Obvi­ous­ly, in a per­fect world, there would be no break­age. How­ev­er, we do not live in a per­fect world and some break­age is bound to hap­pen. Hair is an extreme­ly del­i­cate fiber, though strong, it isn’t made out of steel! It would be very dif­fi­cult to pre­vent every sin­gle, soli­tary strand from ever break­ing. One or two bro­ken hairs are noth­ing to be thor­ough­ly con­cerned about. How­ev­er, it is when you start get­ting hair here, hair there, 7 here, 9 there– over the course of a few days that you want to start get­ting wor­ried about your moisture/protein bal­ance. If you are get­ting less than 5–7 bro­ken hairs a day through the nor­mal course of arrang­ing your hair, do not fret.

Your job is sim­ply to min­i­mize the break­age as much as pos­si­ble. Be as gen­tle as pos­si­ble when han­dling and work­ing with your tress­es. Try to think of your hair as the rarest, most expen­sive fine silk head cov­er­ing. Only han­dle it with clean, smooth, well man­i­cured hands. No hang nails, or rough dry cal­lous­es! Gen­tly maneu­ver your way through tough tan­gles and keep your hair soft and mois­tur­ized dai­ly. Tie your hair up at night to pro­tect your strands from your night­time toss­ing and turn­ing. Treat your hair with care and you will see less hair where it isn’t sup­posed to be!

Ladies, what do you deal with more: shed­ding or break­age? Have you fig­ured out the rea­son for your shedding/breakage? And can you tell the dif­fer­ence between the two?

Audrey Siva­sothy is a Hous­ton-based free­lance writer, health sci­en­tist and author of The Sci­ence of Black Hair: A Com­pre­hen­sive Guide to Tex­tured Hair Care (avail­able on Amazon.com & Barnes&Noble.com).

For more insight from The Sci­ence of Black Hair— relaxed, nat­u­ral or in between, vis­it us on the web atwww.blackhairscience.com and on face­book & twit­ter.

Ref­er­ences
Halal, J. (2002). Hair Chem­istry Sim­pli­fied. New York: Thom­son Pub­lish­ers.
John­son, D. (1997) Hair and Hair Care. New York: Marcel Dekker.

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23 Comments on "The Difference Between Shedding and Breakage"

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[…] When my hair was short, nor­mal was pea-sized. My looser tex­tures cre­ate a more volu­mi­nous ball than my tighter tex­tures. And of course there is a dif­fer­ence between shed hair and bro­ken hair: LINK […]

Hazel

Hi! My moms hair is grow­ing very slow­ly and she has given up on it alto­geth­er. She has been try­ing to grow her hair for years but noth­ing is work­ing for her.Her hair is very light due to per­ming and also seems that every­time I comb her hair it comes out and I am not sure if this is extreme shed­ding or extreme break­age. My mom might have given up but I’m not! I big chopped for her so I could show her there is still hope. Can any­one help me?? Btw, her hair is 4b/4c and low poros­i­ty.

Takuma
This is a prob­lem my cli­inc and I have put togeth­er a 10 step pro­to­col that cures 86% of the wom­en that fol­low it That is a high­er cure rate than any­thing going. It is an out of con­trol prob­lem right now and it is start­ing on girls as young as 15 .I will give you the top 2 things you should check and change ..you can go the hair blog I have start­ed for the list of the top 10 HABITS that destroy and Demol­ish Your hair make sure you are not doing any of those .you may be… Read more »
Karen Brown

My sham­poo is good.…thank you. Please con­tact me at gokaren69@yahoo.com. I appre­ci­ate your knowl­edge regard­ing OUR hair issues.

Charles

What’s your blog Taku­ma?

Courtney

I have break­age as well. I feel like I’m doing every­thing I can to stop it, but every wash day I have hair com­ing out. Even when I do the water & whipped Shea but­ter seal­ing. Its soft­er, but hair still comes out. How do I stop this?

Nisa
I am strug­gling so much with break­age!!! At first I thought that amount of hair wasn’t too bad because I usu­al­ly keep my hair pro­tect­ed for two weeks then do the whole wash­ing cer­e­mony and detan­gling process. Just recent­ly though I kept my hair out for a week and a half because I love my curls and fro (makes me feel so fly!, but when detan­gling time came around I was mor­ti­fied by the amount of hair that I was los­ing, and to top that off my hair is thick but the strands fine so I had so many knots… Read more »
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[…] is breaking/falling out. There are some key dif­fer­ences between shed­ding and break­age, and this  BGLH arti­cle cov­ers is quite well. In the process of han­dling your hair, whether it be detan­gling, […]

trackback

[…] is breaking/falling out. There are some key dif­fer­ences between shed­ding and break­age, and this  BGLH arti­cle cov­ers is quite well. In the process of han­dling your hair, whether it be detan­gling, […]

Alexis

I nor­mal­ly wear my hair in pro­tec­tive styling with a lace front. I take bet­ter care of it that way. Recent­ly, I want­ed to wear my own hair because it was lengthy. I had to go back to pro­tec­tive styling because even though my hair is thick and long…it start­ed break­ing so much that I cried. I don’t know why my hair doesn’t like being out but I put it after one week.

Just!ne

I wear my 4b hair in an afro style most days, so I don’t know how much I can stay out of it! I usu­al­ly just mois­tur­ize it, comb it, then pick it.

Micki

I am going through break­age right now too. I believe it is part­ly because I am tran­si­tion­ing and I think in part of how I comb through my hair in between pro­tec­tive styles, etc. 

Any sug­ges­tion on how to prop­er­ly comb nat­u­ral tran­si­tion­ing hair??? 

Thanks all! ;0)

Moya

I am hav­ing some break­age as we speak..and look­ing for suggestions…I sleep on my back so the mid­dle of my hair grows slow..any who I tried using the jehri curls rods in my hair after twist­ing and I think it took my hair out..so not hap­py rite now…

Allimarie101

Great arti­cle! Thanks for the advice :)

trice

I have had more of an issue with break­age. I real­ized that I was a lit­tle too rough with my nat­u­ral hair. But it con­tin­ued to grow and flour­ish in spite of me. I start­ed being more pro­tec­tive of my hair a few months ago and I can def­i­nite­ly see a dif­fer­ence. I try to be very gen­tle with my hair and keep my hands/utensils out of it as much as pos­si­ble to pro­tect it.

ashley

wht can i do about if the break­age is do to part of my tran­si­tion. its freak­ing me out a lit­tle but i kno tht its the processed hair break­in from the new growth. any advice is wel­comed. thxs.

Tracy LaBad
Oh God this describes what I’m going through. I’m frus­trat­ed because I’m try­ing to use only nat­u­ral prod­ucts, i.e. hon­ey, mayo, egg, coconut oil,argon oil not all at once of course. Tran­si­tion­ing is so scary because the hair is so del­i­cate. I want to hen­na but I am get­ting ready for surgery and wont be able to wash as often I’ll be bed rid­den. I don’t want to lose what I’ve accom­plished. How can some­one tran­si­tion­ing keep the hair sup­ple with less water etc. I’m using pro­tec­tive styles mois­ture and seal etc.-Thanks I refuse to put any relax­ers or over the coun­ter… Read more »
Sieta Majok

This is an excel­lent post because I feel like a lot of peo­ple use shed­ding and break­age inter­change­ably as if they are the same thing.

Trini
I am def­i­nite­ly suf­fer­ing with break­age because I don’t see any white bulbs on my strands. A lot because I have more that 7 here and 9 there when I’m han­dling my hair. So i think i def­i­nite­ly need to use more mois­tur­iz­er may­be I’m not using enough. And for pro­tien treat­ment all i used is con­di­tion­er rich with pro­tien ingre­di­ents. I copied the ingre­di­ents to look for when pur­chas­ing sham­poos and con­di­tion­ers from the list JC pro­vid­ed and I got a real­ly good con­di­tion­er rich with pro­tien ingre­di­ents but my ques­tion is do I still need oth­er types of… Read more »
Joan B. in S. C.

+1 to the first para­graph.

Julia

Have you tried hen­na?
Peo­ple who use hen­na month­ly, swear that they have less break­age.
I just start­ed using it myself, and my hair strands were stronger, with by hair sody­er (I deep con­di­tioned after with Shea mois­ture and some oils). Infact, it was so soft that the hair dresser thought I had blown out my hair (I’m from Nige­ria, where relaxed hair is viewed as sophis­ti­cat­ed hair), but I only braid­ed it.
Hope it work for you.

Yemi

Hi Julia, I am Nige­ri­an as well and I use hen­na every week now! lol a friend got me hooked! It def­i­nite­ly helps add strength and shine! And yes relaxed hair is favoured more at home, my fam­i­ly hates that I am nat­u­ral and so do some friends! I live in Canada so I don’t have to face their dis­dain direct­ly!!

Julia

:o every week?
Wow!
How do you cope with lack of mois­ture from hen­na treat­ments because last week, I had to DC twice after hen­na (although I was fight­ing with dry hair after a betonite clay treat­ment of about 3 weeks back)?
More­so, your weather’s cold (my younger brother’s school­ing there so I know) and I believe dry­ing.

My friend just told me of the chal­lenge she’s fac­ing at the office with regards to her being nap­py, but she’s a strong bull (in a small body though) and gives them the palm lol.

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