You know that feeling, right? You're sudsing up your hair in the shower, you go to rinse it, and as you run your fingers through it, clumps of it cling to your hands. It's one of those panic-inducing moments in which you wonder how much hair loss is normal, whether there's something medically wrong with you, and if, someday, you'll wind up with bald patches.
Chances are, you're just fine. In fact, you may just be dealing with seasonal hair loss. It's one of the great ironies of life that hair grows unabated where we often don't want it (like in the nose) but then drops with abandon from the head, especially when the weather gets colder.
No surprise there, say experts. "There is evidence that people can note increased shedding in the late fall and winter months. The thought here is that perhaps in the summer months, we hang on to more hair to provide increased protection from the sun," Emily Wise Shanahan, a Massachusetts–based dermatologist, tells Allure "A few months after, when we begin shifting into late fall and early winter, those hairs that we held onto during summer will make a transition into the shed phase." The result: a temporary increase in shedding compared to your baseline.
Roberta Del Campo, a dermatologist in Miami, shares another theory: "The idea is that more hairs than normal are shed to make way for a thicker head of hair for the winter," she tells Allure, giving hope that the issue may resolve itself by the end of the year — maybe. She also notes, "The holiday season tends to be a higher-stress time for many individuals and we know that stress plays a big role in hair shedding."
And yes, joy of joys, the shedding may be more noticeable as you get older. "By 50 years of age, 50 percent of women will experience some degree of hair loss," says Kristina Goldenberg, a New York–based dermatologist, who notes that hair loss is often seen after pregnancy, surgery, or illness. "It is also seen in pre- and perimenopausal women during their early to mid-50s."
Some hair loss is par for the course, but if you notice you're losing more hair around the cooler months, don't despair, as New York–based dermatologist Jeremy Fenton tells us. Chances are, the hair you lost will be back in the future.
According to Fenton, one study has shown that we have the highest number of hairs in the telogen phase in July, and a second smaller peak in April. "Hairs in the telogen phase generally fall out 100 days later, which means that people would see a shedding at the end of the summer and into the fall. These hairs are not necessarily lost forever, as a healthy hair follicle will then eventually cycle back into its growth phase," Fenton tells Allure, though he notes the reason for this isn’t entirely clear. "Some postulate that it is based on evolution, creating more hair in the summer to protect the scalp; others believe it also is about the body minimizing the shedding during the winter months."
Fenton explains your scalp may simply be reacting to changes in daylight hours. "We believe that the body is responding in some hormonal manner to the changes in the amount of daylight," he says. In other words, the longer daylight hours of the summer can trigger the hair to enter the telogen phase, which then triggers the shedding at the end of that phase. However, Fenton says the precise mechanism is not clear.
So this brings us to the big question: What, if anything, can you do about it?
"It is always a good idea to make an extra effort in the winter months to keep the hair hydrated and moisturized. Use a deep conditioning mask. Likewise, limiting heat styling can be helpful for the same reasons," Wise Shanahan says.
Kérastase has a whole line called devoted to thinning hair, and Sean Donaldson, owner of Miami's Sean Donaldson Hair, is a big fan. "The shampoo, conditioner and, intensive hair and scalp ampules are best sellers in my salon," he tells Allure, referring to the brand's Spécifique collection, which is also available online. "Shampoo, conditioner, and styling products are imperative to protecting and strengthening the hair and making the most of what you have," he says, but notes that you should be limiting how much you shampoo and condition as a means of holding onto more hair.
Another way to reduce the amount of hair you're yoinking out of your head: cut back on heat-styling — and not just because of the damage caused by the heat itself. "Limit excessive tugging from blowdrying and the overuse of heated tools such as irons and wands," Donaldson says. "Also be conscious of how you tie your hair up and with what? No rubber bands!"
To give your hair a little bit of extra help as it cools down, do what your mother has been telling you to do all these years: Take your vitamins. "You can also strengthen the hair that you have by taking supplements," Fenton tells Allure. "Biotin is one of the most effective options out there, and it is available over the counter at most drugstores." It may not prevent shedding, but it can prevent breakage and also make the hair you do have actually appear thicker he says.
Mostly, though, a good rule of thumb is paying attention to the part in your hair and noticing if it gets wider. Also: Pay attention to whether your hair is actually shedding or just breaking off. "With winter months comes drier weather and hats rubbing against the hair. Dry, brittle hair is more likely to break and the friction of hats can further contribute to this. Although this is not true hair 'loss,' it can make your hair appear thinner," says Fenton.
If you notice stray hair piling up on your clothes or your pillow, don't panic, says Wise Shanahan. "If you find that you have local bald patches or that your shedding is localized to a specific area such as the frontal hairline or the central part, this may represent a different type of hair loss and should be evaluated by a doctor." Noted.
So here's the takeaway: You can't really mess with Mother Nature.
"There is not much the average person can do to prevent this seasonal shedding. However, if you are somebody who is already concerned about thinning hair, then I would recommend Rogaine (the generic name is minoxidil). This is a topical solution or foam that you can apply to the scalp to help reduce hair loss," Fenton says.
But don't limit it to just fall and winter. "If you were to use minoxidil, I would recommend using it year-round. Sometimes when you first start using it, it can have some initially shedding effects that are temporary as the hairs adjust their cycle."
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Originally Appeared on Allure