How I Tell the Difference Between Normal Hair Shed & Alopecia Areata

I celebrated my 30th birthday last year and in doing so have lived with hair loss for 10 years. I’m surprised at how something abnormal has become such an integral part of my life. I changed my entire lifestyle to grow my hair back and now that lifestyle is just normal!


Dorky picture aside, this was me, back when I was about 19 (and drank wine!). While I struggled with my skin, I always had my hair. Long, straight and perfectly manageable with little more than a wash and air dry.

I still remember the day my ex-boyfriend told me I was losing hair. He saw it because he’d seen the back of my head and where the hair parted to expose the perfectly smooth oval. Back then I hadn’t even noticed I was losing hair. These days I can tell instantly between normal hair shed and hair loss attributed to something more.

Normal Hair Loss

You should read up on the growing and resting phases of hair, but put simply your hair is either in the growing or rest phase.

It’s completely normal for people to lose 50-100, even closer to 150 strands of hair (yes in one day alone!)

The most important thing to remember is that normal hair shed is different for everyone. Only you can tell what amount is normal for you.

Abnormal Hair Loss

For me, I have a few tell tale signs that my hair loss is being caused by something, rather than being a natural process. These causes are either:

  • Diet
  • Stress
  • Reaction to chemicals

How it looks

Majority of the time when I’ve had a reaction to something, the entire bulb falls out along with the strand. The other thing I keep an eye on, is what type of hair fell out.

How I tell the difference between normal hair shed and hair loss from alopecia areata. Gone Swatching xo

It’ll be hard to tell from this photo, but the strand on the far left is a normal strand. The one in the middle is one with a bulb still attached and then the two on the right are baby hairs.

What you should be able to notice is how thin the baby hairs taper at each end. This is what happens when inflammation affects the bulb and therefore the whole strand. Losing a lot of thin, short baby hairs is also a great giveaway. I lose hair in the same places, according to the reason why I’m losing it. If I’m losing these hairs, which are in the growing phase, then that’s an issue. It means that my white blood cells are attacking the follicle and turning it to the dormant phase before it’s had a chance to strengthen.

How it Feels:

The hair shed itself doesn’t feel like anything and that’s the problem. If I can gently pull on my hair and it hurts my scalp I know my follicles are strong and healthy. When I can run my hand through my hair and pull out clumps without any tugging on my scalp whatsoever, I know something is wrong.

It can be bad enough that I can shake my head and hair falls off. The other big indicator is a tender scalp. It feels like it’s bruised in the spots where it’s falling out. It’s starts off with inflammation, followed by itchiness and often huge under the skin pimples. The tenderness will last a few days.

Talking About Scalps

My scalp is the biggest and easiest indicator of hair loss. Irritation can feel like anything ranging from heat (to the point where it can feel like it’s on fire), itchiness and pimples. My dandruff also flares up. Another thing I notice, is that spots that are losing hair feel flatter, as a slight depression in my scalp.

Where it Falls Out

Brushing my hair always ends up with what looks like a lot of hair in the brush. I also don’t worry about losing more hair in the shower (most anyone with long hair knows the joys of pulling odd strands out of … oh gee almost anywhere!), but if I go to bed and wake up the next day with a lot of hair on and under my pillow, it’s a pretty good indication it’s fallen out too easily.

How I tell the difference between normal hair shed and alopecia areata. Gone Swatching xo

I won’t lie, it’s taken me a good few years to work out the patterns, the precursors and the causes of my hair loss. My hair’s condition is different to before, it even parts differently, but in any case it’s regrown.

It took patience and a willingness to pay attention to my body to get to this point. It took me even longer to get myself healthy enough to not live in fear of severe hair shed! My greatest lesson learned is that if I give my body the right conditions, then I can heal myself, no matter how bad it can be.

If you’re worried about hair loss, then I’d always recommend speaking to a professional you trust. Everyone experiences hair loss differently and not all hair loss is alopecia!

Let me know what you think!

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