If your ponytail seems a little thinner or your big waves seem a little leaner, the natural assumption would be your hair is falling out… right? Not always. In actuality, there’s a major difference between hair loss and hair breakage so it's important to address each issue differently. 

Here, we break down everything you need to know about how hair loss and hair breakage differ, along with how to treat your tresses depending on which you’re dealing with. Plus, learn more about the best products for combatting thinning hair.

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What Is Hair Loss?

Simply put, hair loss is when hair falls out from the root. It’s said that we’re born with an average of 100,000 strands of hair, and according to the American Academy of Dermatology we shed between 50 to 100 hairs daily. Our hair goes through various stages, and hair fall is part of a healthy hair growth cycle. In other words, some day-to-day hair loss is completely normal.

Hair loss becomes problematic when there are disruptions to our normal hair growth cycles. Typically, you’ll be able to identify problematic hair loss because you’ll start to see more hair being shed than you’re used to (like bigger clumps in the shower drain), or you might notice particular spots on your scalp are thinning or losing volume and density.

Some common forms of hair loss include:

What Causes Hair Loss?

Hair loss can happen for a whole number of reasons. Nutritional deficiencies, including iron, zinc, vitamins A, D, E, biotin, and folic acid could lead to hair loss. Psychological or physical trauma, stress, hormonal changes (such as childbirth), crash diets and harsh chemicals from hair products could also be the culprits. Hair loss could also be caused by medical conditions like thyroid issues, skin infections, autoimmune issues, or the medications used to treat

If you’re noticing more hair shedding than you’re used to, or you can see bald patches or other visibly thin patches on your scalp, consult with a doctor. The only effective way to treat hair loss and restore hair wellness is by identifying and treating the underlying cause.

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What Is Hair Breakage?

Hair breakage is exactly that—hair breaking off at some point on the strand—not falling off from the root. When hair is smooth, sleek, and healthy, it’s because the hair’s cuticle and its overlapping scales are lying flat. When the hair is not healthy, the cuticle is often damaged and this could cause hair shaft breaks anywhere along the length of the strand.

Related: Surprising Reasons Hair Falls Out — And How to Stop It

What Causes Hair Breakage?

“Breakage and split ends are normal! It's just regular wear and tear of life. Water, sun, wind, touching your hair, sleeping on your hair, styling your hair. All of these things will eventually cause regular split ends,” explained Madison Dufour, cosmetologist and barber with The Exquisite Find.

Some hair breakage is to be expected, and it’s typically the result of everyday actions like combing, brushing, detangling and showering. That said, there are a few things that are especially tough on our tresses. Excessive breakage can be caused by heat styling, extremely dry or brittle hair as well as chemical treatments such as relaxers or bleaching.

Read: What Is a Trichologist and When Should I See One?

How Can I Tell The Difference Between Hair Loss and Hair Breakage?

It can be tricky to identify if you're experiencing hair breakage or hair loss just by looking at your head since in both cases your mane can appear thinner and less luscious.

One surefire way to tell the difference is by looking at the length of the strands that are falling out. Broken hairs will tend to be shorter than shed hairs. Some other clear signs of hair breakage include sparse areas along the hairline and nape, split ends, and extreme frizz. 

“When it comes to hair loss you’ll notice full strands, and you may also start to see patches of scalp. Breakage comes out similar to confetti with short pieces flying around when you’re brushing or blowdrying. You see breakage more so during your styling,” shared Terra Harvell, professional hair stylist and CEO of Harper Ellis Hair.

Hair Loss vs. Hair Breakage: What's the Difference?

If you’re still unsure of which of the two you’re dealing with, speak with a professional, such as a trichologist. A trichologist can perform a scalp and hair examination, and if you’re suffering from hair loss (rather than hair breakage) they will run some blood work to help rule out health issues that could be contributing.

While they focus on hair health, a trichologist will also take a look at your medical history and diet history for further evaluation of what can be behind your hair loss. They may prescribe you with nutritional supplements and offer a brand new diet plan that caters to any deficiencies that were the cause behind your hair loss.

Dealing With (And Healing) Breakage

Talk to your stylist so you can minimize breakage without sacrificing your preferred aesthetic. Discuss how you can change your routine and what hair care products you can swap or add. Your stylist can also teach you gentle ways to deal with hair tangling as well as heat-styling techniques. 

Add Moisture

“The best ways to avoid breakage are trimming your split ends with regular haircuts and using moisture rich products to mend the hair,” advised Ms. Harvell.

Speaking of moisture, it’s a critical part of maintaining healthy hair that will be resilient to breakage. According to Dr. Chun Tang, a medical doctor with Pall Mall Medical, “the strength of your hair depends on how well hydrated your hair is. When your hair has a healthy level of moisture, it retains its ability to bounce, swell and contract without breaking. Once your hair lacks moisture, it loses its ability to stretch, making it susceptible to breakage.”

If your hair feels dry, it probably is!

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Be Gentle

Avoid heat styling as much as possible while your hair builds it’s strength back up, since it's very tough on your locks. “There are so many heatless wave tutorials out there that are great,” shared Ms. Harvell. Consider skipping your daily blow drying routine for a few days a week, and if you must heat style don’t forget a protective spray beforehand to help mitigate the damage.

Think about other ways you can be gentler to your hair strands and your hair follicles. “Even just brushing the hair while it's wet causes the hair to break, too. So only ever comb your hair while it's wet, and brush dry hair,” shared Ms. Dufour. 

“When it comes to sleeping at night, avoid putting your hair in a tight ponytail and hair tie, that’s the biggest no no! And sleep on an extra soft pillowcase. This helps the hair move with you if you toss and turn,” added Ms. Harvell.

Up Your Hair Wellness Game

You can also turn to supplements and growth-targeting products to help combat both hair breakage and hair loss. If you’re looking to increase your vitamin intake, we recommend taking vegan biotin gummies daily while using our GRO Hair Serum for the best results. 

The biotin in these gummies directly targets hair loss because it helps stimulate keratin production. Keratin itself is responsible for the structure of the hair, and producing more of it can strengthen the hair. Our gummies also contain vitamins A, C, and E, which help neutralize the free radicals that can damage and dry out our hair. As we mentioned above, dry and damaged hair can eventually lead to breakage, so this is a great precautionary measure. The zinc found in the formula also helps maintain overall scalp health, hair tissue growth, and repair.

As for our GRO Hair Serum, the mung bean and red clover ingredients help reduce inflammation of the scalp, which can cause temporary hair loss. The turmeric present in the formula has also shown to help lengthen the hair’s anagen (growth) phase. Using both of these can visibly increase hair density by up to 50% in just a few months.

VEGAMOUR GRO Hair Serum Before & After

The Takeaway 

Now that you know the difference between hair loss versus hair breakage, you’ll have a better idea on how to tackle one or the other (or both). Either way, make sure you treat to focus on overall hair wellness to achieve the healthy hair you desire.

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Photo credit: Jure Širić/Pexels

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Disclaimer: Information in this article is intended for general informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician.