If there is one natural hair topic that resurrects itself despite constant commentary and conversations it is breakage and hair loss. Hair that excuses itself from our heads without our express permission, desire, or control can be both frustrating and bemusing. Many of us go natural to begin a healthier hair journey, so when our natural hair is breaking and shedding, it is disappointing. If you’re in the midst of a hair loss or breakage crisis, here are a few reasons why your hair might be breaking and a few tips that might help you deal with it.

First, because these terms are different, let’s start with quick definitions for breakage, shedding, and thinning.

Breakage is when hair strands break anywhere along the strand or shaft. You can identify breakage when you find strands of your hair in your brush, comb, clothing or countertops, etc. with no white bulb at either end. Shedding is hair loss from the root.

According to the Science of Black Hair, by Audrey Sivasothy, all the hair on your hair head is in one of three phases. Think of them as green, yellow, and red traffic lights. If your hair is in the green light phase (anagen) it is growing. Most of your hair is in this phase and will grow for 2-8 years at a time. The rest of your hair is in yellow light phase (catagen), where your hair follicle shrinks, or red light (telogen) phase where your hair is at rest. We shed an average of 50-100 telogen phase hairs a day. If you are losing more hair strands than this daily, or you find bald spots you may be experiencing excessive shedding.

Thinning is when strands of hair grow in at smaller sizes, or diameters than before. You still have the same number of hairs on your head, but each strand is finer. If your hair was pasta, thinning would be like hair strands going from the diameter of spaghetti to angel hair.

Now that we’re all on the same page about the types of hair loss, here are a few hair loss conditions and causes:

1. Telogen Effluvium

Two to three months after having a baby, or other triggering event, did you have sudden hair shedding of up to 50% of your hair? And did it seem to come out with the slightest touch? If so, you may be experiencing telogen effluvium (TE). In addition to pregnancy, other triggering events include lupus, major injuries, crash diets, stress, hypo/hyperthyroidism, drugs/medications, nutritional deficiencies, application of products like hair dye, and more [1]. The good news is after the dramatic hair shedding associated with the triggering event, typically within 12-18 mo. people with TE experience significant regrowth [1]. If however, the hair loss continues to occur with no trigger, you may be experiencing chronic TE [2]. In either case, see your doctor.

2. Hereditary Female Pattern Hair Loss

Has your hair gotten noticeably thinner over time? Did your mom or grandma’s hair get thinner as they aged? If so, your hair loss may be genetic and you may be experiencing female pattern hair loss, or androgenetic alopecia [3].  In this case, your hair follicle, the hollowed space in your scalp that your hair grows from, is shrinking and the strands that grow through get finer. According to this article, there are only 2 FDA-approved treatments for this condition. To confirm what you’re experiencing and get the best solution for you, see your doctor.

3. Problems during the anagen phase of hair growth.

Remember the green light phase of your hair when it’s growing? Sometimes hair can shed during this phase instead of normal shedding in the telogen phase. This condition, called anagen effluvium, can cause all of your hair to shed at once [4]. You may experience this while taking chemotherapy drugs. One way to tell the difference between this condition and TE, is that the shed hairs do not have a white bulb at the end, they are tapered and or feathered [4]. Another condition in the anagen phase is loose anagen hair syndrome (LAS), where the hair comes out easily and painlessly during the growth phase. It typical in young children, but can occur in adults [5]. The hair strand itself is not fragile, but it is not tightly bound at the root because of a genetic mutation [5]. With this condition, the hair never seems to grow, and there are no signs of inflammation or irritation at the root, or breakage [5]. Unfortunately, there is no approved treatment, though there is a case where one treatment was successful, here.


4. Alopecia Areata 

Sudden hair loss with no cause, whether it is patchy, your entire scalp or your entire body could be alopecia areata, according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation. With this condition, your body attacks your hair follicles leading them to eventually close and stop hair growth [6]. There is no FDA-approved treatment for the condition. However, in some cases hair can eventually grow back and some people with the condition have found success using some treatments, like topical corticosteroids. See your doctor to get tested.

5. Traction Alopecia (and other Scarring Alopecia)

This term has become more common as we all learn that tight styling can have a harsh effect on our precious edges. If you have a full head of hair with significant thinning in areas where your hair is pulling tightly you may have traction alopecia. Traction alopecia is just one of many [7] scarring alopecia conditions where abrasion, infection, or irritation of the hair follicle can cause hair loss and scar tissue to form [8]. In addition to medical treatment for alopecia areata and bacterial alopecia, there are many products marketed to regrow hair damaged from traction alopecia. Some have success stories and failures. And there is the age-old recommendation to use Jamaican Black Castor Oil that many people swear by. In addition to these products and drugs, one study referenced by the University of Maryland Medical Center, showed that a mixture of essential oils improved growth. As always check with your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment plan. If you have traction alopecia reducing tight styling techniques may help.

6. Problems with Your Hair Shaft

Even when your hair is firmly rooted in your scalp, the strand itself can still be vulnerable to breakage for many reasons. First, your hair could naturally come out of your scalp with a condition that makes it prone to breakage. Second, your diet might lack the essential nutrients necessary to build strong hair strands. Or you could be processing or manipulating your hair to damage your hair shaft.

One way to tell what the condition of your hair shaft is by looking…hard. If you have fairy knots you can tell with the glance of an eye. Other conditions require a medical professional and microscope or blood test to determine if you’re lacking anything (like Vitamin D). If you have nutritional deficiencies, you might be able to improve the strength of your hair by taking doctor-approved over-the-counter vitamins. Fairy knots are more likely with tightly coiled hair patterns. It is possible to reduce fairy knots by keeping your hair detangled and moisturized.


7. If all else fails…

Let’s say you worked your way through the list and you are not shedding excessively. You’ve trimmed off damaged hair to get a fresh start. You visited your doctor and they ran some blood work. Then you found out that you are slightly anemic and you’re low on Vitamin D. So, now you’re taking supplements and spending some more time in the sun. Maybe you’ve upped your water intake, increased leafy green veggies, and you are even exercising to get the blood flow of nutrients circulating. You don’t style your hair tightly, but you do keep it detangled. You massage your scalp with essential oils at night just for good measure…and you still have breakage. Thankfully no shedding, but definitely breakage.

Here are 3 things to look into:

  • Is your water hard? Even if you do everything “right” hard water can leave deposits on your hair that weaken it. To confirm if your water is hard, check out this article. If it is, consider a new shower head or water softener.
  • Are you hydrating and moisturizing your hair based on your hair porosity? If you have highly porous hair, hydration easily flows in and out. Especially, if it isn’t sealed in. Your hair can become more brittle than you expect. In the case that your hair is low porosity, hydration may not get into your hair. Test the porosity of your hair, so you can find a routine that works best for your hair.
  • Is your protein balance right? Too much makes it inflexible, and too little leaves it weak. When’s the last time you had a protein treatment, and how did your hair respond to it?
  • Leave it alone. This is a highly unscientific suggestion. However, many a mother, auntie, and woman with “growing hands” have successfully recommended this method. Sometimes the more your think about something, the worse off it seems. Try giving it a rest. Don’t stress over your hair, and enjoy it. With a renewed perspective and attitude, you may find that the solution is time.

Thanks for reading! Have you overcome hair loss or breakage? If so, share what worked for you below. I want to know all the details of your hair texture, density, pattern, and what you did (or didn’t do) to help restore your hair. You never know who you can help.

To keep up with me follow me on Instagram at Instagram @chantalkamya and medium.com/@ckamya


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Chantal Kamya

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Chantal is a project manager by day, writer/graphic designer by night, and a former business school career coach and career development professor. Through her writing, one-on-one coaching and group classes she strives to give practical, thoughtful and inspiring tips/ideas on communication and personal branding, to encourage purpose-driven women to achieve their professional and personal goals. She is the founder of leonandlucie.com, a website with everyday products with African-inspired designs. She shares thoughts on life as a Congolese-Ugandan American, with mild obsessions with hair/beauty, family, healthy living, good food and African clothes at medium.com/@ckamya and instagram.com/chantalkamya.
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