hair misconceptions

Hair Breakage vs Hair Loss: Understanding the Difference

Hair Breakage vs Hair Loss: Understanding the Difference

While it is normal (and healthy!) to lose 50-100 strands of hair per day, it can still be concerning to see any amount of hair fall out. What's more, severe hair breakage and thinning can be difficult to differentiate.

Whether you feel like your ponytail is getting thinner or you’re seeing more strands coming out on your hair brush, understanding the difference between hair loss and hair breakage will help guide you to the most effective solution.

What is Hair Loss?

Hair loss is when the strand falls out at the root. This tends to happen in clumps. One way to find out if it’s hair loss is by doing a pull test. If you gently pull on 40 stands and over a dozen come out, you might be experiencing hair loss. 

Taking a closer look at the hair that you are shedding can also help determine if it’s hair loss. Typically, these strands are longer and will include the hair bulb—the foundational part of hair that is attached to the scalp. These strands tend to be thin and you might notice a gradual decrease in the overall volume of your hair.

Some causes of hair loss include genetics, hormonal changes, medication or supplements, diet, and psychological or physical stress. 

What is Hair Breakage?

Before we discuss how and why hair can break, let's define a few key terms:

  • Hair Shaft - The length of hair extending beyond/out of the scalp
  • Cuticle - the outer surface of hair that consists of overlapping scales of keratin.
  • Cortex - the bulk of a hair strand, the central structural component
  • Medulla - the "bone marrow" of the hair shaft; soft and fragile.
  • Distal end - the tip of the hair (where split ends are found) 

Hair breakage occurs when the strands are weak. This results in varying lengths of strands with the ends having a kinked, irregular appearance. You might also see an increase of split ends and frizz. 

If you are experiencing hair breakage, you might see that hair typically falls out when brushing, combing or styling. These strands of hair tend to be shorter and more brittle than normal healthy hair. 

What Causes Hair Breakage?


Normal and abnormal hair that is bleached/colored, dyed, permed, and combed can develop the condition "weathering" where hair subjected to regular wear and tear show symptoms of harm to the cuticle and cortex. Hairs grow about 1 cm per month, so if the length of an individual hair is 35 cm long, that is 3 years of continued susceptibility to weathering from external elements.

Hair breakage is mostly caused by harsh styling, dying or coloring with harsh chemicals and excess use of heat tools without protective sprays or oils. Even too much brushing can be a cause of hair breakage. 

Hair Shaft Disorders

Trichorrhexis Nodosa

Of all hair shaft defects, the most common precursor to hair breakage is trichorrhexis nodosa. Simply put, small micro-breakages (nodes) in cortex exacerbate damage to the hair shaft. Severe hair breakage can occur when these partial hair fractures lead to cells in the cortex fragmenting and further fracturing.

While chemicals and mechanical damage are the most likely culprit of hair breakage in this manner, this hair shaft disorder can occur due to hair straightening and overheating with a hairdryer as well. Additionally, excessive exposure to UV light can weaken hair. One research study showed that hair from people of African and European descent was significantly more prone damage from UV radiation.

Trichorrhexis invaginata ("bamboo hair")

A symptom of inconsistent composition of the hair shaft, "bamboo hair" is the results of abnormal keratinization. Because of this, there are points along the hair shaft that are naturally weak and can break with little impact.

Hair Breakage in the Shower 

Remember that your hair is extremely weak when it is wet. After you wash your hair, apply a detangling or conditioning product to help avoid brushing harshly. Even going to bed with wet hair can increase the chances of hair breakage. 

Still Can't Decide: Hair Loss vs Hair Thinning?

While seemingly straightforward, hair loss can actually be quite a difficult issue to diagnose. If you are concerned that you may be experiencing hair thinning or loss, visit your medical provider to pin-point the exact cause. Sometimes a change in diet or break from stress will solve it. Reflecting on recent lifestyle changes or events will help narrow down the causes. For example, many women experience postpartum or menopausal hair loss. Other reasons for hair loss include weight loss/gain or overall change in diet. These types of hair loss require different methods when it comes to solutions. 

Additionally, you can ask your dermatologist for a trichoscopy—a higher-level examination of your hair follicles. Blood tests can also provide insight on vitamin, mineral, and hormone levels. 

Overall, working with a doctor to determine if you are experiencing hair loss or breakage will be the foundation of a targeted treatment plan to find an effective solution.

Potential Solutions for Severe Hair Breakage and Thinning

Hair breakage can be solved by minimizing the use of damaging heat tools and chemical treatments or adding strengthening hair products to your daily routine. 

When possible, try to let your hair dry naturally. It will save the wear and tear on your hair from the heat of the hairdryer and, at the same time, avoid breakage. If you do need to use the hairdryer, set it on the lowest heat.

Other simple and low-to-no-cost changes can help too! Brushing gently and being mindful of your hair when it’s wet can be a step in the right direction for healthy hair. Try swapping out your towel with a microfiber towel—or even a 100% cotton t-shirt. Protect your hair cuticles and minimize frizz by air-drying after gently towel-drying.

Luscious hair is on all of our minds, and there are always other actions that you can take to promote healthier hair. For instance, the Revela Hair Revival Serum is the first clinically tested solution for women experiencing hair loss. It directly targets hair follicles to promote a healthy scalp. The serum is free of hormones, toxins, parabens, and gluten, and is cruelty-free. Try Revela's Hair Revival Serum to see fuller, thicker-looking hair in as little as 6 weeks.


Profile photo for David Zhang

Reviewed by: David Zhang, PhD

David is an immunologist and bioengineer with over a decade of medical research experience. He completed his PhD at Harvard University, where he worked on developing life-saving cancer therapies. He received his undergraduate degree in immunology from McGill University and his master's degree from the University of Toronto

Written by: Revela Editorial Team

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