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Hair 101: What Are the Different Stages of Hair Growth?

stages of hair

Did you know that the hair products industry’s market value is expected to grow by $4.93 billion between 2020 and 2024? And no wonder. After all, our hair can truly make or break our self-confidence.

There are numerous studies that have shown the effects of hair loss in men. The main takeaway is the sheer negative impact on their self-esteem.

Generally speaking, most of us look at our hair on the surface level and don’t tend to have a deeper understanding of the different stages of hair growth and other important nuances. If you’re completely unfamiliar with how your hair grows, the structure of the hair, and even the different types of stress-related hair loss causes, don’t worry. You’ve come to the right place. 

Keep on reading for our full breakdown of all things hair, from how it grows, to its different stages, and even what you can do if you’re dealing with hair loss

How Does Your Hair Grow?

Let’s start with the basics before we take a deep dive into the more complex stages of hair growth. 

You need to know that your skin is full of those small pocket-like structures, and those are called the follicles. Those are the originating point of a single strand of hair. Every follicle has a root, and it’s made of protein cells. Those cells are the starting point of your hair growth. 

In addition to your follicles, you have a plethora of blood vessels in your scalp, and those are responsible for feeding your hair roots so that they can start creating your hair. All of the previous steps occur under the surface of your skin. Once your hair starts growing, it pushes through different layers of your skin and pokes out for the first time. 

Your oil glands come attached to your hair follicles so that the hair can get some essential lubrication. This natural lubrication is what softens your hair and adds some shine to your hair shaft. 

The Structure of Hair: Explained

There are two main parts that your hair structure falls into: There is the hair structure that’s inside the follicle itself, which is under the skin, and there’s the remaining hair structure that’s above your epidermis layer, which is known as the hair shaft.

Within the follicle, you have the following parts:

Hair Bulb

Remember the root we mentioned earlier? That’s another term for the hair bulb. It’s the lowest part of your hair strand, and it’s deeply nested inside your follicle. It’s shaped like a club, which helps keep your hair strand in place, with the aid of the dermal papilla.

Dermal Papilla

At the base of your hair follicle, there’s an elevation that looks like a cone, and it’s tied into your hair bulbs and keeps it in place. Also, the dermal papilla is connected with the appropriate blood capillaries. 

Pili Muscle

Ever had goosebumps? That’s when you feel like your hair has stood on its end. This muscle is involuntary, and it’s present at the very base of your hair follicle. When it contracts, that’s when you get goosebumps.

Sebaceous Glands

Those are the oil glands that are responsible for secreting sebum, which is the natural lubricant necessary for healthy hair. They’re connected to your hair follicles as well.

The Hair Shaft

All of these parts are at your hair follicle, as for the hair shaft, it’s a different story. Whenever you take a strand of your hair, all you’ll be able to see with the naked eye is the hair shaft. 

The Cuticle

Think of the cuticle as the covering of your hair shaft. It’s the outermost layer of your hair, and it’s responsible for protecting your fragile inner hair structures. When you have a healthy hair cuticle, you’ll have shiny and smooth hair.

The Cortex

Underneath the cuticle, you’ll find the cortex. It’s the middle layer of your hair, and it carries all the essential proteins that give your hair elasticity, as well as its color. 

The Medulla

This is the core part of your hair strand, it’s the innermost layer. Interestingly enough, only folks with thick and coarse hair tend to have the medulla. Scientists haven’t identified its purpose as of now. 

The Stages of Hair Growth

Now that you’re familiar with the structure of your hair, and its core parts, it’s time to take a look at its growth cycles. You need to understand that your hair growth is a cyclical process that starts (and ends) in your hair follicles. 

There are four main phases of your hair growth, and it takes a couple of years for each strand of your hair to go through the whole process from start to finish. Also, every single strand of hair can be at a different stage in the growth cycle at any point in time, in complete contrast with its siblings. Let’s review the stages of hair growth:

1. Anagen Phase

Most people have a hair growth average of around half an inch a month, so around six inches a year. The rate of growth does hike up in the summer and becomes a little faster. The anagen phase is the growth phase, which lasts between three and five years. Thus, your full-length hair would be approximately 18 to 30 inches. 

Interestingly enough, folks of Asian descent, enjoy an anagen phase that can last as long as seven years, so they might be able to grow their hair up to three feet in length. 

As we grow older, the anagen stage, which is responsible for growth, tends to slow down. This leads to thinner and weaker hair strands at the end of each cycle. 

2. Catagen Phase

After the growth phase, your hair strand starts its catagen phase, where the hair shaft gets detached from the root. 

It sounds alarming, but what happens here is that the hair follicle gets to renew itself: It shrinks to around 1/6th of its original length, and the dermal papilla gets to take a break. When the hair strand separates from the dermal papilla, the hair shaft won’t be able to get as many nutrients as before. You’d think that the hair falls now, but it’s still anchored with the hair follicle holding on to the root, at least for a short while. 

This stage takes about two to three weeks, with only 1% of your total hair volume being in the catagen stage at any given time.  

3. Telogen Phase

Once your hair is done with the catagen phase, the bottom of your hair strand becomes a club, and it enters a phase of rest, which is the telogen phase. 

From three to five months, this hair strand is resting while a new hair is emerging from the root to take its place. As it grows, it slowly and gently pushes the original club hair out of your scalp.

4. Exogen Phase

This is the stage where your hair strand gets to completely detach from your scalp and “sheds off.” Whenever you see a hair falling out of your comb whenever you brush your hair, that’s a hair that made it through the exogen “exit” phase. There’s an average of 50 to 100 strands that go through the exogen phase daily.

The Dilemma of Hair Loss: Types of Stress-Related Disorders

If you’re losing way more than 100 hair strands a day, that means you’re dealing with an abnormality that’s causing hair loss. Of course, not all hair loss is due to high levels of stress. However, most of us in the modern world live where our stressors do nothing but compound, so it’s important to keep the following types in mind.

Telogen Effluvium

This condition can happen to men and women of all ages. Basically, Telogen Effluvium (TE) happens during the telogen phase. It’s a change that can result in the shedding and thinning of the hair shaft. 

However, one of the key signs of TE is that the thinning doesn’t happen all over your head and scalp. It occurs in patches, specifically around the center part of your scalp. Thus, the majority of people who’re dealing with TE don’t lose all of their hair. Furthermore, in extreme cases of TE, people can also see their hair thinning in other parts of their bodies, like their genital areas, and their eyebrows. 

Thankfully, you’ll want to keep in mind that all the hair loss and thinning from TE is completely reversible. It doesn’t permanently alter or damage your hair follicles. Therefore, you can get all of your hair back in a couple of months or longer, that is if you tackle your stress and anxiety levels.

If you think that your job is the main source of your stress, then it’s time to look for a new one.  

Alopecia Areata

This one is actually an autoimmune disease. Alopecia Areata (AA) shows up when your hair follicles take a beating from your immune system. Usually, AA can be triggered by stress, which can cause hair loss. 

Unfortunately, AA can appear in patches randomly across the scalp, or all across the entire scalp. Besides, there’s a more severe case of AA, which is known as Alopecia Universalis. This is where you lose hair all across your body, not only from your scalp. 

Your hair can grow back for a period of time, then fall out again. It’s unpredictable. AA can affect any gender of any age, with around six million folks in the U.S. alone suffering from this condition. 

For people with AA that’s lead to more than 50% of hair loss, there are some prescription medications on the market that might be of some help. But, we can’t say that there’s a “cure” for AA.

Trichotillomania

This one is under the umbrella of impulse control disorders, in general. It’s a hair-pulling disorder, revolving around the strong urge to pull out your hair either from your scalp or from other parts of your body. 

Most people who suffer from trichotillomania say that hair pulling is instinctive, and it happens without conscious thought, especially when you’re distracted or stressed. 

There are some cases where the hair pulling is more intentional and is used as a method of stress relief or dealing with negative emotions. 

Trichotillomania is one of the rare disorders that tend to develop in a person’s preteen years and can be chronic in nature. The current scientific research shows that there might be a genetic factor that relates to the activation of this disorder. 

How to Jumpstart Hair Growth?

Well, you’ll be relieved to know that hair loss that’s related to stress is usually reversible. Yet, everyone’s journey of regrowth can be quite different from one another. What you can do to reduce your hair loss and give your new growth a boost can be divided into two steps. 

The first is using high-quality hair growth solutions, and the second is giving some care to your nutrition and diet. 

The Right Diet and Nutrition

Starting with a nutritious and balanced diet that’s rich in vegetables is key to giving your body the minerals and vitamins it needs to actually grow and create new hair shafts. Yet, there are some vitamins that are more important than others when it comes to hair growth. 

Vitamin B 

Not only is vitamin B essential for the health of your metabolism, but also for building healthy hair and skin. You can get your daily value of vitamin B by integrating dark leafy greens and nuts into your diet.

Vitamin C

This vitamin is responsible for building collagen. It’s the key ingredient that forms your skin’s connective tissue that is crucial to your hair follicle health. 

Vitamin E

Getting the rich antioxidants that vitamin E provides is a great way to get your scalp back to health.  If you’ve already done a blood test and know which nutrient deficiencies you’re dealing with, you can talk to your primary care doctor about supplements or changing your meal plan.

Hair 101: Unlocked

You’ve made it to the end of your hair learning journey. We know that it can be a bit overwhelming to get all of this new information in one go.

But, as time goes by, you’ll be able to apply all your new knowledge about the stages of hair growth and stress-based causes of hair loss into your hair routines. 

Hopefully, our guide has shed some light on your own hair health. If you liked this explainer, you can always check out our learning section for more hair restoration tips and advice.  

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