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Counting Hairs

Do you know how many hairs you lose in a day?

The common wisdom has long held that healthy people shed 100 hairs daily.

But Jeffrey Miller, an associate professor of dermatology at Penn State College of Medicine, says that number's essentially pulled out of thin air. "It's a purely mathematical derivation based on assumptions that have never been proven," he says. In his clinical experience, when he's actually counted hairs a patient has lost, the number has usually been much lower than 100.

So Miller set out to do what no one, astonishingly, has done before: to develop an objective, practical way to track hair loss. His study appears in the June issue of the Archives of Dermatology, a publication of the American Medical Association.

Building on a single-paragraph description of a similar technique in a 1967 text by the eminent dermatologist Albert Kligman, Miller came up with a 4-step scheme: the 60-second hair count. And, yes, you can try this at home.

Here's how to count your lost hairs:

1. Before shampooing, comb your hair for 60 seconds over a pillow or sheet whose color contrasts with your hair color, starting with your comb at the back and top of the scalp and moving the comb forward to the front of the scalp.

2. Repeat the procedure before three consecutive shampooings, and always use the same comb or brush.

3. Count the hairs in the comb or brush and on the fabric after each session and write the number down.

4. Repeat monthly; bring your results to your next visit with your dermatologist.

Miller tested his protocol on 60 healthy men without evidence of alopecia, which I've just learned means "baldness," half of them between ages 20 and 40, the other half ages 41 to 60. The younger men lost between 0 and 78 hairs daily; the older guys lost between 0 and 43 hairs a day. The numbers held steady when the counts were repeated 6 months later.

I know I freak out when I notice all the hair that falls out when I blow-dry my hair; I come from a family of bald men, so it wouldn't be a stretch to think my hair might thin out. (So far, so good, though.)

Vanity aside, excessive hair loss is associated with some medical and psychological conditions, most of which can be treated and reversed. (Alas, there's little to be done to reverse hereditary baldness, which is the most common kind.) Miller says thyroid problems, llow iron levels in women, and psychological stress can all make your hair fall out. His simple strategy for tracking such losses can help doctors and patients figure out whether their hair loss warrants medical attention.

Miller's next step: seeing how the 60-second hair count works for women. Watch this space.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  June 20, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
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Well, Jennifer, seeing as how you're a woman (and presumably under 60), I wouldn't worry about your hair thinning -- yet. Women do, in fact, lose their hair through a general thinning. However, this will not happen until you enter menopause as estrogen is protective against hair loss. This, of course, explains why so many old ladies have the permed "blue hair" -- if they didn't get their hair permed into tight curls on their heads, their hair loss would be very apparent to everyone else.

Posted by: Ryan | June 21, 2008 7:36 PM | Report abuse

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