Why Your Hair Keeps Falling Out — And What You Can Do About It

by Emily Arata

It happens like a scene from a horror movie.

I'm in the shower, enjoying the hot water against my skin and the feel of my fingers massaging shampoo into my scalp. All is well with the world, I'm — MY HAIR. IT'S ALL SWIRLING AROUND THE DRAIN.

This panicked moment has already happened several times, and I've only been on the planet for 20-some years. Hair loss is natural, but that doesn't make it less scary.

I spent months in a silent panic before beginning to admit the amount of loose hair wrapping itself around my fingers seemed a bit more than the average person's. Although I have naturally thick strands, I panicked.

In reality, 40 percent of women will reach a point when fallout becomes excessive.

The good part is this: Unlike men, who often lose their hair as part of a snowballing battle with baldness, female hair loss doesn't mean the total end of ponytails and messy buns.

There are plenty of reasons you might be shedding.

To get to the root of the problem (see what I did there?), it's important to understand the way hair growth works. It happens in stages: anagen, catagen, telogen and exogen. For three to five years, your strands grow from the follicle.

But, at the end of that period, those hair follicles spend about a week shrinking in size. After that, your head gets a chance for some much-needed rest. That, of course, and shedding.

In other words: If you're experiencing hair loss, something has messed with the schedule your follicles naturally adhere to.

Experts call this shedding phenomenon "telogen effluvium,” and it appears any wear from one to six months after you've made a lifestyle change. Dozens of factors could be playing a role in your follicular drama.

For starters, consider your stress levels. Has something unusual been happening, a breakup or an event that might send your hormones into a tizzy?

If it's not that, review the side effects of any medication you take — particularly birth control. Recent illness could have taken its toll, too.

One major factor to consider is diet. If you've been trying a new diet or eating dangerously few calories, chances are good your iron-starved body can't hold onto healthy strands.

For that reason, hair loss is a common side effect of eating disorders. One doctor even estimates more than 70 percent of hair loss cases can be attributed to iron deficiency.

I once spent a semester studying abroad in France, largely subsisting on a combination of cheese and rosé.

The meals might have been tasty, but my host mother called me into the bathroom one day to ask why I felt the need to shed so much hair in her pastel pink shower.

After a brief and heartfelt sob session, I realized my sugar-and-dairy diet had been to blame. I also phoned my mom in America to tell her I'd be coming home bald, which is not something that happened. (It was touch and go there for a hot second.)

Here, you have a few options.

Assuming you're not panicking in an apartment in the south of France, it's time to take action.

Most professionals recommend skipping the hair and nail vitamins you see on every store shelf, placing emphasis on a balanced diet instead.

However, some hair professionals have their clients use Viviscal, a hair supplement that — vegetarians and vegans, beware — does contain shark powder. Biotin, too, comes highly recommended.

Viviscal Tablets (60 count), $29, Amazon 

Until you're seeing new growth, the most important thing is to treat the hair you have well.

That means less heat styling, more conditioning and always brushing in small strokes from ends to roots. A thickening shampoo and conditioner won't hurt, either.

L'Oreal EverStrong Thickening Shampoo, $6, Amazon; L'Oreal EverStrong Thickening Conditioner, $7, Amazon 

Slurp a spoonful of fish oil, pop an iron supplement and call me when you're seeing results.