Hair loss is an expected phase of the hair growth cycle -- facial hair included. So it's normal to see whiskers fall out when you wash or comb your beard. Typically this loss is shedding, or the loss of hairs that have completed their life cycle. But there are some situations or conditions that cause you to temporarily or permanently lose an abnormal amount of whiskers. If excess loss of facial hair occurs, seek the advice of your doctor.
Normal Hair Loss
All body hair goes through a growth cycle, and at any given time, 90 to 95 percent of hair is in an active growth cycle -- referred to as the anogen phase. After a brief transitional phase, hair naturally sheds at the end of the final, or telogen phase, as new hair growth pushes the old hair out of the follicle. So a small, daily loss of facial hair is normal and expected. The average number of beard hairs that fall out per day varies with beard size, but is expected to be less than the 100 to 150 daily hairs shed from a healthy scalp, according a September 2015 review in "Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research."
Influence of Washing and Styling
A loss of beard hair may be more noticeable after styling. This is because washing or combing your beard can dislodge some of the loose whiskers that are already at the end of their growth cycle. Loose facial hair may not fall out as expected if held in place by styling products, or if not massaged or washed, which is why you may notice more shedding after shampooing or styling. Playing with your beard or tugging on your whiskers can also dislodge more of the loose, telogen hairs.
Abnormal Whisker Loss
Abnormal shedding of hair may be related to telogen effluvium, which occurs when a stressor such as an infection, major surgery or significant weight loss causes hair to enter their telogen phase early. Alopecia areata is a condition which causes sudden, patchy hair loss, and may affect the beard. Other disorders that can lead to an abnormal loss of hair include autoimmune disorders, thyroid disease, fungal infection on the face or scalp, or trichotillomania, which is a mental disorder that leads to repetitive hair pulling. Certain medications, most notably chemotherapy drugs, can also lead to hair loss because these medications interrupt the anogen phase of hair growth.
Excess hair shedding or breakage typically stops, and hair regrows, once the cause resolves or the stressor is removed. Hair loss related to interference with hair growth may be temporary or permanent, depending on the trigger and if it can be resolved. For example, hair loss from scarring, injury or damage to the hair follicle can be permanent, but hair loss from chemotherapy is often temporary. Notify your doctor if you experience an abnormal amount of hair loss, so you can understand the cause and a management plan.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD