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Hair loss: Signs and symptoms

Early signs of hair loss

For women, the first noticeable sign of hair loss is often a widening part or less fullness to their ponytail.

woman adjusting ponytail

Signs of hair loss show up in many ways. You may notice a:

  • Gradual thinning of the hair on your head

  • Bald spot that grows slowly

  • Receding hairline that becomes more visible with each passing year

  • Widening part

  • Thinner ponytail

Millions of people develop these signs of hair loss, which tend to appear gradually. These signs can be subtle, so you may have hair loss for months or years before you notice it.

While many people who have hair loss develop one or more of these common signs, hair loss can occur in other ways.

Hair loss can appear suddenly and dramatically

While hair loss often occurs gradually, it’s possible to see:

  • A bald patch or strip appear within 1 or 2 days

  • Clumps of hair fall out when you comb or brush your hair

  • All (or most of) the hair on your head fall out

Hair loss can develop elsewhere, aside from your scalp

While hair loss usually affects the scalp, some conditions can cause hair loss on other areas of the body. Alopecia areata is a disease that can cause hair loss anywhere on the body where hair grows. People who have alopecia areata often have hair loss on their scalp, but they can also lose part (or all) of their:

  • Eyebrows

  • Eyelashes

  • Beard

  • Nose hairs

  • Pubic hair

A few people who have alopecia areata lose all the hair on their body. When this happens, the disease is called alopecia universalis.

Frontal fibrosing alopecia is another disease that causes hair loss on the scalp and elsewhere. Some people lose their eyebrows, eyelashes, or hair on other areas of the body.

It’s also possible to keep the hair on your head and lose it elsewhere. The friction from wearing tight clothing, shoes, or socks can cause hair loss where you have continual rubbing.

Symptoms and other signs of hair loss

While less hair is often the only sign of hair loss, some people develop symptoms and other signs. You may have hair loss along with:

  • Burning or stinging before sudden hair loss - Some people who have alopecia areata experience this.

  • Intense itching, burning, and tenderness where you have hair loss - If these occur, it’s possible that you have an infection.

  • Scaly bald patches, often with sores or blisters that open and ooze pus - This often mean you have a fungal infection on your scalp.

  • Redness, swelling, and sores that may itch and leak pus - A condition called folliculitis decalvans can cause this.

  • Scaly patches of psoriasis on your scalp - Most people who have psoriasis get it on their scalp at some time, and this can cause temporary hair loss.

The signs and symptoms that you develop depend on what’s causing your hair loss.

You’ll find descriptions of the many causes along with pictures of what you may see at: Hair loss: Causes.

Do you have scalp psoriasis?

If you have scalp psoriasis, you may be able to prevent further hair loss.

Scalp psoriasis: 10 ways to reduce hair loss


woman looking in mirror, brushing hair

Getty Images

Paus R, Olsen EA, et al. “Hair growth disorders.” In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, et al.

Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine (seventh edition). McGraw Hill Medical, New York, 2008:753-74.

Sperling LC. “Alopecias.” In: Bolognia JL, et al. Dermatology. (second edition). Mosby Elsevier, Spain, 2008: 987-1004.

Sperling LC. “Alopeica.” In: Fitzpatrick JE, Morelli JG. Dermatology Secrets Plus (fifth edition). Elsevier, China, 2016:179-84.