While the loss of hair with a white bulb attached can be a normal occurrence, you may have reason to worry if the loss of such hair is excessive.
This can be an indicator of telogen effluvium or pattern baldness and, without treatment, can worsen.
In this post, I’ll break down the structure of the hair strand, as well as the hair growth cycle. You’ll learn what the white bulb is, and whether its presence on the base of your fallen hair is a sign of hair loss.
In addition, I’ll show you a few ways you can put an end to excess hair loss, and ways to treat conditions related to telogen thinning, including stress relief and diet overhaul.
The White Bulb – What Is It?
The one thing that scares people about the presence of a white bulb is its confusion with the root. After all, hair grows from the root, so no root means no more hair growth.
There’s good news however; the bulb is not the root itself. Instead, it’s the part of the hair strand that is the closest to the root throughout the growth cycle.
When a bulb is present on the end of a hair strand, all it means is that the hair was lost at the root. This is indicative of a telogen phase hair, and it doesn’t mean Male-Pattern Baldness (MPB) or other types of hair loss (such as alopecia areata) in and of itself (1, 2).
It also doesn’t mean that further hair growth cannot occur (as loss of telogen hair does happen naturally during the hair growth cycle).
But what happens when hair is lost without the bulb?
All hair lost at the root will contain a bulb. It may be small or large, white or pigmented. However, the bulb is always present when it comes from the source (that is, the follicle).
A hair without a bulb, then, means that the hair was lost prior to the root. This is caused by premature breakage, typically a result of tension or physical stress. A few things that can lead to hair breakage include:
- Stretching (caused by tight hairstyles or wet styling)
- Protein deficiency
- Vitamin/mineral deficiency
- Overexposure to sun
- Heat styling
Through the strengthening of your hair, you can easily avoid premature breakage. But are there ways to combat excess hair loss when it occurs at the root?
The Hair Cycle
To better understand the role that the bulb plays in hair loss, it’s important to understand the process of hair growth.
There are four main phases of the cycle of hair growth (3). These include:
- Anagen. This is the phase of active growth, and it lasts anywhere from two to six years. At this point in the cycle, rapid cell development is occurring. This results in the formation of the lower portion of the follicle, known as a bulb.
- Catagen. As the transition phase, active growth ceases and the hair follicle begins to be pushed from the papilla. This lasts from a few days to a few weeks.
- Telogen. This is the resting phase, where very minimal cell activity is taking place. At this point, a new anagen hair is forming under the surface and will soon push the telogen hair (along with the white bulb) from its follicle.
- Exogen. The stage in which telogen hairs are shed, and newly-formed anagen hairs push through the follicle. During this stage, 50 – 100 hairs are lost per day.
One thing to keep in mind is that your hairs are at different points in the cycle. While anywhere from 70 – 85 percent of your hairs are currently in anagen phase, another 5 – 15 percent are currently in telogen phase.
This means that hair loss should be fairly consistent throughout the year (unless, of course, you suffer from hair loss).
White Bulb and Hair Loss – Are They Connected?
If it’s normal for a white bulb to be present on the end of a telogen hair shaft, does this mean that hair loss is imminent?
While an increase in hair loss is indicative of present (and perhaps future) hair loss, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doomed.
So, if hairs with white bulbs aren’t a good indicator of hair loss, what are some signs you can look out for?
- Excess shedding (as seen on pillow or in shower drain)
- Hairline recession (especially near the temples)
- Itchy, flaky scalp
- Thin, wispy hair
Of course, another possible indicator of hair loss is a genetic predisposition. Now, just because your male relatives suffer from hair loss doesn’t mean you will. However, it’s best to err on the side of caution and pre-treat the condition.
As mentioned above, the presence of white bulbs doesn’t always mean that hair loss is an issue. However, there is a condition characterized by excessive hair loss while in the telogen phase. Let’s take a closer look.
One condition characterized by loss during the telogen phase is known as telogen effluvium. The name literally means “telogen outflow.”
This occurs when too many hairs on the scalp enter telogen prematurely, and active growth ceases. This results in diffuse (all around) thinning.
Unfortunately, not much is known about this condition. This includes why some people are more susceptible than others. However, a few of the known causes are:
- Hormonal changes (pregnancy, birth, medication, illness)
- Shock (injury, surgery, anesthesia)
- Stress (acute or chronic)
- Diet deficiencies (acute or chronic)
If you’ve noticed an increase in hair loss with a white bulb presence on the end, you may very well be suffering from this condition. Fortunately, this condition and usually short-lived and can be treated in a number of ways.
How to Stop Thinning and Hair Loss
If you’ve noticed an increase in your hair loss, there are some things you can do to put an end to the nightmare. Let’s take a closer look.
Change Your Diet
Your hair – just like other parts of your body – requires proper nutrition and mineral support. This means that a diet lacking in necessary vitamins and minerals can lead to acute (or even chronic) hair loss.
Fortunately, effluvium caused by diet deficiencies can be reversed.
First and foremost, it’s important to pinpoint your body’s nutritional needs. This will vary from person to person (depending on gender, weight, BMI, age, and other such factors) but can be determined with the help of a trained medical professional (such as a dietitian).
Second, you’ll need to have the dedication to perform an entire diet overhaul. This can be difficult for some, but it’s an absolutely essential step if you’re looking to put an end to hair thinning and loss.
- Dairy: This food group is one that can cause delayed allergic reactions and can be difficult to digest after pasteurization. This means consumption can lead to systemic inflammation and digestive imbalance.
- Carbonated drinks: High in sugar and acid-forming, carbonated beverages add no nutritional value to your diet but instead
- Sugary cereals: Foods that are high on the glycemic index – such as sugary cereals and grains – lead to spikes in blood sugar. Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance (which may be linked to early-onset Androgenetic Alopecia) (4).
- Greasy foods: A diet high in greasy foods can clog the pores and hair follicles; this leads to hair miniaturization, blood flow restriction, and eventual hair loss.
With these foods removed from your daily rotation, it’s time to add in some more filling and nutrient-dense choices. Some of the best additions to your diet include foods that are:
- High fiber
- Low glycemic
- Plant based
With these foods added to your diet, you can ensure that your body (and your hair) is getting the nutrients it needs. This will help to improve overall health and contribute to stronger, more stable hair.
Take a Breather
As stress is a major cause of telogen hair loss, one of the best things you can do to put an end to it is taking part in stress-relieving activities.
One such activity is controlled breathing.
Through calm and intentional breaths, you can lower cortisol levels and increase oxygen intake. This will decrease free radical activity (which can lead to further signs of aging, including hair loss and wrinkles) and improve the growth of healthy hair.
Other forms of stress relief exist as well. These include meditation, yoga or tai chi, massage, and many more. Choose to manage your stress and include self care.
Stimulate the Scalp
The above two techniques are beneficial for long-term health and hair growth. But if you want to take a more direct route to stopping hair fall, consider scalp stimulation.
Scalp stimulation is physical manipulation of the scalp that takes place in various forms. The most popular include massage, scalp exercises, and microneedling.
And best of all, scalp stimulation has proven to be beneficial in combating hair loss. How?
As briefly mentioned above, there are various parts of the hair follicle that play a role in hair growth. One of the more important structures, though, is the dermal papilla.
The dermal papilla is the structure at the base which connects the follicle to blood vessels. These blood vessels deliver oxygen and nutrients and, as such, a strong connection is critical.
By stimulating the scalp, you can naturally increase blood flow to the follicles and ensure adequate oxygen and nutrient levels.
But there’s one more benefit to scalp stimulation, and to microneedling in particular: cell proliferation (5).
According to a study performed in 2013, microneedling is able to stimulate hair growth in men with AGA (6). This has even been shown to be successful in men who had previously failed to respond to other hair loss treatments (7). This procedure does involve a needle entering the skin and has the same risks as a tattoo. Please research your practitioner for training and certification in your state, and ensure that sterile disposable needles are used.
While you won’t see immediate results, you can use scalp stimulation in conjunction with the other methods mentioned above for a more thorough approach.
The Bottom Line
The loss of hair containing a bulb is a completely natural occurrence. In fact, such hairs can be shed anywhere from 50 – 100 times per day. However, a problem occurs when more hair than that is shed.
Whether through AGA, telogen effluvium, or alopecia areata, an increase in hair lost with a white bulb attached can be treated. This will involve a natural, multi-step approach (such as the one outlined above).
This article was medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD MSN RN IBCLC AHN-BC CHT