Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Club hair: a term that really feels like it should represent a rare disease spread by sweaty heads and hands. Good news! It’s not. There’s also no entry fee or hearing loss associated with it, either.
The term “club hair” could prompt a lot of anxious spiraling, but every person you’ve ever met had club hairs at some point, and an awful lot of animals did, too.
If you’ve heard the term club hairs in a medical context, however, you may have some concerns about the context it was mentioned in, and there can be some situations where club hairs are a big deal.
Before anyone starts worrying about diseases, illness, balding or other hair-related problems though, let’s start from the top.
Every hair on your head has a life cycle, and it’s hard to tell which part of the cycle any one follicle is in at any given time. Hair grows in the anagen phase, rests in the catagen phase and eventually falls out in the telogen phase — but there’s more to the process than that.
During the catagen phase, your hair follicle is technically dead, but it’s preparing to enter the telogen phase by basically forming a sort of bulb — a club, to be exact.
That club serves an important purpose: it holds the hair follicle in your head (or anywhere else) for a time after it stops growing, which keeps your hair looking lush and full.
When you run your fingers through your hair and pull a few strands away, you’re typically holding club hairs — you can look at the base of those hairs and see a tiny, almost imperceptible little bulb.
Because club hairs are a natural part of the hair growth process, they are definitely not bad — at least, not within limits.
Let’s put it this way: this keratinized end cap on your hair follicle was going to be there eventually, and there was nothing you could do to stop that.
Even so, while one club hair isn’t a problem, too many club hairs at one time could signal something’s not right.
Because club hairs are part of the hair cycle, it’s normal to have some, but there are a number of conditions that are the reasons why your club hairs may act unexpectedly. Collectively, we refer to these conditions as telogen effluvium.
Telogen effluvium is simply a condition in which more than the typical number of telogen or club hairs exist than should in a normal ratio — typically, more than 10 percent.
How telogen effluvium manifests can differ into a few different categories. You might experience a delayed telogen release, where hair follicles stay clubbed and don’t fall out, resulting in fewer hairs going into the anagen phase.
You might have hairs that immediately release upon entering the telogen stage, which can cause the appearance of temporary hair thinning as all of the hibernating follicles roll over into anagen territory.
Telogen effluvium might also be a result of a shortened or abbreviated anagen phase, which could result from certain disorders.
For the record, some telogen effluvium conditions don’t require club hairs at all — you can see anagen release, which is a sudden skip-the-club-phase of hair release often brought on by things like high fever.
Generally, hair shedding will take several months to stop and return to normal, and in some cases, it can take more than a year for normal hair volume and length to return.
Of course, there are some things you can do to speed up parts of the process.
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Telogen effluvium and the excessive club hairs brought on by telogen effluvium may sometimes course correct themselves given enough time.
Because telogen effluvium is usually the result of another disease, condition, trauma or bodily stressor making your hair fall out, typically, your hair will simply begin growing normally again over a period of time once that condition has been addressed properly.
That said, there are ways to mitigate, reduce and, in some cases, prevent the effects of telogen effluvium and of excessive club hairs.
Topical minoxidil is one of the most popular medications for telogen effluvium conditions. The medication works by prolonging the anagen phase of hair follicles and encouraging your scalp to turn over telogen follicles to anagen again.
Minoxidil has been on the market since the 1980s, and while some of us don’t think that’s a long time, the 40 years of results are hard to argue with.
Studies show that users could see a nearly 20 percent increase in growth over a 48-week period when using minoxidil, though it should be taken with care, as it can cause some blood pressure concerns for some individuals.
Finasteride is also an FDA-approved, science-backed option that many men consider. This medication is considered a DHT-blocker, which means it can stop your body from converting testosterone into DHT. DHT is considered one of the main culprits in men who suffer from male pattern baldness.
Experts commonly point to certain lifestyle factors in the proper treatment of club hair-related conditions. Stress, for instance, can bring on excessive hair shedding of club hairs. It can also prematurely induce the catagen phase. We have a more detailed blog about stress and hair loss.
Likewise, a poor diet and the resulting deficiencies of important nutrients can cause hair loss, and while many researchers are skeptical about the impact of vitamins in hair loss, treating vitamin-related hair loss with vitamins can make an impact.
Regarding the psychological aspect of hair loss, there’s no research showing a direct link between therapy and a resulting boost in hair growth, but stress could be a contributing factor.
If you think this may apply to you, it may be time to talk to a mental health professional, regardless of your coif quality.
Generic for Rogaine®, this FDA-approved over-the-counter version of topical minoxidil is used for regrowth on the crown of the head.
This is the FDA-approved dynamic duo. When used together, men saw better results in clinical trials compared to using either alone.
If you’re looking for something effective but don’t want too many steps in your routine, this once-a-day pill could be right for you.
Clinically proven to regrow hair in 3-6 months, no pills required.
Truth be told, if you’re seeing excess club hairs, there are bigger problems your healthcare provider might want you to address.
Damaged hair follicles, sudden thinning over your entire scalp (also called diffuse hair loss) and similar interruptions of the normal hair growth cycle are not normal, and may be a sign of an illness beyond some type of hair loss.
More importantly, club hairs may not be the real issue here — if you’re seeing sudden hair loss symptoms, you may be dealing with another form of hair loss than telogen effluvium, and that’s something that you should bring to your healthcare provider immediately.
They may find that you have male pattern baldness symptoms. In that case, you might benefit more from learning about DHT and male hair loss than club hairs. You might also benefit from understanding how minoxidil and finasteride can work together to stop hair loss.
In the big picture, however, the next step is to talk to a healthcare professional. Club hairs aren’t a problem, they’re just a potential sign of one. Figuring out what the problem is means getting the help you need from a professional. Do it today — your hair (clubbed or otherwise) is counting on you.