Have you ever wondered what makes your hair grow from tiny unseen follicles to the long-flowing locks you’ve always dreamed of? As with most biological processes, your hair follows a cyclic pattern of development with distinct stages. Knowing these stages can help you care for your hair better.
This article doesn’t gloss over the unnecessary technical jargon but only the absolute essentials you need to know about the hair growth phases and how to best care for your hair during this cycle.
The Various Phases and Sub-Phases of Hair Growth
The hair growth cycle consists of three main phases – anagen (growth), catagen (transition), and telogen (resting) – each with its own stages that eventually lead to the shedding of the hair and replacement with new hair.
1. The Anagen Growth Phase
Where it All Begins I think of the anagen phase as the “construction zone” for new hair. This is when active hair growth occurs, and most of your hair follicles are in this phase at any given time.
But what exactly goes on in anagen to give you those luscious locks? Anagen can be further divided into three sub-stages:
1.1 Early Anagen Stage
If hair growth were a race, this would be the starting line. Cells in the follicle divide rapidly, increasing in number and volume. The hair follicle burrows deeper into the skin and an inner root sheath forms to mold the growing hair shaft. Think foundation laying!
I was fascinated to learn that hair at this stage undergoes transient amplification – cells called trichocytes increase in number to build up reserves before differentiating into specialized structures.
1.2 Middle Anagen Stage
This is peak hair synthesis time! The follicle reaches its maximum length and depth in the skin. Materials like keratin are produced to form the bulk of the hair shaft as growth continues. Sebaceous glands and pigment-producing melanocytes also get to work.
Have you noticed your scalp itching more some days for no apparent reason? That could be due to this heightened activity in the follicle driving new hair growth.
1.3 Late Anagen Stage
Reaching full stride, the hair grows fastest at this point. The inner root sheath shrinks to consolidate resources around the still-developing hair shaft. But make no mistake, it’s still lengthening out rapidly to produce around 1 cm every 28 days.
An important question arises here – just how long does anagen last? For those blessed with fast-growing hair, anagen can continue for up to 8 years leading to extremely long tresses! In most people, however, this phase lasts only 2-7 years.
2. The Catagen Transition Phase
Brakes Applied Following the “rush hour” of growth in anagen, the follicle enters a brief 2-3 week transition phase called catagen. I think of this as a pitstop or shed takeover! The outer root sheath shrivels and disconnects from the blood supply ending further activity. White club-shaped bulbs form on the now inactive ends of hair follicles.
What could be the reason behind this sudden change? Studies show specialized structures called dermal papillae at the base emit signals like FGF5 to stop hair matrix cells from multiplying. The hair shaft also hardens and attaches more firmly to the follicle.
So while it seems like not much happening on the surface, important changes are underway preparing for the next phase!
3. The Telogen Resting Phase
After rapidly building the hair equivalent of a skyscraper in anagen and capping supply lines in catagen, the exhausted follicle now takes a break. This relative period of inactivity lasting 2-3 months is called the telogen phase.
Have you wondered why you sometimes shed more hair at once? Not to worry – this signifies previous hair in telogen is pushed out as new follicles commence growth. These wispy beady white bulbs clinging to shed hair are called club hairs.
Telogen acts as a crucial reset button allowing cells a reprieve to renew themselves before starting over. Around 10-15% of hair is teetering in telogen at any time before new anagen kicks in.
4. The Exogen Phase or the Shedding Phase
Just when you wondered if things could get more confusing, another phase pops up! Exogen occurs alongside telogen as a separate shedding stage lasting 2-3 weeks. It cleaves the dead hair from the follicle and allows it to exit gracefully!
Club hairs previously loosened during telogen finally say goodbye powered by proteolytic enzymes.
And the Cycle Continues…
This completes the entire growth cycle spanning 2-7 years until your hair enters the next Anagen Phase! Pretty crazy how far a tiny strand of keratin travels, right?
What You Can Do to Maintain Hair Health Throughout Your Hair Growth Cycle?
Want to help your hair thrive through each step of the fascinating hair cycle? I’ve put together must-know pro tips that supercharge every stage for optimal hair health from start to finish!
Stimulate Blood Circulation
Gentle scalp massages enhance blood flow so nutrients are delivered efficiently to hair follicles. This nourishes the cells during active anagen growth and speeds up the removal of dead hair in telogen. 2-3 times a week should do it!
Monitor Protein Intake
Hair is made of a tough protein called keratin, so maintaining protein levels is crucial. Low protein diets can prematurely shorten the anagen phase leading to excess hair fall. Ensure you get the recommended 46-56 grams per day!
Hair undergoes texture changes becoming prone to breakage during transition phases. Using a good conditioner 2-3 times a week ensures strands stay strong and hydrated preventing easy snapping or tangling.
Avoid Harsh Styling Methods
Give follicles their much-needed break now and then. Heat styling and chemical treatments place excess stress, especially on reforming follicles in catagen. Let hair air dry when possible and use heat protectants if necessary.
Watch Essential Nutrient Intake
The hair matrix cells require vitamins like iron, zinc, and B-complex to multiply rapidly during anagen. Pop a supplement if daily meals lack enough nutrient diversity for optimal growth.
Product residue, hard water minerals, and dirt hinder follicle activity over time. A monthly clarifying shampoo rinses it all away so the cycle can progress seamlessly helping new hairs emerge!
It’s all connected. Behind every noticeable hair change, there’s the subtle world of these hair growth phases at play. The better you understand each transition the better you’ll become at identifying issues and improving hair health.
I hope this article was an eye-opener for you to visualize your hair’s hidden timeline and gave you new insight into taming those tresses. Remember healthy hair reflects a balanced biological cadence. So be patient with unwanted changes as it’s all just part of the cycle!