I sometimes hear from folks who have conflicting feelings about the hair that they see finally growing in after a bout of aggressive shedding. On the one hand, they are relieved to see some regrowth. But on the other, the regrowth doesn’t appear to be particularly thick and healthy. If anything, it looks somewhat thin and sickly.
I might hear a comment like: “my hair has been shedding for over four months. The other day, I was combing my hair back and I saw little hairs sticking up. I was excited because I thought this meant that my hair was growing back. Later, I was showing it to one of my friends. She has gone through hair loss too. And she said that it looked to her like miniaturization rather than regrowth. Is this even possible? The hairs are short and are in the areas where I have lost the most hair. I admit that they do look thin. But what is the difference between miniaturized hair and regrowth?”
Well, at the most basic level. Regrowth should and hopefully will become normal, healthy hair once it has some time to gain length and to grow. In the best case scenario, regrowth happens on a healthy scalp that is free of androgen sensitivity and which also has normal follicles to support it. When all of these things are in place, the hair (which might look a little thin at first) will go onto become a normal hair and should replace the hair that was shed out quite nicely. Sure, it only grows at the rate of about a half an inch per month, but over time, it will replace what was lost.
On the other hand, if the hair attempts to come in via the route of a follicle that has been compromised by its sensitivity to androgens and, as a result, has shrunk, then this hair is destined to be compromised and damaged. And this is going to manifest itself in that hair’s appearance. Typically, the hair will be thin, fine, and lighter in both weight and color than the other more normal hairs on the scalp. This is a miniaturized hair and it is more likely to be in a high androgen area on the scalp like the temples, crown, or top. That’s not to say that some people don’t lose all of their hair in severe situations and become thin or bald all over. But since we’re talking about a woman here, it would be more likely to see miniaturization on those select androgen sensitive places on the scalp.
So how do you know that what you are looking at is regrowth or miniaturization? Well, short of plucking the hair and checking it out closely, you can look at the totality of the situation and try to make a very educated guess. If the hair is still short, there is a very good chance that you are looking at regrowth. Because although miniaturized hair can become more fine, it isn’t going to become shorter unless you get a hair cut. So if you’re seeing hair that is only a couple of inches long, chances are that you are looking at regrowth. Now, regrowth can be miniaturized, but you’ll typically need to give it a couple of months to grow in order to be sure. Hair can grow in a little fine and thin and then thicken as it grows. This doesn’t always happen, but I would not call it rare either.
Also, if you are a woman and the hair is in a non androgen are like the sides or bangs, the chances are going to be less that it is miniaturization. Of course, it’s not impossible to see that in these areas, but it is definitely less likely.
Finally, if the hair is lighter in color, seems sickly and is longer in length, then it’s possible that it is miniaturization. Look at the hair around the area in question. It’s more likely to see the whole area affected rather than just a single strand of hair or two if you are dealing with miniaturization.
But to answer the original question, regrowth is the normal (albeit short) hair that you are going to see growing back after a bout of shedding. Miniaturization is compromised and damaged hair that is the result of a hair loss condition like androgenetic alopecia. Both can look a little thin when it is first coming in. But in a couple months time, healthy regrowth will look like a normal hair in both color and diameter while a miniaturized hair generally will not.
I’m certainly not an expert. I know this from my own experience and from my research. I had hair that looked like miniaturization after a bout of telogen effluvium. It worried me. But by building up my scalp and addressing inflammation, it got much better.