The organ culture of human scalp hair follicles (HFs) is the best currently available assay for hair research in the human system. In order to determine the hair growth-modulatory effects of agents in this assay, one critical read-out parameter is the assessment of whether the test agent has prolonged anagen duration or induced catagen in vitro. However, objective criteria to distinguish between anagen VI HFs and early catagen in human HF organ culture, two hair cycle stages with a deceptively similar morphology, remain to be established. Here, we develop, document and test an objective classification system that allows to distinguish between anagen VI and early catagen in organ-cultured human HFs, using both qualitative and quantitative parameters that can be generated by light microscopy or immunofluorescence. Seven qualitative classification criteria are defined that are based on assessing the morphology of the hair matrix, the dermal papilla and the distribution of pigmentary markers (melanin, gp100). These are complemented by ten quantitative parameters. We have tested this classification system by employing the clinically used topical hair growth inhibitor, eflornithine, and show that eflornithine indeed produces the expected premature catagen induction, as identified by the novel classification criteria reported here. Therefore, this classification system offers a standardized, objective and reproducible new experimental method to reliably distinguish between human anagen VI and early catagen HFs in organ culture. © 2009 John Wiley & Sons A/S.