Hair loss? Stress could be causing it, and it could be temporary

Lots of people are complaining that, since the pandemic, they’re seeing more of their fall out. But a common type of stress-related isn’t permanent. Here’s what you need to know.

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People often don’t connect their hair loss with stress since it usually doesn’t happen right away, one expert explains.

People often don’t connect their hair loss with stress since it usually doesn’t happen right away, one expert explains.

Katrina Lopez was worried when she started noticing a lot of her hair was falling out in the shower in April 2020. The New York emergency medicine nurse suspected stress was to blame.

“My stress was directly related to work and the pandemic and all the tragedies I saw and just how helpless I felt during that time,” says Lopez, who was grieving the loss of several patients and family members who died from COVID-19.

All over social media, you see people commiserating about hair loss caused by high stress, including anxiety brought on by the pandemic. 

Losing hair can be scary. But experts say a common form of stress-related hair loss they’re seeing more of — called telogen effluvium — usually is temporary.

Dr. Caroline Robinson, a dermatologist and founder of Tone Dermatology, says one of the most common reasons for hair loss is stress.

“When our body experiences extreme stress such as following a surgery, death of a loved one, childbirth, viral infection or even as a result of the ongoing global pandemic itself, we can experience a large shift in our hairs from the growing phase to the shedding phase,” Robinson says. “This is a condition called telogen effluvium, and it is far more common than many realize.”

Telogen effluvium also can be triggered by major physical trauma, extreme weight loss, extreme change in diet, abrupt hormonal changes or iron deficiency, according to the Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Michele S. Green, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, says she saw an influx last year of people coming in for treatment for hair loss during quarantine.

“Patients have literally come in with bags of hair,looking like a full head of hair was in the bag,” Green says. “They all have similar stories — that they were extremely sick with high fevers and have never been that sick in their entire lives.” 

Anabel Kingsley, who specializes in treating hair and scalp issues at hair care clinic Philip Kingsley, says people often don’t connect hair loss with stress since it usually doesn’t happen right away.

“Most hair loss you experience will present itself anywhere from six to 12 weeks after a stressful event due to the nature of your hair growth cycle,” she says.

Robinson says hair loss also can appear months after the stressful event and “linger as long as the stressor is impacting us.”

Dr. Samer Jaber, a dermatologist at Washington Square Dermatology in New York, says the condition can be ”pretty severe,” that people can lose up to 50% of their hair and that this can last for months.

Luckily, Jaber says, stress-related hair loss generally isn’t permanent.

“Telogen effluvium generally resolves on its own after a few months, although, in some patients, it can be chronic,” he says.

Jaber says there also are two other conditions involving hair loss that can be triggered by stress: alopecia areata, in which you have circular patches of hair loss throughout the scalp, and trichotrillomania, which is the urge to pull or tug your hair, which can be worsened by stress.

“Alopecia areata can be treated, and trichotrillomania is generally reversible if stopped quickly, although, in severe cases, trichotrillomania can result in scarred hair loss,” he says.

Besides possibly leading to hair loss, stress also can wreak havoc on your scalp in other ways, Kingsley says.

“Stress also commonly triggers and / or worsens flaking and itching of the scalp, especially if you are already prone to dandruff,” Kingsley says. “This is because stress can affect hormone levels as well as the skin’s barrier function.”

This flaking can cause more hair loss. And scratching it can result in further irritation.

If you’re stressed, you might also find that your roots get limp and greasy faster than usual, Kingsley says, because stress can increase the scalp’s production of oils.

Unlike androgenic alopecia — male or female pattern baldness — which causes follicles to shrink and stop producing hair altogether, Kingsley says stress-related hair issues can be helped.

Some ways to do that:

  • Reduce stress — ”The first priority is to decrease stress via exercise, meditation, prayer or whatever stress reduction technique works best for you,” Jaber says.
  • Go easy on your hair — ”It is so important to not engage in hair practices that exacerbate symptoms by further weakening the hair shaft,” Robinson says. “I recommend adopting gentle hair care practices and avoiding excess heat, color or chemical processing.”
  • Stick to a consistent, healthy diet — ”Because hair is a nonessential tissue, it is often the first thing to suffer if your body is lacking in nutrients,” Kingsley says. “Vitamin imbalances, iron deficiency, inadequate protein intake and meals that contain too few calories can all contribute to hair shedding.”
  • See a doctor or specialist if needed : ”If your hair loss is worrying you or persistent see a board-certified dermatologist so they can diagnose and treat you appropriately,” Jaber says. “Topical Rogaine and vitamin based supplements can sometimes be helpful.”

Contributing: Adrianna Rodriguez


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