How Stress and Hair Loss Are Linked?

When you have thick, curly hair like mine, it’s totally normal to lose more than your fair share of hair when washing and combing it. But lately I’ve noticed more hair loss at the bottom of my shower than my typical hair loss. Trying not to panic, I thought back to recent changes in my hair habits, such as washing my hair less and wearing a bun more than I’d like to admit.

Another thing that has changed recently is: my stress levels. These days I have a lot of “hairy” financial, health, and work worries, so losing my hair due to stress doesn’t seem so far-fetched. After speaking with two dermatologists, I learned that this is a real possibility.

“The way our bodies perceive mental stress is the same way we perceive physical stress, and any dramatic stressor in the body can lead to arrested hair growth,” New York-based dermatologist Dr. Michelle Henry told Health.” And when hair growth is arrested, it falls out.” Dr. Henry says the process is known as telogen effluvium, or excessive hair loss caused by stress.

How does stress cause hair loss?
When we feel stressed, the stress hormone cortisol is released. Cortisol, in turn, affects the hair follicle cycle, leading to hair loss, Angelo Landrissina, MD, a Washington, D.C.-based dermatologist, tells Health. This shedding usually doesn’t occur until about three months after a stressful event.” Many times there is no explanation for why endogenous hair loss occurs, but it has been linked to major stressful life events, physically stressful events such as acute illness or surgery,” says Dr. Landriscina. Stress literally “shocks” your hair and causes it to fall out, he adds.

“If you have COVID and are admitted to the ICU, you have the potential to develop endogenous efflux, but it can develop after three months,” says Dr. Landriscina. Emotional stress is also a contributing factor.” If everything that happens racist emotionally and psychologically affects you, you may see hair thinning after three months.”

Preventing stress-related hair loss starts with preventing stress.” Stay connected to your loved ones, as isolation and depression can directly affect your overall health, which presents itself as stress,” says Dr. Henry. She also encourages maintaining a healthy sleep, diet and exercise schedule to avoid and alleviate stress.

How to Treat Stress-Related Hair Loss?
Dr. Landriscina says that at any given time, about 10 to 15 percent of your hair strands are in the telogen phase, where they’re getting ready to fall out. Unfortunately, once these hairs fall out, they’re gone. But that doesn’t mean that new hair strands won’t grow back. Both dermatologists recommend using minoxidil, a vasodilator that improves blood circulation around the hair bulb at the base of the follicle and is one of the few FDA-approved hair growth remedies.

Dr. Henry is the author of the Nioxin System 2 Hair Care Kit for Natural Hair with Progressed Thinning ($45; amazon.com) and Nioxin System 4 Hair Care Kit Fans of Colored Treated Hair with Progressed Thinning ($45; amazon.com), which features a shampoo, conditioner, and no-rinse treatments, including minoxidil, to promote hair growth. Both are available over the counter.

“Most people are cleansing, conditioning, and using after-treatments on their hair, so it’s easy to switch out what you’re using,” says Dr. Henry. Unlike other minoxidil products, Nioxin looks at hair as a whole, she says, keeping it healthy, moisturized and strong while addressing the scalp and getting rid of dirt and debris that can worsen hair loss.

I actually recommended the brand to my hairdresser after using Nioxin products at my local salon; she noticed mild hair thinning around my temples about four years ago (mostly from my stressful college years). Since then, I’ve used it a few more times at the salon and my hair has visibly grown back – though I’m not sure if it’s because of Neo’s new products or my own better hair care habits.

When should I see a dermatologist about stress-related hair loss?
As Dr. Landriscina says, “Time is hair.” As soon as you notice you’re losing your hair, he recommends seeing a dermatologist as soon as possible to find a professional treatment plan and to make sure your hair loss isn’t due to something more serious.” It can be difficult for the average person to know the difference between excessive shedding and permanent scarring hair loss,” says Dr. Landriscina. He says an in-person scalp examination is ideal, but you can still have a successful telemedicine visit.

Whether you’re treating your hair loss with the help of a dermatologist or at home, Dr. Henry encourages you to be friendly and patient with yourself as you journey through your hair.” Patience is vital, “Dr. Henry tells Health.” Treatment is effective, but it takes time.”